(AUDIO Feature) Spokane Riverkeeper Bart Mihailovich talks about a new twist in our efforts to reign in a fiendish pollutant.
Our featured podcast this week is an interview with our Spokane Riverkeeper, Bart Mihailovich. Bart discusses his most recent contribution for the Huffington Post, which ran earlier this month.
Among the topics we discuss with Bart is a bizarre and ironic story that we first reported a couple years ago, involving PCBs and a local paper company, Inland Empire Paper, that discharges its waste water into the Spokane River.
But first we have to explain that PCBs are polychlorinated biphenyls, a variety of man-made, organic chemicals whose production has been banned in the U.S. for 32 years. A suspected carcinogen, PCBs are also implicated in a variety of other health effects at very low levels of exposure. PCBs are extremely persistent in the environment, which explains why they remain a serious pollution problem even though PCBs are no longer being manufactured.
Coming back to the Spokane story, it also turns out that PCBs are very persistent in the global markets. The irony in Inland Empire Paper’s story is that the company would not have a PCB problem had it simply ignored appeals from environmentalists twenty years ago to switch feedstocks. Rather than continue to harvest timber for its fibers, IEP switched to using recycled paper.
It is the ink on that recycled paper—including inks impregnated with PCBs—that lead to low levels of PCBs in the company’s waste water. It may not be a classic case of no good deed going unpunished, but it does beg the question.
In any event, the dilemma has led to the Spokane Riverkeeper, IEP, the Lands Council and the state Department of Ecology working together. The objective, as Bart explains in this interview and in his recent Huffington Post article, is to persuade the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to bring its standards under the Toxic Substances Control Act (TSCA) into alignment with the much stricter state and federal standards promulgated under the Clean Water Act. A tightening of TSCA standards would (we hope) prohibit the importation of inks containing PCBs and therefore help remove PCBs from the recycled paper feedstock that IEP relies upon for its fiber.