Toxic Mess: EPA places former Missoula Co papermill on National Priorities List

Smurfit-Stone Container Corp's Frenchtown pulp mill west of Missoula. Photo: Missoulian.
Smurfit-Stone Container Corp’s Frenchtown pulp mill west of Missoula. Photo: Missoulian.

On March 12, 2011, the Missoulian reported that “Smurfit-Stone Container Corp. officials say they’ve already cleaned up their Frenchtown paper mill.”  The article went on to quote Smurfit-Stone Container Corp. spokeswoman Lisa Esneault:

“When we discontinued operations at the Missoula mill more than a year ago, we developed a detailed strategy for removing all residual process materials subject to environmental regulation. We discussed our plans with the (Montana Department of Environmental Quality) at that time and have since implemented all activities as promised. This work is now complete and we believe all environmental issues at the mill have been appropriately addressed.”

Well, today, Missoula County residents woke up to the news that:

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has proposed placing Frenchtown’s old paper mill site on the National Priorities List, a step closer to triggering a Superfund cleanup effort.

The former Smurfit-Stone Container Corp. mill has evidence of dioxin, furan, arsenic and manganese contamination on portions of its 3,200-acre grounds. An NPL listing would allow more testing to confirm the extent of the problem and research of the plant’s history to determine which former or current owners might bear financial responsibility for fixing it.

“This isn’t a taxpayer-paid program,” Missoula County environmental health supervisor Peter Nielsen said Tuesday. “It’s paid for by the parties that profited from the operation, sale or closure of that mill. They’re brought back to the table to pay for the messes they’ve left behind. That’s where we’re headed, and that’s what we felt all along is what should happen.”

Current property owners Frenchtown Technology and Industrial Center did not respond to phone and email requests for comment on the EPA announcement. Previously, company redevelopment manager Ray Stillwell told the Missoulian he hoped the site could avoid a federal listing by managing its own cleanup efforts.

It’s worth remembering that the Smurfit-Stone Container Corp was one of the original “timber partners” (along with Montana Wilderness Association, National Wildlife Federation and Montana Trout Unlimited) that was part of the Beaverhead-Deerlodge Partnership’s proposal for 100,000 acres of politically mandated national forest logging, which later became part of Sen Tester’s Forest Jobs and Recreation Act.

It’s also worth remembering that the Smurfit-Stone Container paper mill closed on December 31, 2009, the very same day the Black Liquor Tax Credit loophole expired, which was much more than a coincidence.  During 2009, Smurfit-Stone Corporation collected $654 million from US taxpayers utilizing this “black liquor tax credit” boondoggle.  All told, the U.S. Pulp and Paper industry took $6.5 billion from U.S. Taxpayers  in 2009 under the black liquor boondoggle.

Well, it’s looking like the boondoggle will continue, since Smurfit-Stone Container Corporation executives apparently lied to Missoula County citizens and left Missoula County with a toxic mill site that will likely require federal EPA Superfund clean-up. But, hey, at least the Smufit-Stone executives got $50.4 million in bonuses during 2009, right?

Note: On May 27, 2011 Rock-Tenn Co completed it’s $3.5 billion takeover of Smurfit-Stone Container Corp.  Rock-Tenn Co CEO and Chairman James A. Rubright is with the American Forest & Paper Association.  Also, word has it that Smurfit-Stone was bankrupted and restructured before Rock-Tenn acquired and Rock-Tenn’s envio counsel became Rock-Tenn’s enviro VP. In other words, the assets, profits and subsidies are continuous, but not the liabilities.

6 thoughts on “Toxic Mess: EPA places former Missoula Co papermill on National Priorities List”

  1. Ah yes, Privatizing Profits and Socializing Costs. Perhaps this maxim might be factored into our present economic crisis?

    “Boondoggle” underplays the extent and significance of consequences arising from regulatory failure and the normalized practice of taxpayer ripoffs — not the least of which is the untold toxic consequences to rural resident humans (especially children and fetuses) and all manner of animals. Of course, tying cause and effect together is nearly impossible, and perpetrators count on the burden of proof placed on the victims. Domestic terrorism and biological warfare comes to mind here.

