Wheeler blasts Oregon DEQ over SE Portland air pollution
UPDATE: Bailey calls pollution "incredibly disturbing," Iannarone warns against overreaction
State Treasurer Ted Wheeler lambasted the Oregon Department of Environmental Quality for its slow response to reports of arsenic and cadmium air pollution in parts of town Tuesday.
Wheeler, who is running for Portland mayor, compared the DEQ's apparent lack of urgency to the situation in Flint, Mich., where state environmental officials were slow to respond to reports of lead in the drinking water.
What we are learning from Flint, Michigan, where the water is unusable because of high levels of lead, is that bad things happen when regulators are asleep at the switch, Wheeler said in a statement issued by his campaign early Tuesday afternoon. "It's unconscionable that Oregon regulators knew about the air pollution for three years, but didn't seem to make any real attempt to locate the source," Wheeler said in a statement issued early Tuesday afternoon.
Wheeler's campaign issued the statement hours before Multnomah County Health Department was scheduled to hold a community meeting on the situation. It will include representatives of DEQ rand the Oregon Health Authority (OHA)
Wheeler's major opponent for mayor, Multnomah County Commissioner Jules Bailey, helped organize the meeting. He had previously expressed concern about the pollution findings.
"The initial news of air quality concerns in Southeast Portland was incredibly disturbing. I have worked to organize a meeting hosted by the Multnomah County Health Department and Portland Public Schools. Community members and neighbors will be able to speak directly with DEQ and OHA officials and I hope they will join me at Cleveland High School tonight to ask tough questions," told the Portland Tribune Tuesday afternoon.
Another major candidate in the race, Sarah Iannarone, who has a child in school in the area, expressed concerned that Wheeler was "fear mongering."
"My child is in school there and I ride by there every day on my bike, and I'm concerned about overreactions," said Iannarone, who was on her way to the meeting when she spoke to the Portland Tribune. "Our environmental officials aren't criminals."
According to Wheeler's statement, DEQ has detected elevated levels of arsenic and cadmium in Portland for years but did not isolate the sources. Instead, a U.S. Forest Service study of tree moss isolated some pollution around Bullseye Glass, a glass manufacturing company, near Southeast 22nd Avenue and Powell Boulevard.
The statement says that according to news reports, the company was in full compliance with its air permit, issued by the DEQ, and the company was following all DEQ-required procedures for controlling emissions. Despite that, it was was emitting heavy metals that resulted in air with 50 times the normal levels of cadmium and 150 times the normal levels of arsenic, the statement says.
Since being identified as the source of the pollution, the company voluntarily stopped using cadmium and arsenic. A second glass company, Uroboros Glass, also discontinued its use of the chemicals voluntarily.
Some in state government said they were glad the emissions had stopped glad isnt good enough, Wheeler said in the statement.
The community meeting is scheduled from 5 p.m. to 9 p. m. on Tuesday, Feb. 10, at Cleveland High School Cafeteria, 3400 S.E. 26th Ave.
Other major candidates in the mayor's race did not immediately respond to requests for comment.