Source: FRONTLINE Poisoned Waters
FRONTLINE Poisoned Waters
For more resources from this report go to FRONTLINE Poisoned Waters.
More than three decades after the Clean Water Act, iconic American waterways like the Chesapeake Bay and Puget Sound are in perilous condition and facing new sources of contamination. In this special collection of educational resources from FRONTLINE Poisoned Waters, correspondent Hedrick Smith investigates the growing hazards to our waterways and emerging threats to human health.
Poisoned Waters Discussion Guide (Document)
How Can Communities Fight Industrial Pollution?
The South Park section of Seattle is one of the least likely places you’d expect to find a grass roots environmental movement. It’s a smoggy, low-income neighborhood of bars, burrito shops and squat match-box homes, all jammed among the cement plants, scrap metal operations and brawny factories of Boeing, Jorgensen Forge and Rhone Poulenc along the Duwamish River, Seattle’s industrial corridor.
For a century, South Park has served as a first stop for new immigrants—first, the Italians and Japanese who came to farm the mud flats along the river. Now, Mexicans, Cambodians, Vietnamese and other working poor. It is a basic subsistence place—no post office, no bank, no drugstore, and problems with drugs and gang violence. Its residents do much of the grubby unskilled work in the plants nearby.
Like Love Canal and the Hudson River, the lower Duwamish River has gained notoriety because it has been designated a Superfund site by the Environmental Protection Agency. Superfund is EPA’s big stick for tackling the worst industrial pollution sites in America. In 2001, after years of studies exposed pervasive contamination in the muddy river bottom, EPA designated an entire five-mile stretch of the Duwamish River, with hundreds of businesses, a mega-pollution site.
One flagrant polluter was Malarkey Asphalt, a plant lying like an elongated football field along the riverbank at South Park. It made roofing tar out of used oils and chemicals. So high were the levels of PCBs found at Malarkey that EPA labeled it an “early action hotspot.” Several years later, a partial cleanup was done by the Port of Seattle, which bought the property when Malarkey went broke.
But South Park residents weren’t satisfied. They were sure there were more toxins in the ground. Joining with other groups to form the Duwamish River Cleanup Coalition (DRCC), which got itself recognized as an official Superfund citizen’s advisory group, they demanded —and got—more tests. The results were stunning—levels of “about 9,000 parts per million,” admitted Doug Hotchkiss, the site manager for the Port of Seattle.
It was a bombshell. Federal law allows only 25 parts per million for industrial sites; Washington state law, only one part per million for residential areas. When the City of Seattle tested nearby residential areas, it found PCBs in the streets, sidewalks and people’s yards, evidently having dripped off Malarkey’s tar trucks. Residents were up in arms.
Eventually, the Port of Seattle announced a plan to clean up the Malarkey contamination to the industrial level of 25. But South Park residents, by now inflamed and organized, demanded a level of one. They lobbied the Port Commission and the City Council. Bowing to public pressure, the authorities agreed to start a residential-level cleanup in 2010—a concrete illustration of how vocal community activists can push the EPA and industrial polluters into action.
Background Essay Written by Hedrick Smith.
Poisoned Waters explores why American waterways like the Chesapeake Bay and the Puget Sound are in peril. After watching the video chapter on cleaning up industrial pollution, discuss your answers to the following questions:
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