Bullseye Glass Co. was ordered to pay $6,734 for improperly disposing of radioactive waste two years ago, court records show.
Bullseye sent a waste shipment that included refractory, a radioactive substance used in glass manufacturing, to a Northwest Portland industrial recycling plant—a violation of state rules.
The waste posed little threat to human health. But a recording of a hearing in that case casts new light on the Southeast Portland glass factory and its approach to compliance with environmental rules.
In the six weeks since The Portland Mercury first reported moss samples showed high levels of heavy metals in the air around Bullseye, the factory in the Brooklyn neighborhood has been the object of scrutiny, as have the state regulators who failed to monitor the company's emissions.
In the face of a federal class action lawsuit filed on behalf of neighbors of the factory, Bullseye has maintained it always followed the pollution laws set by the Oregon Department of Environmental Quality and other agencies.
"We will continue to honor our previous commitments to go above and beyond what is required by Oregon law," the company said in a March 9 statement.
But the 2014 case shows Bullseye either didn't know the laws pertaining to the disposal of radioactive material—or didn't care.
On Oct. 1, 2013, Bullseye sent a load of waste containing refractory to Greenway Recycling at 4135 NW St. Helens Road.
Terrell Garrett, co-owner of Greenway Recycling, sent the material he'd received from Bullseye to a Northeast Portland scrap-metal facility called Metro Metals. But a few days later, Metro Metals sent the shipment back to Greenway because the load triggered its radiation detectors.
"This is scary crap," Garrett tells WW. "We had to dump it on the ground to figure out what the hell was going on."
The material poses a minimal health threat, says Daryl Leon, a radiation health physicist at the Oregon Health Authority. "There's no issue [with] somebody going up next to this pile of brick, putting their hand on it," Leon says. "If you take these bricks and crush them up into a powder and inhale it, then you're going to have a problem."
But Leon confirms that disposal of the material is regulated.
Oregon Administrative Rule 333-117-0130 states: "Transfers of waste containing [Naturally Occurring Radioactive Materials] for disposal shall be made only to a person specifically licensed to receive such waste."
Greenway Recycling was not licensed to dispose of the substance.
Not knowing that the material was radioactive, Greenway had mixed the refractory with other shipments. Now it was stuck with 90 tons of material that local landfills won't accept.
Garrett then filed a lawsuit against Bullseye in Multnomah County Circuit Court.
"This material sat on our site for over two months, in violation of our Metro license and DEQ permit," Garrett testified in court.
Bullseye's controller, Eric Durrin, testified in the case that he was unaware of the regulations around the radioactive waste.
"We've been using it for many years," Durrin said. "We were not aware of any special needs or concerns regarding the material."
In court, Judge Steven R. Evans expressed surprise after Durrin said the term radioactive was "inflammatory" and that keeping the material on Greenway's site presented no risk.
"Whether or not you would feel comfortable having your family live on this material, I find it rather curious that certain dump sites in this area refuse to have it," Evans responded. "So obviously somebody has a disagreement with you."
Evans ruled in Greenway's favor, ordering Bullseye to pay Garrett $6,734 for the costs incurred in handling the radioactive material.
It wasn't until Feb. 25, four months after the material had first arrived at Greenway, that the last of it was hauled to a landfill in Idaho, at Bullseye's expense.
Bullseye spokesman Chris Edmonds says the factory now sends radioactive material to a recycling company in Ohio. He says the decision to recycle refractory in the first place—even in violation of state rules—shows the company's commitment to the environment.
"If anything, it's a positive reflection," Edmonds says. "It isn't like they dropped the material in a lake somewhere."