Northeast Portland glass recycler plans pollution controls to stay open
In what environmental groups are calling a public health victory, a glass recycling plant in Northeast Portland has proposed to install air pollution control technology.
Officials with Owens-Brockway Glass Container Inc. submitted an application to the Oregon Department of Environmental Quality to install the technology, which will cut emissions of harmful pollutants from the plant, the agency announced Thursday, June 30.
Owens-Brockway, a subsidiary of Ohio-based glass manufacturing giant I-O Glass Inc., had until June 30 to notify DEQ whether the facility would shut down or install pollution controls.
The deadline was part of an agreement reached between the company and state environmental regulators last October to resolve an enforcement action. DEQ had issued a fine of more than $1 million to the facility months earlier for repeated violations of air quality standards for permitted opacity — a measure of particulate matter pollution in emissions.
DEQ officials are reviewing Owens-Brockway's application for completeness and compliance with the agreement, said Lauren Wirtis, spokesperson for the agency. If DEQ approves the application, facility officials will have 18 months to install and activate the proposed pollution control technology.
The announcement comes after years of lobbying for tighter restrictions on the glass recycler, the largest of its kind in the state, by environmental groups and residents living near the facility in Portland's Cully neighborhood.
"We are glad to see that Owens-Brockway is investing in the community and finally taking steps to ensure that residents and the public are not further exposed to dangerous emissions," said Mary Peveto, director and co-founder of the nonprofit Neighbors for Clean Air, in a statement.
The facility has violated opacity limits at least 50 times since 2009, according to DEQ officials.
Exposure to particulate matter can cause serious heart and lung problems, including nonfatal heart attacks, aggravated asthma and others, according to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. For people with heart or lung diseases, exposure has been linked to premature death. Children and older adults are most likely to be impacted by particulate matter.
Groups demanding action to curb pollution from the facility say they're focused on bringing justice to people in the community at risk, particularly vulnerable groups.
Cully and other adjacent neighborhoods are among Portland's most racially diverse areas. The neighborhoods also have high proportions of low-income residents.
Multiple playgrounds, sports fields and schools are nearby, including Prescott Elementary School and the alternative Helensview High School about one mile from the facility at 9710 N.E. Glass Plant Road.
Cully is considered an "overburdened community" by the EPA because of its close proximity to sources of pollution. Major highways, including U.S. 30 and Interstate 205, a rail line and Portland International Airport are all located nearby.
Families in the area have reported noxious odors for years and attributed asthma and breathing problems in their children to pollution from the facility.
"We want people to start looking at marginalized communities and from an environmental justice perspective," said Gregory Sotir, who leads the Cully Air Action Team, one of several local groups that have called on state and federal regulators to implement stricter air quality rules and hold Owens-Brockway accountable for pollution.
The company's decision to install the pollution controls instead of shut down was also a win for the community because it means workers at the facility can keep their jobs, Sotir said.
The technology Owens-Brockway installs must reduce emissions of particulate matter by 95% to comply with the company's agreement with DEQ.
The company has proposed to spend more than $11 million to install a catalytic ceramic filter on the only furnace still operating at the facility, which recycles more than 240,000 pounds of glass per day to produce wine bottles, according to company officials.
The facility decommissioned one of its furnaces last year as part of negotiations with DEQ following the enforcement order. It also was required to abide by a stricter interim opacity limit on emissions from its remaining furnace until it installs new pollution controls or face an $18,000 penalty per violation.
Kieran O'Donnell, manager of DEQ's Office of Compliance and Enforcement, says data provided by the company and the agency's own monitoring shows that the facility so far has complied with the interim limits.
Aside from particulate matter, the filter proposed at the facility also will reduce emissions of nitrogen oxide and sulfur dioxide, exposure to which has also been linked to respiratory problems.
The proposal will "advance the environmental performance of its glass packaging operations, upgrade the plant with advanced technology and prepare for future growth," officials with Owens-Brockway's parent company said in a statement.
DEQ's recent enforcement order only required Owens-Brockway to reduce particulate matter.
Matt Davis, manager of DEQ's Cleaner Air Oregon program, says reducing particulate matter will also reduce emissions of harmful heavy metals such as lead, arsenic and cadmium.
Last year, Earthjustice, a public interest environmental law nonprofit, published the results of a study it commissioned, which showed the facility was emitting high levels of nitrogen oxide, sulfur dioxide and certain heavy metals.
Earthjustice and other concerned groups advocated for the company to install a filter that would protect the community from more than particulate matter only.
Installation of the filter could be completed by April 2024, according to company officials.
The required 18-month timeframe to install the filter will begin when DEQ issues the company a construction permit, which can't happen until after a public engagement process allowing the people to comment on the application.
In March, DEQ approved Owens-Brockway's plan to pay fines from the enforcement order in part by supporting an environmental improvement project. The project allows the company to cut its fines from more than $1 million to $662,000. The company plans to pay $529,000 to the nonprofit Friends of Trees to plant trees in the neighborhoods surrounding the facility.
Additionally, DEQ is still revising Owens-Brockway's Title V air quality permit, which allows the company to emit pollutants according to federal and state standards and sets emissions monitoring requirements. DEQ reopened its review of the permit after being presented with Earthjustice's study and in response to calls to do so from other local groups.
Community members say they're going to continue monitoring the process and advocating for the highest level of protection.
"Owens-Brockway has polluted our neighborhood and put many people's health at risk," said Oriana Magnera, program manager at the local environmental justice nonprofit Verde, in a statement. "Although Owens-Brockway is taking an important step to mitigate the harm it has caused to its neighbors, we will hold them accountable and continue to monitor their progress."
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