Since the discovery of heavy metals pollution coming from an artistic glass manufacturer in Portland, Washington regulators have taken a close look at a similar facility near Seattle. So far, they say, they’re not worried – in part because air monitors nearby aren't detecting elevated metals in the area.
Spectrum Glass in Woodinville, Washington, uses metals to make the same kind of colored glass products as Bullseye Glass in Southeast Portland. But unlike Bullseye it hasn't been using arsenic and it has pollution controls on many of its furnaces.
While Oregon regulators are scrambling to address cadmium and arsenic pollution they recently discovered near Bullseye, Washington regulators say they don’t see similar problems near Spectrum.
"We’ve been following the story closely," said Joanne Todd, communications manager for the Puget Sound Clean Air Agency, which regulates air pollution coming from Spectrum Glass.
"We’re not seeing elevated levels of any of the toxins they’ve seen in Portland. We’ve looked at it. It’s caused us to look around and ask: Is there anything going on here? And right now we’re saying no there isn’t."
Todd said Oregon regulators knew there was elevated cadmium and arsenic in Portland because of a local air pollution monitor. But they didn’t know where it was coming from until a U.S. Forest Service study testing moss for contaminants revealed hot spots for cadmium and arsenic near the Bullseye Glass facility in Southeast Portland.
But air monitors near the Spectrum Glass plant aren’t detecting a problem with heavy metals, Todd said.
Gary Palcisko, a toxicologist with the Washington Department of Ecology, said state air pollution rules in Washington could have made the difference in the levels of pollution detected near Bullseye Glass in Portland and Spectrum Glass in Woodinville.
Washington added its own state air toxics rules in 1991 that require additional pollution controls and health risk assessments on new sources of toxic air pollution. Oregon is now looking at adding similar rules after regulators realized federal rules hadn’t required Bullseye Glass to add any pollution controls onto its furnaces.
Palcisko said if Spectrum Glass had expanded its facility since the state’s air toxics rule went into effect, it would have been subject to the new state regulations. The rules don’t apply to older facilities that haven’t expanded.
“It’s difficult to capture everything,” he said. “The rules do a good job of getting 99 percent of the problems, but there’s always something that could sneak through.”
Steve Van Slyke, compliance director at Puget Sound Clean Air Agency, said he and others have been reviewing the Spectrum Glass permits to make sure the facility isn’t creating a health hazard for its neighbors.
Spectrum Glass did not return several phone calls seeking comment for this story.
Documents show Spectrum Glass added five new furnaces in 1996 and installed two baghouses for pollution control.
Van Slyke said the state’s air toxics rules require companies to apply for state permits for smaller installations than the EPA would require permits for. The state permits require companies to install the best available technology to control toxic air pollution. In the permitting process, the state does an assessment of how much toxic air pollution is likely to be emitted and measures that against health screening levels.
Because Spectrum expanded its facility after air toxics rules were in place, he said, it is using pollution controls on many of its furnaces and engineers determined it isn’t emitting toxic air pollutants above acceptable levels.
So, is he confident that the facility isn’t emitting unhealthy levels of heavy metals?
“With everything I’ve seen so far,” he said, “I feel pretty confident with that conclusion.”