December 11, 2009

The costly toxic legacy of the industrial age

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The largest environmental bankruptcy settlement in U.S. history will pump more than $800 million into the Pacific Northwest to cleanup up tons of lead and arsenic wastes near Everett, Tacaoma and Coeur d’Alene, Idaho.

“With this settlement we are in a much stronger position to assure that people’s children and grandchildren have a cleaner place to play and grow up,” said Dan Opalski, deputy administrator for the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) in the Northwest.

In the Puget Sound region, the waste came from smelters near Tacoma and Everett operated for more than 100 years by Asarco and its predecessors, and financed by industrialists including the Rockefellers and Guggenheims, extracting lead, arsenic, zinc and copper from sites around the country. The smelters spewed pollution into the air, that deposited contaminated soil around homes, schools, playgrounds and parks in the region.

Everett will receive nearly $45 million in clean up funds, which will go towards evaluating and cleaning up about 600 homes in the north part of the city, the Everett Herald reports. More than half of the total funds going towards cleanup in the Northwest will be spent  in northern Idaho, where pollution was so heavy from the Bunker Hill mine that heavy metals coat the bottom of Lake Coeur d’Alene and have poisoned parts of the Spokane River, Seattle Times reporter Craig Welch reports.

In Tacoma, the contaminated area covers 1,000 square miles, including 60 day care play areas that need cleaning up.

— Rita Hibbard

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