NOVEMBER 1999

 

NOVEMBER 1999 FULL ISSUE

BUSTED! WILLAMETTE INDUSTRIES’ DIRTY AIR TRIGGERS A FEDERAL INVESTIGATION.

dID THE OREGON DEQ LOOK THE OTHER WAY?

By PAUL KOBERSTEIN AND JOHN PAUL WILLIAMS

Meet Willamette Industries. WI, as it is sometimes called, is a national forest products manufacturing giant based in Portland that employs thousands of workers. But WI is sometimes called other names. The citizens who livenear the WI plant in Gifford, Arkansas (pop. 300) call WI "criminals." And the Federal Environmental Protection Agency, in their stilted bureaucratese, calls WI, " ... in violation of the Clean Air Act" at a baker's dozen or more of their plants across the country.  

WI makes everything from cardboard to plywood to toilet paper. WI's 96 facilities dot the maps near the fir forests in the Pacific Northwest, along the pine woods of the South, and adjacent to the urban markets for timber products in the Northeast.  The towering smokestacks at Wl's mills dominate the skyline, just as its large payrolls dominate the economies in towns with names like Millersburg,  Oregon, (pop. 2729) Chester, South Carolina, (pop. 7158) and Malvern, Arkansas (pop. 9256)  

But WI's smokestacks have also illegally spewed an often invisible cloud of airborne chemicals, some of which may cause cancer and birth defects, in these same communities, according to documents obtained from the EPA by Cascadia Times through the Freedom of Information Act.  Many of the folks who were exposed to WI 's toxins were painfully aware of the excessive pollution. Their lungs ached, their children coughed and wheezed.

If they parked outside, their cars would become covered with soot from WI's stacks within a few minutes. Scores of these folks complained to their state environmental protection agencies. In Oregon, they told the Department of Environmental Quality, or the DEQ. But for the most part, for decades, the agencies, and in particular the DEQ, ignored the vocal protests of residents, labor and protest groups.

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Paul Koberstein