The timber company was sued in 2006 by the two Eureka-based environmental groups, Humboldt Baykeeper and Californians for Alternatives to Toxics (CATs).
Tests were conducted, and dioxin was found at levels tens of thousands of times higher than Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) standards, some of the highest levels found in the nation. The test sites were near where Simpson commonly sprayed plywood with the now-widely-banned wood preservative pentachlorophenol in the 1960s.
Further indications that dioxin, which is one of the most potent carcinogens known, had persisted in the environment came last year when the State Water Resources Control Board listed Humboldt Bay as “impaired” after dioxin was found in the tissues of local fish and oysters.
Under the settlement, Simpson is required to dig up contaminated sediment in the ditch, which is adjacent to Humboldt Bay’s only public fishing pier, and haul it to a licensed disposal site. The company also must restore the ditch as a functioning wetland and install a network of groundwater-monitoring wells to ensure that residual subsurface contamination doesn’t leave the site.
In addition, a Humboldt Bay Wetlands Restoration Fund will be established at the Humboldt Area Foundation for restoration projects designed to offset environmental damage caused as a result of the contamination.
Humboldt Baykeeper director Pete Nichols said, “This settlement is a pivotal step in addressing and fixing the dioxin problem in and around Humboldt Bay. The work required under this agreement will help protect those who fish from this public pier and throughout the bay, in addition to the fish and other inhabitants of the bay.”
The suit was brought under the Federal Resource Conservation and Recovery Act, which was established by Congress to address hazardous waste issues and prevent sites, such as the old plywood mill, from creating an ongoing threat to public health and the environment. Michelle Smith, Humboldt Baykeeper’s staff attorney said, “This is precisely what Congress had in mind when they crafted provisions in environmental laws that allow citizens to take legal action to protect their communities and the environment.”
During the 1960s, pentachlorophenol was used at close to a dozen lumber mills around Humboldt Bay. Patty Clary of CATs said her group has mapped many of these old mill sites, most of which don’t exist anymore. “We’ll carefully watchdog the results of data collected by the extensive system of monitoring wells Simpson will install as a result of this settlement,” Clary stated. “Our goal is to prevent further degradation of the bay by dioxin, and see it restored to its former health and vitality,” she continued.