Here’s a quick look at some of the pollution issues and complaints involving Reynolds Metals Co. since the aluminum plant opened in 1941:
1946: Reynolds installs a $500,000 fume control system that hoses dangerous fumes from potlines into local drainage ditches.
1948: Dozens of farmers and dairymen begin filing lawsuits in federal court against the company. The lawsuits contend that gases and fumes from the Longview and Troutdale, Ore., smelters are damaging crops, stunting cattle’s growth and harming milk production. Reynolds previously had settled out of court with farmers complaining of property damage.
1953: A U.S. District Court judge awards a Rainier dairy farmer $14,000 for property damage caused by Reynolds’ smelter fumes.
1954: A federal judge rules in favor of Reynolds in a $875,000 damage lawsuit filed by several groups of farmers. The judge said the court was satisfied that the aluminum plant’s usefulness and importance to the economy and national security “far outweigh any injury to plaintiffs shown by the evidence.”
1970: The Washington State Air Pollution Control Board considers standards to control aluminum plant emissions. Reynolds begins experimenting with different technologies to reduce air pollution. A bluish haze blankets the city of Longview’s industrial sector. A Rainier man, angry that he can barely see the Washington side of the Columbia River, dumps a truckload of scrap metal in front of Reynolds’ office building on Industrial Way.
1971: The state tells aluminum firms they have until January 1975 to comply with new air pollution standards. Reynolds begins planning a $25 million clean-air program.
1973: As part of Longview’s 50th anniversary celebration, Reynolds holds a mini-tour. The tour includes environmental exhibits that include a scale model of the plant’s new electrostatic precipitators (which scrub pollution particles out of the plant’s smokestacks) and five fish swimming in a tank filled with water from the plant’s sewer discharge line.
1974: The state Department of Ecology requires Reynolds to apply for a federal “National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System” permit for the company’s long practice of discharging waste water into the Columbia River.
1981: The state fines Reynolds $1,200 for discharging “black mud,” waste water and sludge from the company’s cryolite plant, into the Columbia River. The fine was one of many Reynolds would pay for violating pollution laws.
1983: Due to newly discovered groundwater pollution, the DOE orders Reynolds to stop importing spent potliner from other smelters to extract cryolite, a mineral used to produce aluminum. Reynolds must get rid of the football-field-sized potliner pile by 1989, the DOE says.
1984: Reynolds discovers a barrel of toxic PCBs that had been stored unnoticed for years under a tarp was leaking into the dirt. Workers are ordered to remove the contaminated dirt with hand shovels. Seventy-seven barrels of the dirt are shipped to a hazardous waste dump before the DOE learns of the situation and reprimands the company. PCBs cause cancer and reproductive organ failures.
1985: Cowlitz County’s three big industries —Reynolds Metals Co., Weyerhaeuser Co. and Longview Fibre Co. — rank among the state’s top 10 industrial polluters. The finding is the result of a federal law requiring industrial plants to estimate their annual emissions of toxic pollutants.
1986: A herd of cows left to graze near a West Longview drainage ditch dies mysteriously. The water’s toxicity was not analyzed because too much time had elapsed before the DOE inspector received the report. Assorted fish and wildlife also are found dead along the ditch, which runs along Memorial Park Drive near the Reynolds plant.
1987: DOE orders Reynolds to install a $3 million water treatment plant to combat cyanide and fluoride groundwater pollution. The chemicals had seeped into the ground in high concentrations at the city’s Industrial Way drainage ditch north of the plant and under and around the spent potliner pile, according to the DOE. The water treatment plant would cut environmental releases of fluoride in half and cyanide by 97 percent.
1988: Before the water plant construction is finished, DOE fines Reynolds $8,000 for violating state water pollution standards 16 times over three months. Reynolds was dumping 100 gallons a minute of untreated “black” water into the Columbia River. The untreated water, called “bleed stream” was from an air pollution system that hosed down fumes from Reynolds’ six pot rooms. The contaminated water was mixed with 10 million gallons of cooling water from the cast house.
1991: Reynolds is listed among the state’s 700 hazardous waste sites. The DOE orders Reynolds to close its 33-acre “black mud” pond and cover it with an impermeable cap of clay, dirt and vegetation.
1992: The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency fines Reynolds $450,000 for violations in storage, tracking and handling of hazardous waste. At the time, it was the largest penalty the EPA ever had imposed. Later, after Reynolds pays nearly $140,000 for air pollution, the EPA agrees to reduce the hazardous waste fine to $22,500 because some wastes turned out not to be hazardous.
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Nov 25, 2008: Yesterday’s pollution slows today’s economy