NOVEMBER 1998

 

NOVEMBER-DECEMBER 1998 FULL ISSUE

SUPERFUND SHOCK SYNDROME: POLLUTERS DREAD TOUGH FEDERAL CLEANUP LAW 

By PAUL KOBERSTEIN

The city of Pore Angeles, Washington, sits among the rain clouds in the shadow of the Olympic Mountains under one great contradiction. Over the years, while offering tourists a pristine, sylvan gateway to the National Park, Port Angeles itself was being chronically poisoned by the malodorous effluent of industrial smoke­stacks on its harborfront.

ln the 1990s, the Rayonier Inc. pulp mill dumped more hazardous waste into the environment than any other facility in the state of Washington, including even the Hanford Nuclear Reservation. Poison liquid waste, running off the millsite loaded with dioxin and heavy  metals, washed into the Strait of Juan de Fuca. which in 1996 was ranked as the state's second most polluted body of water by the environmental group People for Puget Sound. But the air - the air what made people cough and call their doctors. They said it often carried the unmistakable reek of sulfur dioxide. They  also suspected the air carried  dioxin, a highly toxic waste from pulp bleaching.  A clean air hotline logged 3,000 complaints in five years.

Within days after the Rayonier plant's permanent closure in April 1997, the calls dissipated. Soon thereafter, doctors reported that asthma and lung problems among residents had dropped off.  Rayonier hoped it could dump the demolished mill and associated debris in one of the residential-area based landfills and go on its way. Day and night, often on weekends, Rayonier trucked toxic waste to the landfill, located within a neighborhood of modest homes.  After Clallam County halted the dumping when a permit expired in May 1997, Rayonier initiated a challenge in court. That's when Darlene  Schanfald, an environmental activist in Port Angeles, put the word "Superfund" on the front pages of the local Peninsula Daily News.

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Paul Koberstein