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Dioxin Levels near Former Simpson Timber Plywood Mill Confirm Systemic Problem Around Humboldt Bay
(Eureka, CA) Californians for Alternatives to Toxics (CATs) and Humboldt Baykeeper and filed suit in federal court today. They are asking the court to order Simpson Timber Company and Preston Properties to clean up toxic contamination at the old Simpson Plywood mill, currently the site of Flea Mart by the Bay, on Del Norte Street in Eureka.
The site was contaminated with the wood preservative pentachlorophenol (“penta”) more than twenty years ago, when Simpson used penta to treat the marine plywood made at the mill site. Penta – a known carcinogen in its own right – is widely known to be contaminated with the much more toxic dioxin, the same toxic chemical found in Agent Orange.
Baykeeper and CATs say that they were forced to bring suit because dioxin-laden soil was still on site, impacting Humboldt Bay and the Eureka Marsh. Simpson and the North Coast Regional Water Quality Control Board (Regional Board) have been negotiating clean-up of the site for over fifteen years.
Most recently, Simpson has filed a report with the Regional Board requesting no further clean-up of the site. Pete Nichols, Director of Humboldt Baykeeper said, “Simpson recently asked the Regional Board to sign-off on their proposal that no further action be taken to clean-up the site.” Nichols added, “After fifteen years of talk, it is quite clear that the Regional Board is not going to make Simpson find and remove the bulk of the contamination.”
The 2003 report to the Regional Board, produced by SHN Consulting, claimed that SHN had removed contaminated soil along the drainage ditch leading to Humboldt Bay and that, “the primary areas of concern were removed.” But, Nichols noted, “Simpson and SHN never tested the ditch area for dioxin, even though the law requires it.”
In April, Baykeeper consultants sampled mud from the same ditch Simpson and SHN said they had cleaned up. Baykeeper found dioxin at levels tens of thousands times higher than the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) considers safe. The sampling also revealed high levels of dioxin in Bay sediments, where the ditch empties.
According to the EPA, dioxin is one of the most potent carcinogens known and causes a range of birth defects in children who are exposed when they are in the womb, including diabetes, and sexual and behavioral abnormalities. The suit alleges that the parties have created a human health risk from the dioxin contamination around the site and environmental harm to Humboldt Bay, the Eureka Marsh, and groundwater under the site.
Patty Clary of CATs said, “Humboldt Bay is one of the most important mariculture centers on the west coast, and this contaminated site is directly adjacent to the only public fishing pier on the Bay.” CATs has been fighting for years with the Regional Board to require dioxin sampling at all penta-contaminated sites. "Penta remains toxic in the environment for many years, but dioxin is worse in every way, persisting as a hazard for generations unless we clean it up,” Clary stated.