By Daniel Forbes
Five months into an air-toxics scare involving Southeast Portland’s Bullseye Glass, neither it nor Oregon’s Department of Environmental Quality are any closer to understanding how much hexavalent chromium (Cr VI), a virulent carcinogen, emerges from its stacks during the production of green glass, which comprises some 30 percent of its product line.
Weeks of back and forth between DEQ, Bullseye, and the latter’s engineering firm, Horizon Engineering, have gone into the effort to design an emissions test that can accurately determine how much of the relatively benign trivalent chromium (Cr III) is converted to Cr VI in the inferno of a glass furnace. The DEQ is in process of writing a temporary regulation for how much Cr III it will allow Bullseye to use in furnaces with no baghouse filtration, and it will base that regulation on the test results.
Those regulations would apply only until April 2017, but would be in force whether Bullseye melts chromium in a furnace with a baghouse or not.
Yet Horizon, part of one of the most prominent stack-testing firms on the West Coast, has determined that the test data were so “inconclusive” that Bullseye has withdrawn them from DEQ’s consideration.
Many experts believe that the chromium emerging from a glass furnace is mostly, if not 100 percent, Cr VI, also known as hex-chrome. For its part, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has declared that all of the chromium out a glass manufacturer’s stack is hex-chrome. More narrowly, four experts who examined the Horizon report, including one of its subcontractors, believe the chrome that escaped the Bullseye melt was comprised nearly entirely of Cr VI.
Bullseye’s neighbors who are concerned about the health impacts of breathing this carcinogen insist that the DEQ and Bullseye get it right.
It’s hard to say, really, which is more besmirched by this confusion: the failed stack-test, or DEQ and the Oregon Health Authority’s 24-hour screening levels for heavy metals emissions. While the stack-test was so botched as to delay renewed production of green glass, it was—aside from the glaring misdirection of the choice of glass produced—ostensibly a decent attempt at resolving a difficult technical challenge.
Oregon’s heavy-metals screening levels were promulgated over a mere 36-hours. The choice was so rushed, it was made with little rationale, as if they threw some spaghetti on the wall to see what sticks.
For cadmium, OHA was even unaware of all its options. For nickel and manganese, it chose a standard that EPA declared obsolete 29 years ago. With these inept results in hand, OHA will ask for a do-over during the next several months. These 24-hour limits theoretically will dictate how much Cr VI Bullseye will be allowed to emit on a daily basis for the next 10 months.
Consider the failed emissions test first, a three-run series conducted in late April. According to both DEQ’s proposed permanent rules for large art glassmakers (Bullseye and its North Portland rival, Uroboros) and the Mutual Agreement and Final Order (MAO) Bullseye and DEQ signed June 6, the emissions test would determine how much Cr III Bullseye could melt—in an unfiltered, uncontrolled furnace—until the company has to seek its Title V operating permit in April 2017. Beyond that, it well might serve as the template for that permit.
That’s right, the failed test was meant to determine how much Cr III could go into a no-baghouse furnace for at least the next 10 months and perhaps beyond. Arguably, most of the Cr III that didn’t get captured by the molten glass would emerge from an uncontrolled furnace as Cr VI. See both Cascadia Times here and below for a discussion of Cr III’s propensity for converting to Cr VI.
In a short, vague statement buried on page 235 of the 288-page emissions test report, Horizon admitted failure: “Bullseye is not proposing to use” the data “to establish a maximum allowable chromium III usage rate.”
The three-day exercise had two goals, one being to gauge the effectiveness of Bullseye’s new pollution control device, its baghouse, necessary for it to stay in business. It passed, Horizon said (see below).
As to the Cr III to Cr VI conversion test to determine allowable daily chrome use rates, Horizon wrote, “The data shows significant variation of potential chromium emissions across the three test runs indicating inconclusive results.”
Some ten days ago, DEQ stated it hasn’t “concluded what the test ‘means.’ … First we must complete the technical review to see how much of the test is valid, then we can interpret what it ‘means.’ ” This though Horizon said it had no validity, and Bullseye withdrew it. No matter. “Until that is done, it is not possible for us to make definitive conclusions about the test results,” DEQ added. A request to the agency for an update late last week yielded no response, but it is expected to release its own analysis this week.
