Frustration after OHA finds closed glass company posed low health risk in 2016

Raphael Schnepf says he worked with and patronized Uroboros Glass in North Portland for more than 20 years.

A new report says much of the so-called "toxic air scare" surrounding a North Portland glass company two years ago was unwarranted.

The business, Uroboros Glass, shut down its factory in the city last year.

Raphael Schnepf, an artist who worked with the company and patronized it for more than 20 years, told KATU Friday that some former employees are still looking for work.

“It’s like, oh my God, all that over nothing!” Schnepf said.

The pollution scare involved three businesses. Oregon Health Authority said it's still assessing the health impacts of the other two.

But the agency now says testing done around Uroboros in 2016 found the air and soil were safe.

Regarding why it took more than two years to release results, Jonathan Modie, an OHA spokesperson, said via email:

"We expected to have completed the Uroboros PHA (public health assessment) sooner. Delays have been caused by: waiting for enough environmental sampling data to be collected; the same staff working on multiple PHAs and on the Cleaner Air Oregon industrial air toxics rulemaking effort; and OHA’s value of scientific rigor and accuracy. The documents undergo an extensive review process that includes multiple state and federal agencies. This review process adds time to the process, but it also serves to ensure scientific accuracy."

The toxic air scare in 2016 terrified families near the three businesses.

"Nobody wants to live in an area where the air is polluted," said Gina Levine of North Portland in September 2016.

Uroboros was the second glass company to be named in the scare.

The businesses were at the center of an Environmental Protection Agency investigation after soil and air samples around them came back positive for cadmium and arsenic, two chemical elements used in the glass-making process.

"Nobody was looking at the lives involved," Schnepf explained. “The people who worked there, the people who were invested in that. ... It was kind of devastating for them and they kind of saw that it was just gonna keep going downhill.”

Both companies, Uroboros and Bullseye Glass, said they stopped using the chemicals, and Oregon's Department of Environmental Quality saw a significant drop in air concentrations of heavy metals around them.

Bullseye is still in business and facing a lawsuit but last year Uroboros shut down after more than 40 years in operation. The owner moved the factory to Mexico saying he couldn't afford to follow new regulations.

“It was horrible. I love these people and I saw what they were going through." said Schnepf. “It was kind of like a slow-motion, long illness, you know. Kind of a terminal illness watching the dying throes of this wonderful organization.”

OHA now says although there were traces of toxic metals near Uroboros experts consider the levels "low risk."

“That was terrible that they kind of jumped to the worst conclusions. I think a lot of this had to do with how sensational it all got about these – ‘poisoning the air for the children’ and all that kind of thing," said Schnepf. “They just made it into – these guys are the bad guys, the bogey men, and we’re gonna take ‘em down. I think it could’ve been handled much better. Could’ve been worked out.”

OHA says results from a health assessment of the area surrounding Bullseye Glass will be released next year. Results from testing around a third company, the metal manufacturer Precision Castparts, are due out this fall.

Neighbors of Precision Castparts filed a lawsuit against the company in May 2016.

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