Company expects to start Gresham plant in 2009

The Oregon Department of Environmental Quality approved Owens Corning's permit to manufacture foam insulation at its fledgling Gresham manufacturing plant. The department gave the go-ahead on Wednesday, Jan. 2, based on a revised manufacturing process the company proposed after an initial plan generated controversy and a lawsuit.

Following the conclusion of a required comment period for the permit, Owens Corning plans to begin ordering equipment for the plant, much of which has already been constructed at a 7.35-acre site near 181st Avenue and Interstate 84. The plant is expected to employ about 35 people.

'We wouldn't expect the plant to be up and running until early 2009,' said Jason Saragian, Owens Corning spokesman.

The Ohio-based company's revised proposal is based on a mix of hydrofluorocarbons (HFCs), a type of gases that doesn't deplete the ozone layer, rather than HCFC-142b (HCFCs), which the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) hopes to ban. The Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ) issued a permit based on the process, pending the EPA's approval of two of the five HFC gases.

'There are five gases involved,' said George Davis of the Oregon DEQ. 'Three are already approved. They can operate as long as they don't use those two HFCs.'

Company officials expect the gases, which they decline to specify at this point, to be approved. The EPA has a 90-day period to respond to the HFCs approval request.

The change in the manufacturing process results from trouble the company ran into in the early stages of building the Gresham facility. Environmental groups sued Owens Corning, alleging the company started construction in 1984 before obtaining an air-quality permit. As part of a settlement, the company promised to eliminate HCFCs for manufacturing in Oregon.

HFCs have been used for years as a refrigerant for car air conditioners, but are basically untested in the foam manufacturing Owens Corning proposes. Although it took a winding path to get there, Davis credits the company for its lead role in an HFC-based manufacturing process.

'In a sense they are pioneering,' he said. 'No one has used these for (making) this type of foam.'

In addition to its non-ozone-depleting benefits, company officials cite the energy-saving nature of its insulating products as environmentally friendly. Also, the proximity of a new plant to vibrant markets reduces transportation-based pollution.

'Making it somewhere on the West Coast does make sense in terms of reduced transportation-related emissions,' Davis noted. 'It's a supporting argument that's counter balanced by the fact that the plant will put out a lot of emissions. But all in all, these are steps in the right direction.'

Reporter Shannon O. Wells can be reached at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. or by calling 503-492-5118.

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