"Bad things happen when regulators are asleep at the switch,” Wheeler said in a prepared release. "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."
One thing Wheeler didn't note: The source of the potentially dangerous pollution in SE has also been a source of campaign cash. Lani McGregor, a co-owner of suspected polluter Bullseye Glass, gave $750 to Wheeler's bid for mayor via two contributions on January 21 and 22, campaign finance records show. The donations were first reported yesterday by BikePortland.com.
According to a spokesperson for Wheeler, he doesn't actually know McGregor, "but Ted was introduced to her husband at an event a few weeks ago." That husband is Bullseye co-founder Dan Schwoerer, who's been the primary face for the company since the Mercury broke news last week that it's been tied to alarming levels of the carcinogens cadmium and arsenic near the factory. Air monitoring last fall detected rates of cadmium 49 times state safety bench marks, and rates of arsenic 159 times those benchmarks.
McGregor's generosity pales in comparison to some of the moneyed donors Wheeler's campaign has attracted. He's raised nearly $400,000 since declaring his candidacy in September, with big donations coming in from all over. This month alone, Wheeler's gotten $5,000 from Portland developer Homer Williams, $2,500 from developer Vanessa Sturgeon, and $1,000 from Pendleton Woolen Mills president CM Bishop III.
Given that cash flow, $750 probably doesn't loom large. It's also worth noting McGregor's contributions came before state officials formally notified her and Schwoerer on February 1 about the potentially dangerous emissions. Bullseye has vowed to stop using cadmium and arsenic while this plays out, though no law would stop them if they wanted to resume using the heavy metals today.
Wheeler hadn't spoken to Bullseye's owners as of yesterday, campaign spokesperson Annie Ellison said this morning. The candidate's statement Tuesday didn't find much fault with the company, instead reserving reproach for the regulators that have apparently allowed it to spew toxic emissions. (It's not alone. Suspicions have also centered on a Bullseye competitor in North Portland, Uroboros Glass.)
"Bullseye Glass, the company whose emissions were tied to air pollution near SE 22nd Ave. and SE Powell Blvd. in Portland, was emitting heavy metals that resulted in air with fifty times the normal levels of cadmium and 150 times the normal levels of arsenic," the statement says. Later it notes:
Bullseye voluntarily stopped using cadmium and arsenic just days after learning about the air quality. A second glass company, Uroboros Glass, discontinued its use of the chemicals voluntarily.
“Some in state government said they were glad the emissions had stopped – glad isn’t good enough,” said Wheeler.
While it's true that state emissions regulations are flawed, there's also reason for concern about Bullseye's practices over the years. As the Mercury reported yesterday, the company doesn't use a key pollution control device on its furnace flue. And until just a few years ago, Bullseye was allowing a powdery by-product of its processes to collect and blow around its roof, according to a 2013 complaint. It looked something like this:
Update, 10:17 am: Multnomah County Commissioner Jules Bailey is now calling on Wheeler to donate the $750 from McGregor. Staffers for Bailey, currently Wheeler's main competition in this year's mayoral race, insinuated in a release this morning that Wheeler had "shielded" Bullseye from criticism, while blasting DEQ.
"The Bailey campaign called today for Ted Wheeler to donate the $750 in campaign donations he accepted to the local nonprofit Neighbors for Clean Air to help them respond to the crisis," the release said.
Bailey's folks are accusing Wheeler of skin-deep concern on the pollution issue. Mentioning an hours-long public forum on the pollution at Cleveland High School last night, the release says: "Top officials were present for hours and took questions late into the evening. Bailey attended the event to hear people’s concerns. Ted Wheeler popped by for about 20 minutes for a photo-op."
Expect a response from Wheeler's campaign.
Update, 12:06 pm: Now Wheeler's campaign says it's going to return McGregor's $750—at her request.
"They were not pleased with our characterization of the issue," Campaign Manager Michael Cox tells the Mercury. McGregor demanded the money back yesterday, after Wheeler released his statement.
Cox also sent a statement accusing Bailey of "posturing to score political points", and casting aspersions on Bailey's record as the chair of the legislature's House Energy and Environment Committee in 2013 (we've asked Bailey's campaign for a rundown of his efforts related to air toxics). Here's the statement:
“Individual businesses bear responsibility for the consequences of their actions, and it is up to the people’s representatives in government to enact a robust regulatory and enforcement regime to hold them accountable. In this case the government failed. As Chair of the House Environment Committee, Jules Bailey was part of that failure. Unfortunately, rather than focusing on this very real problem, Bailey is taking a community health issue and is posturing to score political points.”
State Finds Alarmingly High Arsenic, Cadmium Levels Near Two SE Portland Schools
Bullseye Glass Has Suspended Use of Arsenic and Cadmium Because of Air Quality Concerns
Portland Public Schools Is Ordering Air Tests Because of Arsenic, Cadmium Concerns: "We Need A Public Meeting"