Chester LabNet, the Horizon subcontractor that analyzed the emissions samples, said the amount of Cr VI yielded by the three test runs mirrored almost exactly the amount of total chromium the lab found. That is, the subset of Cr VI equaled the larger set of total chrome.
Said Paul Duda, Chester LabNet’s president, “I can conjecture that all of the chromium” emerging “is hexavalent chromium. That’s how I would interpret it.” Added Duda, whose lab also does extensive work for DEQ, “As far as I know, most of it is hexavalent chromium coming out of the stack.”
Horizon blamed the high Cr VI readings on unspecified “potential interference.” Yet Duda’s view that almost all of the emitted chromium emerged from the furnace as Cr VI is supported by the aforementioned EPA estimate that a glass furnace’s emissions are 100 percent hex-chrome. The EPA statement, found in a document with the reference number 600/8-87/048F, is endorsed by its inclusion in the U.S. Dept. of Health and Human Services 461-page “Toxicological Profile for Chromium,” essentially the U.S. government’s last word on the subject.
(Glassmakers are known to melt manganese and chromium compounds together to make purple glass; the EPA report also said that manganese oxide promotes the conversion of Cr III to Cr VI. Not incidentally, since there’s a cement distribution facility near Bullseye according to DEQ, EPA also estimated that of total chromium emissions from “cement production,” a mere 0.2 percent is Cr VI.)
Along with the EPA, three testing experts echoed Duda.
Upon reading the report, a private consultant with many years experience said, “Is it all hex-chrome? That’s what it looks like, but you can’t say definitively.” Chrome compounds unstable, he theorized that Horizon got in over its head given the technical challenge of measuring their conversion. So, he said, the chrome “results are buried deep in the report and they’re incomplete; they didn’t draw any conclusions or process the raw data. They didn’t bother to do the math. There’s no summary.” He added, “They basically punted with the mealy-mouthed excuse that the data sucks…. The EPA would make Bullseye sit in a room until they got someone to do it right. But the DEQ—no.”
A second stack-testing expert with decades of experience thought the “the vast majority is hex-chrome.” But, he added that the test was so compromised, perhaps by chromium contamination of the test instrument, that the report doesn’t provide an “evidentiary bridge” to determine a reading. “I can make a stab at a figure, but would not feel confident doing so,” he said.
This second expert wondered about issues of potential contamination of the probe yielding artificially high readings. In fact, 12 days before the initial test, DEQ responded to Horizon’s request to “use a glass lined probe in lieu of the Teflon lined probe required in the test method and by … the test plan approval letter.” DEQ told Horizon the EPA didn’t approve glass linings “due to suspected chromium VI contamination.” Despite that, DEQ approved Horizon using a glass lined probe, but the agency said, it “will not approve any proposed corrections for contamination introduced by the use of glass liners.”
Whether due to technical limitations or some other reason, Horizon asked for and received DEQ’s permission to stray from the approved method using Teflon. It’s unknown whether Horizon shot itself in the foot or heeded DEQ’s warning that a glass probe might bias “the final results higher than otherwise measured.” Neither Horizon nor Bullseye replied to requests for comment. In the report’s four, imprecise paragraphs dismissing the ill-stitched chrome test, Horizon refers to the “Teflon probes required” by the EPA method and suggests they were used. But it never comes right out and says so.
Regarding the Horizon report’s internal weaknesses, David Kalman, a professor of environmental health at the University of Washington, said, “the [air] flow rates for chromium sampling and the air volumes represented by each sample are not reported.” They’re not “stated in the summary documents.” Like the two experts quoted above, Kalman thought he could deduce the amount of chromium emitted, most of it Cr VI in his view, but his figure wouldn’t be nailed down tight enough for publication. Ultimately, “The sampling results for chromium are indeed inconsistent and probably not reliable.”
Certainly more complicated than getting readings from a coal-fired power plant, measuring chromium in a hot stack ain’t easy. And, having withdrawn the chrome conversion test, the Southeast Portland glassmaker at the heart of a months-long air toxics scare has no current route to making green glass, some 30% of tis product line. Horizon wrote, “Bullseye is not requesting that DEQ approve a chromium usage rate based on these results.” And so DEQ has declined to grant Bullseye permission to use chromium. It stated, “Bullseye has not requested a [chromium] usage rate, so one will not be granted and therefore no chromium may be used.”
