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Local Glass Factory Not A Toxic Concern

After moss samples showing heavy metal hot spots near Portland art glass companies drew attention to the possible dangers associated with colored glass manufacturing, anxious local citizens called the Lane Regional Air Protection Agency to see if they had anything to worry about. 

In late January it was revealed that moss collected and analyzed in May of 2015 showed cadmium and chromium in areas around two Portland glass companies. Those companies later voluntarily stopped using cadmium, which can cause cancer and kidney problems, and hexavalent chromium, also carcinogenic. 

LRAPA spokesperson Jo Niehaus says when the agency first started hearing about the problems in Portland, it began to look at local glass businesses. Aurora Glass is the only place that used any sort of metal additives, she says, but it does not pose the air quality threat the Portland companies did. 

Aurora is a part of St. Vincent de Paul of Lane County, a social service organization that focuses on waste-based businesses to fund its charitable works. Aurora Glass Foundry and Retail Showroom is located at 2345 W. Broadway.

“We don’t have manufacturers in Lane County like they do in Portland,” Niehaus says of the glass industry. A February memo from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency shows 14 factories nationwide that may make art glass using heavy metals, as Portland’s Bullseye Glass and Uroboros Glass did. None are in Lane County and all are exempt from a federal rule designed to limit hazardous air pollution emitted by glass factories.

Aurora Glass does not use cadmium and arsenic, says Paul Neville of St. Vincent de Paul. He says, “We do use a very small amount, about 10 pounds a year of chromium oxide. In the world of glass processing, that’s a small amount.”

Neville says the Portland factories use gas furnaces, blowing a lot of air through them, while the Aurora furnace is electric with “minimal venting, no blowing air.” 

Aurora uses recycled glass, Neville says, with the color already in it. “We are committed to protecting the environment,” he adds. Aurora recycles old windows and other waste glass that previously didn’t have an avenue for recycling, everything from drawer pulls to suncatchers.

Niehaus confirms that Aurora is on a much smaller scale and uses a different process and different metals from the factories causing problems with Portland’s air quality. In addition to the chromium, she says Aurora uses about 5 pounds a year of cobalt and about 25 pounds of manganese every two years. This, she says, is very different from the several hundred pounds to tons of heavy metals the Portland factories were using each year.  

Niehaus says that LRAPA also got calls from residents worried about nearby glassblowers. She says people living near glassblowing studios don’t need to be concerned; glassblowers use pre-colored glass that’s melted, and the process doesn’t release into the air in the same way the manufacturers in Portland have been operating.

Glassblowing has been linked to respiratory hazards for workers, and Lisa Arkin of Beyond Toxics says she would like to see more investigation into what health effects workers at the Portland art glass manufacturers have faced. 

Arkin says she is “really glad to hear” that Aurora is “using small amounts of heavy metals.” But she wants more emissions testing as well as “fenceline testing” to see if emissions from glass companies go beyond the boundaries of the property. It’s good Aurora is taking care, but, she says, the company doesn’t report to the Eugene Toxics Right-to-Know database of companies that use hazardous substances, and the public has a right to know what’s in the air. 

Arkin says the federal Clean Air Act needs to be modified and reformed for all communities in the country to do a better job of protecting public health. 

Neville says that Aurora doesn’t report to the city of Eugene Toxics Program because it falls “well short on the threshold of having 10 or more employees.”

“We also don’t come even remotely close to meeting the criteria of having inputs totaling 2,640 pounds or more of hazardous substances in a calendar year,” Neville adds.

Joann Eppli with the city of Eugene says the city is in the process of determining if Aurora Glass fits the requirements of paying the fee for the Eugene Toxics Right-to-Know program.

 “It’s nice to always know what is coming from facilities,” Arkin says, “because these things are cumulative in air and water.”

Neville says that Aurora, like other St. Vincent businesses, operates at maximum efficiency reusing and recycling materials and creating jobs in Lane County. Aurora is on “sound environmental footing,” Neville says.