Glass makers ‘frustrated’ by declining production

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PORTLAND, Ore. (KOIN) — The past 6 weeks have been extremely challenging for Portland glass makers Uroboros and Bullseye Glass. The companies were in compliance with DEQ and EPA regulations, but the presence of toxic heavy metals in the air in their neighborhoods put them under a microscope.

Both Bullseye owner Dan Schwoerer and Uroboros owner Eric Lovell willingly opened their doors to KOIN 6 News to help set the record straight.

“The real frustrating part for us is that the media has turned it into a ‘guilty until proven innocent’ sensationalism, and so the public has become unnecessarily frightened as a result of that,” Lovell said.

Schwoerer and Lovell said they felt blindsided when the DEQ shared the heavy metal test results earlier this year.

Both art glass companies produce a rainbow of colors, pure and blended, complexions and textures; glass that’s fused and poured, mingled and baked, whipped into wire-thin strands or streamers.

“We probably have the most extensive colored glass palette in the world actually,” Bullseye’s Schwoerer said.

“Our specialties are based on mixed colors,” Lovell said. “That’s what we do best in a small hand-casting operation.”

The colors are the lifeblood of the businesses that now have production cut by more than half since voluntarily stopping the use of certain heavy metals while the DEQ creates new rules — rules both owners wish were in place to begin with.

“We weren’t breaking rules and it’s easy to say the rule should have been tighter now that we have the information we have now,” Lovell told KOIN 6 News. “We are a different situation than Bullseye. For us, there has been no testing that demonstrates conclusively (that we) emit anything that’s detectable or excessive, even if you apply new rules.”

“Unfortunately,” Schwoerer said, “working with DEQ has not served us or the community well. For 30 years we worked with them with a permit.”

He testified before environmental quality commissioners last week, pleading for clear standards to follow, guidelines he said lawmakers should have enacted years ago.

Inside Bullseye Glass in Southeast Portland, Feb. 16, 2016 (KOIN)

Those rules, he believes, would have prevented protesters from picketing outside his facility.

The protests were “quite debilitating, honestly,” he said. “We’ve been getting death threats, we’ve had windows broken, eggs thrown at our facility.”

Bullseye and Uroboros both find themselves facing financial setbacks and wondering what the future holds.

Lovell is crunching the numbers. Production at Uroboros is a third of what it was when the year began.

“I think that the grand era of decorative glass in the United States has come to an end and there’s a new era starting now that will be very different,” he said.

At Bullseye, they’re completing production of their pilot bag house, a filtration system that will allow them to use certain heavy metals again.

“We just know the path forward for us is to get bag houses and to get some kind of an agreement with DEQ and to be able to make the glasses that our clients need,” Schwoerer said.

It’s a costly investment and one that the smaller Uroboros hopes it can afford so they can get back to creating a rainbow of colors the glass art world hopes never disappears.

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