There are other gaps in the Horizon report. For instance, DEQ required information on the “Amount of total chromium in the batch (lbs)” and the “type and quantity of material being processed.” Additionally, the chromium emissions rates were to be provided in pounds per hour and pounds per ton of glass produced. The report offers none of that.
Perhaps Bullseye’s neighbors were dealt a bum hand from the start, regardless of testing foul-ups, since the glassmaker ignored DEQ’s basic, formally stated mandate to make “glass with the highest percentage of chromium normally used.”
In its March 24 source-testing proposal to DEQ, Horizon said that it would process “1,200 to 1,350 pounds of batch materials to make dark green cathedral glass with a chromium content greater than 1.00%.” More than one percent: that’s a marvelously vague characterization and not close to the required “highest percentage of chromium normally used.” Presumably realizing the relatively meager chrome content wasn’t what DEQ had mandated, Horizon dropped the prior vague stab at a percentage. Its subsequent test plan, submitted to DEQ on April 8, referred only to glass made “with a high chromium content.”
DEQ spokesperson Marcia Danab acknowledged that “DEQ verbally amended the requirement” for a high-chrome glass so Bullseye could use “the highest chromium content in a glass that Bullseye routinely makes, not a glass that they could make, but rarely do.” She added, “The glass made during the test contained 0.64 percent chromium as the metal.”
But, as previously disclosed in the Mercury, Bullseye makes a product called green aventurine glass; it’s listed several times in its catalog. Lime-green glass, another standard Bullseye offering, also has more chrome than the test glass.
As the previous article noted, industry experts estimate that the aventurine glass, which the Bullseye catalog refers to as “supersaturated chrome glass,” has from 5 percent to 10 percent of elemental chromium in the finished glass or around 8 times more chromium then the “dark green” glass Bullseye convinced DEQ (which really needs a glass chemist on retainer) to allow for the test. According to the operating agreement Bullseye signed with DEQ, it must have a valid chrome conversion test to use even Cr III in any furnace, even one with baghouse filtration.
So it needs a valid test to pretty much make green glass at all. Should it seek to make anything but genuinely high-chrome glass in a subsequent test, to paraphrase the old saying: fool you twice, DEQ, shame on you.
THE BAGHOUSE PASSED
The report’s deliberate vagueness about chromium contrasts with the three-page letter Bullseye sent to DEQ trumpeting the test results for its new baghouse—the other goal of the late April exercise. Reiterating DEQ’s questions and then answering virtually everything DEQ might want to know about a baghouse’s function, company controller and public face Eric E. Durrin stated that Bullseye’s baghouse “meets the 99.0 percent removal efficiency PM [particulate matter] standard.”
Acceptable to Oregon, 99% is less than the best pollution control practice of 99.9%. According to EPA, a “properly designed and well run baghouse will generally have an extremely high particulate matter (PM) collection efficiency (i.e., 99.9+ percent).” Notice that plus-sign. That crucial, last almost one percent that Oregon allows adds up depending on how much hex-chrome, cadmium, arsenic, lead and other poisons it applies to. It matters when the prior, single-day, previously unfiltered pollution spikes that DEQ pins on Bullseye were hundreds of times the state’s annual safe-air goals for such hazards as cadmium and arsenic.
Bullseye is currently facing two lawsuits, with others perhaps aborning. Given that the vast majority of the chromium that escaped the furnace was very likely lung-cancer causing Cr VI, perhaps Bullseye’s legal jeopardy had at least a subconscious influence on the crafting of Horizon’s report. That might explain the repetition in a four-paragraph statement: the data “is inconclusive and is not representative of past or future operating conditions” and the test as a whole “is not representative of past or future source operation planned at the facility….” True enough, in that Bullseye routinely made glass with higher chromium content in unfiltered furnaces.
