Community advocates welcomed the news today that the Oregon Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ) issued an enforcement action against Owens-Brockway that requires the glass-recycling facility to reduce harmful air emissions. The agency also levied a fine against the facility, exceeding $1 million.
According to a DEQ news release and enforcement notice, Owens-Brockway must keep one of its glass furnaces shut down and install pollution controls on another furnace, in order to permanently reduce particulate-matter emissions. Owens-Brockway must also submit a plan to DEQ to reduce emissions until it has installed the pollution controls. The $1 million fine is a penalty for air quality violations, which included exceeding limits on particulate-matter emissions as well as exceeding limits on opacity, which is an indicator of particulate-matter emissions linked to a higher risk of respiratory illness.
“Portland Clean Air agrees with DEQ’s June 3rd Owens-Brockway enforcement action, the first significant regulation of an existing industry for Governor Brown’s Cleaner Air Oregon,” said Greg Bourget of Portland Clean Air, a local non-profit clean air group. “Owens-Brockway may be the most dangerous Oregon smokestack emitter, as evidenced by their recent Source Test. This monetary fine, the requirement for filtration, and limits on industrial processes are equivalent to the problem posed by this glass plant, suggesting Oregon’s new health-based rules will be enforced.”
“The Cully Air Action Team (CAAT) is supportive of these fines because of the serious and systemic violations of clean and healthy air standards by the Owens-Brockway facility,” said Gregory Sotir from CAAT, a community-based, grassroots air quality group in the Cully neighborhood of NE Portland. “The DEQ is now moving to becoming a true advocate for community health and holding corporate polluters accountable for the environmental and health damages they create. Dirtying the air and ignoring the community shouldn’t be allowed for the sake of maximizing corporate profits. It is time for Owens-Brockway to install filters to remove their poisons from the airshed.”
“Today’s enforcement action is an excellent sign that Oregon is taking its responsibility to protect air quality seriously,” said Ashley Bennett, attorney at Earthjustice, a nonprofit environmental law firm partnering with several Portland organizations. “We will continue to closely monitor the facility’s progress to reduce air pollution in Cully, and we will do everything we can to defend this community against toxic emissions.”
“Verde has been a part of the Cully Neighborhood for many years, and the topic of bad air quality within the community has always been an issue,” said Sergio Lopez, program coordinator at Verde. “Owens-Brockway has and continues to pollute our neighborhood and is damaging the health of many individuals. Verde stands strong in support of these fines which show indication that DEQ is beginning to listen to community advocates about serious issues such as this one. Having clean air to breathe is a human right and the argument of private profit for the facility does not outweigh essential community needs.”
“We were very glad to see DEQ take action against a polluter with a track record of violating the Clean Air Act,” said Jamie Pang, Environmental Health Director at Oregon Environmental Council. “Cost effective pollution controls are readily available, so there’s no reason that this plant should be allowed to continue to break the law. Public health must come first.”
Owens-Brockway is one of Portland’s most notorious air polluters, and a source of lead, arsenic, and chromium. The massive glass-recycling facility is located between three public schools near Cully, a racially and economically diverse neighborhood. Residents in the surrounding area face elevated health risks due to hazardous pollutants. Owens-Brockway is one of Oregon’s worst emitters of lead, for which there is no known safe level of exposure. The plant also emits arsenic and chromium. Long-term arsenic exposure can result in developmental effects, diabetes, pulmonary disease, cancer, and cardiovascular disease. Exposure to chromium can cause respiratory problems like asthma and chronic bronchitis, as well as certain cancers, skin ulcers, and liver problems. Stronger pollution controls can address these dangers.