    Thanks also for providing one of many examples of a familiar backstory to “collaborative partnerships” which lead to legislative “compromises” that more often than not, benefit the perpetrators.

    A very similar scenario occurred on the Tongass National Forest with the(heavily!) taxpayer subsidized and government-established duopoly pulp mills which bought virgin spruce for the price of a Big Mac (mbf) creaming and devastating watersheds then leaving the residents and taxpayers with the Superfund site.

  2. Update from today’s Missoulian:

    ‘Do not eat’ advisory issued for fish in Clark Fork River

    Elevated levels of dioxins and PCBs found in fish below the former Smurfit-Stone Container Corp. millsite prompted three state agencies on Thursday to issue a “do not eat” advisory for northern pike and to urge limited consumption of rainbow trout.

    The advisory, which covers 105 miles of the Clark Fork River downstream from the shuttered mill, was issued by the Montana departments of Environmental Quality, Health and Human Services, and Fish, Wildlife and Parks.

    The “do not eat” advisory was issued for northern pike, and a “four meal per month” limit for rainbow trout, from the Clark Fork River’s confluence with the Bitterroot River, near Missoula, to the confluence with the Flathead River, near Paradise.

    “We got samples in the spring and got them to the lab and the results came back this summer,” said Trevor Selch with FWP. “We analyzed the results and met with Health and Human Services and DEQ. The northern pike were at levels that warranted the order.”

  3. Thanks for the update Matthew.
    This is especially sobering after “our present economic crisis” (as my cite above, in May) has been further enhanced by a 16 day shutdown orchestrated by the enemies of ESA and EPA. Good to see state agencies are on this though.

    And ah yes, more testament to the benefits of collaboration. Once again, Trout Unlimited has “collaborated” with the poisoners of trout, and by extension, the poisoning of its membership in pursuit of “win-win, market based solutions.” (Looks like more opportunity for Restoration and Stewardship though.)

    Dioxin and PCBs are among the most enduring and the most toxic compounds out there.
    Dioxin in particular, being the prominent toxin in Agent Orange, the untold human tragedies of which are still occurring in Vietnamese populations decades after that war. (This horrific genetic and carcinogenic legacy brought to us by Dow Chemical and Monsanto.)

    “dioxin |dīˈäksin| noun
    a highly toxic compound produced as a byproduct in some manufacturing processes, notably herbicide production and paper bleaching. It is a serious and persistent environmental pollutant.”

    Interesting how such externalities with known direct causes and effects are regarded with so little concern by the champions of collaboration and “timber jobs” as to not even merit comment here.

    • David: As a person who worked around dioxin for years and whose pregnant wife was aerially sprayed with the stuff in her second trimester with my youngest child and was subsequently tested for blood and milk content to the maximums technically possible, I can say I have never actually met anyone harmed by these chemicals. Too, a couple of the world’s foremost experts on dioxin toxicity, Mike Newton and Frank Dost of Oregon State University, worked with the data on this stuff for decades, including claims from Viet Nam vets, and were unable to find any significant increase in claimed related diseases among the vets and among the general population. There is a reason these “untold human genetic and carcinogenic tragedies” are untold — there is zero evidence they are actually taking place; i.e., “nothing to talk about.” I know a lot of people believe these stories and a lot of lawyers and their clients have reaped “untold” millions of dollars from them — and I think Greg is actually in Viet Nam at this time in part to study the long-term effects in soils — but there is really nothing that has been documented outside the range of normal human problems with genetics and cancers, such as with mercury or cigarettes. It makes for a lot more interesting scare stories and newspaper-selling headlines, of course, to repeat these stories than to report on the hundreds of millions of people that have avoided the “population bomb” trauma during the past 50 years due to the judicious use of herbicides “brought to us by Dow Chemical and Monsanto.”


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