History of Alcoa and fluoride pollution in Vancouver, WA

May 19, 2010

An excerpt from Fluoridation: The Great Dilemma

In the early 1950s American industry was plagued with a virtual epidemic of litigation. In 1950, Mr. and Mrs. Julius Lampert had won their suit against the Reynolds Metals Company’s Troutdale aluminum plant for fluoride burns to their gladiolus crops. In Blount County, Tennessee, prior to January 1, 1953, ALCOA had hardly made up the loss of income incurred by 141 farmers and cattle raisers, when another suit charged that fluoride fumes “damaged farmlands, injured registered cattle,” making them unmarketable, and caused premature deterioration of teeth, stiffness of joints, knots on ribs, loss of appetite, and general retardation of growth.

Other suits involved the ALCOA plant at Vancouver, Washington, which had to pay cattleman William Fraser $60,000 in 1962 and in the same year, $20,000 to Earl Reeder because of fluoride injury to their cattle on Sauvies Island. In 1961 Fairview Farms. Inc., received $300,000 from the Harvey Aluminum Company’s reduction plant in The Dalles, Oregon, because of damage to dairy herds, loss of forage and of milk supply, as well as depreciation of the lands. Orchardist W. J. Meyer and his wife Mary Ann also received $485,000 for “willful damage” to cherry, apricot, and peach crops.

A report from 2 years ago from Environmental News Service:

VANCOUVER, Washington, February 19, 2008 (ENS) - Alcoa submitted its formal request to the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers for permission to dredge portions of the Columbia River at Vancouver, Washington starting this fall. The dredging project will remove river sediments contaminated with polychlorinated biphenyls, PCBs, toxic byproducts of more than 40 years of industrial activity on the property

The Alcoa Vancouver site is located on the north bank of the Columbia River three miles northwest of downtown Vancouver. Alcoa constructed an aluminum smelter on the site in 1940. Between 1944 and 1970, a number of fabrication operations were added to form aluminum into finished goods such as wire, rod, and extrusions. Alcoa operated the entire facility for 45 years, until its closure in 1985.

Industrial and solid wastes from construction and operation of the aluminum smelter were stored in waste piles and consolidated in landfills onsite over the years. Hazardous contaminants in these wastes include petroleum hydrocarbons, PCBs, cyanide, fluoride, trichloroethylene, low-level organic chemicals, and metals.

The cleanup of industrial contamination at Alcoa has been underway since 1990, with $42 million spent to date. Approximately $34 million has been spent on controlling the sources of PCBs and stopping the flow of contaminants to the Columbia River.

This report from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration describes that contamination to the Columbia River associated with the Alcoa plant:

The contaminants of concern to NOAA are fluoride and cyanide. High concentrations of both of these substances have been detected in the groundwater and in soils on-site…

Fluoride measurements in the groundwater on-site greatly exceed concentrations that have been observed to be toxic to salmonids. Acute toxicity in rainbow trout was observed at fluoride concentrations ranging from 2,700 to 4,700 mg/l (Neuhold and Sigler 1960). Significant avoidance behavior in adult salmonids has been observed at concentrations as low as 500 mg/l (Damkaer and Dey, in press).

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