Toxic Portland: DEQ Director Set to Resign

portlandAll joy in the expression “Keep Portland Weird” seems to have been choked out by toxic arsenic and cadmium fumes wafting into neighborhoods near Portland’s glass manufacturers. Dick Pedersen, director of Oregon’s Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ) has announced his resignation on March 15, due to “health concerns,” just weeks after a renewed public outcry for cleaner air. While said health concerns have not been specified, one can assume Mr. Pedersen spent a little too much time in Southeast Portland.

Dick became DEQ director in 2008, and also served as Northwest Region Administrator and Land Quality Division Administrator. Dick had a somewhat limp response to the public when he failed to attend multiple community discussions in February.

Governor Kate Brown gave Dick a solid endorsement however, claiming “Dick has provided steady and dedicated leadership,” and that she will “miss him as a trusted colleague and friend.”

Dick’s praise may be premature, as not all in the community share this sentiment. Portland Mayor Charlie Hales and Multnomah County Chairwoman Deborah Kafoury are calling for the adoption of a local pollution district in response the DEQ’s perceived impotence.

President of Neighbors for Clean Air (NCA) Mary Peveto also blew the war-horn, calling for a more active and experienced DEQ leader. The NCA website cites EPA assessments showing Oregon as the third largest US population at risk of cancer from air pollution and that 117 schools fall into the worst 10% for exposure to industrial pollution. Nice.

Arsenic, cadmium, and chromium are all carcinogens. The symptoms of each are absolutely horrible, so look them up on Wikipedia yourself. In short, they all cause cancer, result in cumulative damage to major organs, can alter your DNA, and can make you die.

Bullseye Glass Company is among those caught with their pants down. After receiving direct input from Dick, Bullseye Glass Co. announced on their website that they would suspend the use of hexavalent chromium and arsenic. Company co-founder Dan Schwoerer believes that Bullseye is actually following the rules. Schwoerer fails to see any correlation between using arsenic, cadmium, and chromium in their furnaces and elevated levels of arsenic, cadmium, and chromium in the air near their operations.

Schwoerer argues on the Bullseye website that further environmental regulations threaten to put them out of business. He attests that up to 140 people could lose their jobs. Despite successful attempts at circumnavigating regulations in the past, Bullseye assures us that they are now committed to addressing emissions concerns and looking forward to working with the DEQ.

The reality is, as a state known largely for its forests, we should not be competing with New York for crappiest air. While all the burden should not be placed on any one company, individual, or industry, cancer-causing air is just embarrassing. You should feel embarrassed, Portland. Just take your toxic air, your Bullseye, and your Dick problems and work it out somewhere else. By the way, please go to the NCA website and sign their petition for stronger air quality regulation in Oregon.

By Anthony Vitale