Seattle glass recycler Saint-Gobain leads list of NW companies fined for violating Clean Air Act

In partnership with:Coverage by iWatch NewsCoverage by NPRCoverage by Northwest News NetworkCoverage by EarthFixRobert McClure and Lisa Stiffler InvestigateWestSaint-Gobain Containers bills itself as a “world leader” in protecting the environment.  Its hulking south Seattle plant recycles used glass into new bottles – part of a noble effort to conserve resources, the company says.“We are committed to a sustainable future for not only our business – but the planet,” the company says.And yet Saint-Gobain’s Duwamish-area plant, operating under its Verallia label, has racked up more than $962,000 in fines for violating the Clean Air Act in the last five years, making the Paris-based company the most-fined toxic air pollution emitter in the Northwest, government records show.Saint-Gobain’s plant on Highway 99 just north of the First Avenue Bridge is only one of dozens of facilities around the Northwest, and particularly concentrated in the Puget Sound region, where regulators have struggled for years to rein in pollution – often exceeding time frames that regulators themselves set as deadlines.

Ballard rain gardens: a green solution gone wrong

When Seattle was planning its first extreme-green makeover of a city block, residents competed for the honor. And in 1999, the winning street in the Broadview neighborhood got a gorgeous facelift complete with new sidewalks and verdant roadside rain gardens with shrubs and grasses.But when the city recently tried going green in the Ballard neighborhood, homeowners there felt like they got stuck with the booby prize.The rain gardens installed by the city last summer and fall haven’t worked as planned. The gardens, which look sort of like shallow, sparsely-planted ditches running between the road and sidewalk, fill with water – and stay filled up. Some of the rain gardens drain over the course of hours or days, but some become mini ponds until the city comes to pump out the water.Many of the residents are not pleased. They worry that the swamped gardens are a drowning hazard for young children, a breeding ground for mosquitoes, and will lower their property values. There’s even a neighborhood blog calling for their removal. “We feel badly,” said Nancy Ahern, deputy director for utility-systems managementfor Seattle Public Utilities, the department that installed the rain gardens. “It’s been hard on this community.”

Research points way to sustainable solutions

When you mention Puyallup to most Northwesterners, the city’s fall fair is the image most likely brought to mind. But this suburb of Tacoma is also home to a research center that’s on the leading edge of technology used to cleanup and curb toxic stormwater runoff.Nationwide, cities and counties are spending billions of dollars trying to reduce the amount of polluted runoff that fouls lakes and bays, floods homes and businesses, and triggers erosion. The rainwater gushes across from highways, streets, parking lots, roof tops, lawns and farms, scooping up oil and grease, pesticides, metals and other toxic chemicals as it goes.This spring, the Washington State University’s Puyallup Low Impact Development Research Program is launching projects that scientists hope will help slow that flow of water and treat the pollutants.The WSU researchers are testing “green” solutions for stormwater runoff, including rain gardens and porous pavement. There’s a huge demand for more information about how to maximize the use of these natural strategies.“Our goal is to help get this stuff on the ground as fast as possible and operating as well as it can,” said Curtis Hinman, director of WSU’s Puyallup program, of the green technologies.Seattle, Portland, Bremerton, Lacey and Spokane are among the numerous cities installing natural stormwater solutions, which are also known as low-impact development or LID. For the most part, they’ve performed well, reducing and cleaning up runoff.But as was recently demonstrated in Seattle when city-built rain gardens in the Ballard neighborhood turned into muddy messes, there’s a pressing need for more data on how these systems work.