Archive for category Industries

Portland’s Zidell Marine site on the South Waterfront

[Originally published on my blog Historical Threads on Jan. 3, 2010. This version has been refined & corrected, where necessary.]

The Oregonian recently ran two articles (here and here) about the Zidell Marine site in Portland’s South Waterfront area. The site is on the west side of the Willamette, bisected by the Ross Island Bridge and abutting the north edge of all those new towers down there.

The issues raised in this and this article involve at least two complex and longstanding themes that reflect society’s changing values. One theme is the conflict that often arises as land uses change over time, pitting long-established uses with more economically lucrative development opportunities. The other is the need to clean up environmental hazards based on previous land uses. It’s here at the pivotal moments of these changes & conflicts that we historians like to poke around a bit, write up some things, and, thereby, try to make some sense of.

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Industry threats in the face of environmental regulation: Crying wolf, or worth heeding?

[Originally published on my blog Historical Threads on March 26, 2010. This version has been refined & corrected, where necessary. There are three comments at the original post.]

A few preliminary thoughts on the most recent discussion related to the Portland River Plan (sources cited below):

T. Alan Sprott wrote an OpEd on March 26. He’s the vice president of Vigor Industrial LLC in Portland and chair of the Working Waterfront Coalition. Reflecting on a lack of consensus with the Portland River Plan, he argues that Read the rest of this entry »

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Dioxin and Willamette River Pollution: A First Step Into the Toxic Waters

[Originally published on my blog Historical Threads on May 18, 2011. This version has been refined & corrected, where necessary.]

This post provides some preliminary research and analysis on dioxin pollution in the Willamette Watershed connected to pulp and paper mill effluents.

I was recently at an environmental history conference and found myself in a discussion with someone doing research on dioxin pollution from pulp and paper mill effluents. As we were sharing stories, I realized that I had not seen a single reference to the word “dioxin” in any of the government reports, newspaper articles, professional journals, letters, or other primary sources from the 1900s into the 1960s that I have consulted thus far. Over the past few weeks, I’ve searched various primary and secondary sources, with the goal of determining just when dioxins became a known toxin, and when they were linked empirically with pulp and paper mill effluents, to determine if I had inadvertently missed something very important (and would have to re-write my thesis), or if this type of pollution hadn’t been discovered until after the 1960s (and I was OK).

Here is what I have found thus far . . . Read the rest of this entry »

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Sixty years later, a prediction comes true . . . sort of.

[Originally published on my blog Historical Threads on Sep. 27, 2011. This version has been refined & corrected, where necessary.]

Willamette Falls, looking north. Blue Heron paper mill on right, in Oregon City, which operated as the Hawley Pulp and Paper Mill, 1908-1948, operated under the Publishers’ Paper Company from 1948-1986, and under the Jefferson Smurfit Corporation 1986-2000. On the left is the West Linn Paper Company mill, which opened as Willamette Pulp & Paper in 1889, and after mergers was operated by the Crown Willamette Paper Company (1914-1928),  Crown Zellerbach Paper Company (1928-1986), and the James River Corporation (1986-1997). Oregonian photo.

This is fascinating: Metro is considering bidding for the recently-closed Blue Heron paper mill site in Oregon City at the base of Willamette Falls.[1] It would be great to have public access to this part of the river.

On another note, it appears that mill officials might have been correct when they predicted in 1949 that more stringent Willamette River water quality standards would run them out of business. However, does it count that the prediction was sixty years in coming to fruition, or that more stringent water quality standards do not entirely explain the demise of the mill?

Read the rest of this entry »

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Smelling One’s Way to Cleaner Water? Comparing pollution abatement in Oregon and Maine

In the most recent issue of Environmental History there is an informative article on mid-twentieth century water pollution abatement in Maine’s Androscoggin River watershed. Author Wallace Scot McFarlane completed an undergraduate thesis at Bowdoin College in 2009, from which he drew the core of his 2012 article. McFarlane “explores how people’s views of science and the environment were reshaped during the transition from localized nuisance control to concerted environmental action, from the 1940s to the 1970s,” and he does so predominately by focusing on the work of a (if not the) prominent abatement figure in the watershed from the 1940s through the 1960s, Dr. Walter A. Lawrance.[1]

McFarlane’s article provides a valuable point of reference to compare and contrast water pollution abatement efforts in Oregon with those in other states and provinces. There are at least two other works that offer a state-to-state comparison of the history of environmental legislation generally, and water quality specifically, in Oregon and Maine.[2] McFarlane’s work effectively builds upon these other sources by focusing on the efforts of a single person intimately involved in the science and administration of water quality; therefore, his article provides details that the other works on Maine do not. McFarlane’s article is also a welcome addition to journal-length studies on water pollution in Washington State, Illinois, British Columbia, Pennsylvania, Louisiana, and Connecticut.[3]

From the second half of the nineteenth century well into the second half of the twentieth, the economies of both Maine and Oregon were heavily reliant upon the heavily-polluting pulp and paper industry, which is another reason why studies of Maine are relevant to the situation in Oregon. Maine’s Androscoggin and Oregon’s Willamette were both impacted significantly for decades from the effects of untreated pulp and paper wastes. (Historian Gregory Summers has written a study of water pollution in another watershed with long connections to the pulp and paper industry, Wisconsin’s Fox River, which I mention here in passing for reference. [4])

Comparing and contrasting events in Maine and Oregon brings to light important details that illustrate, in practical terms, the ways in which people’s values in North America relative to the environment changed over the course of the twentieth century, and how these changes happened differently in different cultural and political settings. Within the realm of water pollution, one can observe that Oregonians were relatively more progressive and proactive than Mainers in that they created their state water quality agency earlier than in Maine, they did so through citizen initiative, and they granted it stronger powers. Further, water quality oversight in Oregon from 1938 through 1967 involved a board of seven that included the head of the State Health Officer, State Engineer, State Sanitary Engineer, and State Fish Commission Chair (in addition to a staff of on-the-ground engineers and technicians) who were financed from the State General Fund and tasked with abating a wide array of industrial and municipal pollutants; oversight in the Androscoggin watershed, in contrast, appears to have been centered on one man whose work was constrained to sulfite pulping wastes only and who was funded to a significant degree by the very industries that produced these wastes. As a result, the Willamette River was significantly cleaner than it had been for decades (in terms of pulp and paper wastes) by the time Congress enacted the Clean Water Act in 1972, and the Androscoggin was not.

Below the fold I’ll provide a brief overview of Walter Lawrance’s work in the Androscoggin watershed and specify the evidence I’ve used to draw my conclusions. Read the rest of this entry »

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