The test results not to Bullseye’s liking, how much Cr III will DEQ let it use if so much of it that escapes converts to CR VI? After all, there’s no way to repeal the basic chemistry of chromium’s fate in a glass furnace. Apparently for now, according to DEQ, Bullseye will forgo chromium-laden green glass—almost a third of its product line—given its lack of a valid chrome conversion test. And the Horizon report did acknowledge Bullseye’s obligation to start from scratch with a new source test plan to submit to DEQ, followed by another expensive test and report. (Again, DEQ, don’t fall for the dodge that dark green glass must contain more chromium.)
The University of Washington’s Dave Kalman provides some solace with his caution that Bullseye’s anxious neighbors should remain aware, he wrote in an email, of the difference “between a source test (of an industrial emission) and an ambient (mixed) air sample. The latter is what people might actually breathe, and acceptable chemical concentrations are typically defined by health effects and are often quite low. Regulations of source [industrial] air streams such as stack gas are justifiably higher, and no one breathes those atmospheres.” That is, no one directly breathes stack gas. “It would be a mistake to apply ambient standards to stack gas composition.”
RUSHED AND CLUELESS
On a related front, it would be a mistake for entirely different reasons to feel sanguine about the air you breathe based on the 24-hour, heavy-metal screening levels promulgated by DEQ and the Oregon Health Authority. They’re important since, along with the Ambient Benchmark Concentrations (Oregon’s annual safe-air goals), the 24-hour levels will establish daily usage rates for certain heavy metals, including Cr III. They determine, according to the DEQ and Bullseye’s operating agreement, “emissions levels that are protective of human health.”
Applicable to facilities statewide, these crucial levels were ushered forth into the world too rushed to be anything but ill-shaped. David Farrer, OHA’s and thus the state’s, chief toxicologist, told me last week, “We had little time, only 36-hours, to establish this list.”
And it matters. For Cr VI, for instance, OHA chose New Hampshire’s 24-hour level of 36 nanograms per meter cubed of air. But, according to OHA’s generally stipulated guidelines that it should choose “the most stringent” of three short-term, non-cancer values among those issued by N.H., Ontario, and Texas, OHA should have chosen the lowest—that is, Ontario’s level. Ontario’s 24-hour Cr VI emissions figure of 0.35 ng/m3 is 103-times lower than N.H.’s 36 ng/m3 that OHA did choose. 103-times more hex-chrome, one of the nastiest carcinogens around, packs a punch.
OHA maintains that its 24-hour limits should be adapted from figures derived from non-cancer studies, since the cancerous effects of such short-term exposures are uncertain. Many toxicologists would agree.
But on April 21 Farrer publicly urged DEQ’s overseers, the Environmental Quality Commission, to adopt N.H.’s 36 ng/m3 Cr VI limit for DEQ’s use in governing Bullseye and other facilities’ daily hex-chrome emissions. Doing so, Farrer told the EQC the N.H. limit was a non-cancer figure. Thus it should be picked over the much more protective Ontario number.
This despite the fact that Farrer was aware, via emailed notice of theCascadia Times article published the day before his testimony. It quoted Tom Niejadlik, an air toxics administrator for the New Hampshire Department of Environmental Services, saying the state level is indeed based on lung cancer. Yet, unaccountably, Farrer went ahead and told the EQC to use the more pollution friendly N.H. limit anyway.
I questioned Farrer as to why, N.H. and Ontario both based on cancer, he told the EQC to use N.H.’s much higher standard. This was during his recent appearance before a community forum at the University of Portland. And his reply before some 100 Portlanders: “We were in error when we made that statement…. It’s going to be reviewed and it’s going to be rigorous. I think that was the best we could do in the time we had.” OHA felt rushed this March to issue the figures in advance of releasing air monitoring data from instruments near Bullseye so the public would have some context to interpret the readings.
But there was no rush preceding the EQC meeting, which came a month after the 24-hour limits were issued. Either way, Farrer’s titular expertise got ECQ to approve a 103-times higher limit for Cr VI. And Bullseye can now use thatin theory if not in practice for the next ten months as set forth by its operating agreement.
(In practice, a single day of 36 ng/m3 would exceed DEQ’s annual limit of 0.08 ng/m3. Both DEQ and OHA realize that now since questions were raised in print about the 36 ng.m3 limit. But when asked about that previously,Farrer said, “I don’t know, it’s a mathematical question.” And DEQ toxicologist Sue MacMillan said, “If it’s not in the rules, I don’t know…. I don’t know how that applies in the practical world.”
