SAMOA- Officials with the Environmental Protection Agency say the Samoa Pulp Mill is an accident waiting to happen. Now, there is a collaborative effort to clean up the pulp mill.
At the request of the Humboldt Bay Harbor District, in September, the Federal On-Scene Coordinator with the EPA’s Emergency Response Group for Region 9, Steve Calanog, assessed the Samoa Pulp Mill, which was last operational in 2008. In less than ten minutes, he noticed a problem.
"The tanks were all leaking and I could see that with the first glance. It was apparent to me that the tanks were not adequate or suitable for containing the highly corrosive liquids that they were. The tanks were degrading in a state of decay," said Calanog.
Then he discovered more threats, including tanks filled with hazardous materials that would overflow with heavy rains.
"Acid combining with this high ph pulping liquor would generate an exothermic reaction. It would cause the release of hydrogen sulfide gas, sulfuric acid gas, it would be lethal to folks who were exposed to it if they were in close proximity to it," Calanog said.
And EPA officials say there are even more consequences for not addressing the problem.
"We're right in between Humboldt Bay and the Pacific Ocean. You couldn't have a more sensitive environment than this. So not only is it a disastrous situation, it's a disastrous situation in a very critical environment," said Jared Blumenfeld, the Regional Administrator for Region 9 of the EPA.
So the EPA, United States Coast Guard, and Humboldt Bay Harbor District have teamed up to cleanup the millions of gallons of hazardous materials from the pulp mill. About 3 million gallons of pulping liquor will be shipped to a paper company in Washington, and the thousands of gallons of other hazardous materials will be disposed of.
Something Congressman Jared Huffman, who was at the kick-off for the cleanup on Friday, is in favor of.
"We're celebrating the beginning of the offload of these chemicals. I want to speed it up. I want to do what I can to bring more resources to the table so we can get this done faster, but it's happening, and that's good news. And it takes us closer to the day when this site, which right now, looks terrible, is going to be something great again for this community," said Congressman Huffman.
EPA officials have not found contamination in Humboldt Bay or the ocean at this point.
"We're really in emergency cleanup now so we're going to start the analysis later, but right now, we need to get the material out to a safe place," Blumenfeld said.
The EPA, with the assistance of some state and local agencies, are investigating the Evergreen Pulp Company for potential liability. EPA officials say when the company left the pulp mill in 2008, they left all the materials on site.