PORTLAND, Ore. (CN) — In a $30 million civil rights lawsuit Tuesday, a small Portland glass company claims Oregon unfairly targeted it for toxic metal emissions while it ignored “the real polluters.”
Bullseye Glass faced uproar in the environmentally aware city in 2016, when the public learned that it was emitting arsenic and cadmium into the air and soil in Southeast Portland.
The news came from a U.S. Forest Service pilot study of moss samples, which found potentially harmful levels of cadmium and arsenic near the Bullseye plant, and near another glass company, Uroboros, in North Portland.
In response, the state Department of Environmental Quality monitored air quality in October 2015. That study concluded that moss samples could be used to map air quality. Multnomah County and state authorities said in March 2016 that the two companies agreed to stop using arsenic, cadmium and chromium VI.
Cadmium exposure can cause kidney damage, arsenic is used as rat poison, and hexavalent chromium is carcinogenic.
Families who live near Bullseye sued the company in a class action in March this year, seeking punitive damage in Multnomah County Court. The case is still in litigation, and last week Bullseye moved to strike the families’ motion for class certification.
Bullseye adopted a new legal strategy on Tuesday, in its civil rights complaint in federal court. Represented by former prosecutor Allan Garten, Bullseye says Governor Kate Brown and her director of environmental quality directed a “campaign of misinformation and irrational regulatory conduct” against it after the studies were made public.
It claims that Oregon allowed other industries to “dump hundreds of millions of pounds of industrial pollutants and hazardous substances into Oregon’s air,” while it targeted Bullseye’s small business.
“Portland’s air is a toxic soup of auto and truck exhaust, wood smoke, diesel exhaust, and industrial pollutants,” according to the 88-page complaint. “It is the home of steel plants, oil refineries, and heavy metal fabricators. DEQ permits these industries to release millions of pounds of pollutants and cancer-causing substances into Oregon’s air every year.”
Bullseye says an individual agent of one of the state defendants leaked the air-testing results to the press before sharing them with Bullseye, and the public response led to a “panicked rush to judgment.”
The lengthy contains a number of maps and graphs showing the toxins emitted every year in Portland, including more than 170 million pounds of ethanol, and over 123 million pounds of methane.
It names a number of companies, including giants such as BP, Boeing and Daimler, which emitted toxic metals with DEQ permits. It also cites a wood-treatment plant in the Columbia River Gorge, which spurred a trespass lawsuit last year about toxic gases produced by AmeriTies.
Bullseye claims the maps about the moss studies were misleading, and made it seem that it and Uroboros were epicenters of pollution.
The state officials also needlessly stoked fear when they issued a statement telling people who lived within a half mile of Bullseye that they should “await further guidance before consuming backyard produce,” the company says.
The pending state court lawsuit against the glass company claims, among other things, that families were unable to eat vegetables they grew in their own back yards.
Bullseye claims the government actions hurt its business. It seeks declaratory judgment that the government deprived it of property interests, and that part of the DEQ regulations does not apply to it, and damages for conspiracy to violate its civil rights.
A spokesperson for Governor Brown declined to comment on the lawsuit.
Attorney Garten’s office, the GRM Law Group, is in Lake Oswego, a Portland suburb.