Farrer told me the N.H. Cr VI number, though protective of human health in his view, will be totally re-evaluated. “We’ll take a more careful look,” he said.
The act-in-haste, repent-at-leisure review process will take months. It begins with Farrer and MacMillan, reviewing the data. Then they’ll seek input from at least one outside toxicologist, followed by a chance for public comment.
Farrer did note that OHA examined the studies underlying the various levels it chose among. They’re of varying quality depending on their design and whether they have human or animal subjects, he said.
Tania Onica is a senior regulatory toxicologist at Ontario’s Ministry of the Environment and Climate Change. She said Ontario’s Cr VI level—the far more protective one that OHA rejected—“was based on the Occupational Safety and Health Administration’s 2006 quantitative analysis of two epidemiological cohorts … which observed lung cancer mortality after occupational exposure to Cr VI compounds.” Human death from lung cancer–pretty rock-solid, it sounds like the one to choose.
Should the Cr VI number be revised—and it may actually go higher, Farrer said—it’s unclear the effect on the DEQ’s rules for large glassmakers, or on the Bullseye operating agreement, both of which use the 36 ng/m3 daily limit.
Similarly, the OHA daily level for cadmium, a potent neurotoxin among other ill effects, was chosen with no real rationale. OHA picked a federal government figure, 30 ng/m3 rather than N.H.’s 7 ng/m3 level. (In this instance, N.H. is more protective.) This despite the fact that both the feds and N.H. derived their numbers from kidney damage—not cancer.
Asked why the more stringent N.H. level wasn’t chosen, Farrer admitted he was unaware of it, this though N.H. is one of three agencies feeding OHA a choice.
Finally, for both manganese and nickel, OHA chose levels based on large-size particulate matter. Though still tiny, the larger particles of airborne metal are less dangerous since, according to EPA, they tend to be filtered out by the nose and throat. EPA is more concerned about the smaller particles, known as PM10, and it changed its standards in 1987 to reflect that fact.
The type of pollution that contains both the smaller, PM10, particles, and the larger, less dangerous material is known as Total Suspended Particles. TSP was once, long ago, considered the pollutant size to worry about. But 29 years ago, EPA adopted the finer, more protective PM10 standard. According to EPA, “In 1987, EPA replaced the earlier Total Suspended Particulate (TSP) air quality standard with a PM-10 standard. The new standard focuses on smaller particles that are likely responsible for adverse health effects because of their ability to reach the lower regions of the respiratory tract.” That is, deep into the lungs.
(It’s worth noting that, according to EPA, “It appears that Cr VI exists primarily in the fine particle phase.” Based on limited data and speaking generally about ambient air and not specifically about glass manufacturing, EPA stated, “Cr VI accounted for about 35% of the total mass [of chromium] and 85%” of the PM10.” Not good: the stuff that most easily gets into your lungs is Cr VI—the carcinogen that Duda, the lab president; Kalman, the professor; and two testing experts thought comprised almost all of Bullseye’s stack-test chrome emissions.)
The Encyclopedia of Public Health calls TSP “an archaic regulatory measure.” Refering to particles larger than PM10, the air monitoring equipment firm Aeroqual states, “These sized particles are not usually acknowledged in government health legislation….”
Yet, for some reason, when choosing from Ontario’s pair of available 24-hourstandards for manganese and nickel—TSP and PM10—OHA chose the province’s TSP standards. As measured in ng/m3, the antiquated TSP levels are twice as large as Ontario’s PM10 standard. And so that’s what Oregon facilities follow for now.
Asked the rationale for OHA choosing a standard discarded 29 years ago that allows for twice the pollution, Farrer came up empty. “That’s another issue we had no time to delve into that we’ll have to review,” he said. Yet the difference between PM10 and TSP is toxicology 101. And choosing TSP allows for twice the daily nickel and manganese pollution. Nickel is a known human carcinogen; as to manganese, the EPA declares it “not classifiable as to carcinogenicity in humans.” There was ostensibly no time to chose, yet a choice was made.