The Willamette Paper Mills
The Industries influence on Water Equality
June 30, 2010
In the mid nineteen seventies, my father landed a well paying job at one of the two local paper mills. His wages were sufficient enough to pay the home mortgage, utility bills and double car payments.
As a kid, I thought it was really cool that my dad made the paper that I used in school. I was more than comfortable informing my fellow class mates that my father had personally made the paper they were constructing their finely tuned art projects with. To me, he was the Superman of the paper world! After almost twenty five years in the pulp industry, my father called it a career.
There were two paper mills operating in the same area; one on the West Linn side of the Willamette river, and the other, directly across the way on the Oregon City side.
The two things that were highly visible when passing these mills was the amount of steam that was being shot in the sky and the amount of foam that was floating down the river. As a child, I just assumed that the foam was just a product of bubbles, like a big friendly bubble bath.
The only time I felt concerned with this process, was on a day when the wind may not have been blowing or precipitation may not have been falling; leaving a solid blanket of smoke smothering the sky.
As I grew older, I realized neither one of these things were positive outcomes for our environment.
My father used to tell us that a particular environmental group would express their concerns, but would not do much about the pollution that was endangering our surrounding areas; overlooking the rules for the better of the economy. When it became obvious that there was an over abundants of foam floating down the river, these groups would check in to vocalize their concerns. The punishment would be possibly a small fine and a slap on the wrist.
If at any moment one of these mills was shut down for environmental safety reasons, there would be hundreds of works laid off or fired in the process. The negative impact that would have on the local community would have been devastating.
As one can see, there was no balance between natural resources and environmental regulations.
The nice friendly foam was actually a sulfite bleaching agent used to whiten the paper products (Ruthburd). The company called this chemical the sulfate cooking liquor (Furber).
As this product was very efficient in whitening the pulp, it was not healthy for the local waters. As the foam would float down the Willamette River, it would collect in particular areas damaging the wild life and plant growth. There were even reports of mutated looking Salmon floating about.
By the early nineties, the days of a “free ride” were over. As environmental issues became more popular, so did the demands of accountability. It was no longer acceptable to look the other way for the greater good of our local economy.
The regulations came in the form of stiff penalties and incentives to improve day to day operations. Companies were encouraged to find ways to recycle the sulfite run off; while studying ways to bleach the pulp with different products.
While the results are not perfect, strong changes have been made. It has been reported that there has been a fifty percent decline in waste runoff since the early nineties (west linn paper co).
Along with company environmental changes, twenty to thirty percent of the paper being made is from recyclable resources. (2010)
Like stated; not perfect, but very strong progress is being made.
Furber. (2010). Willamette river health.
Retrieved June 27, 2010, from www.clarckscollege/uo.edu
Ruthburd. (2010). West linn paper mills.
Retrieved June 27, 2010, from www.answers.com
West linn paper mill. (2010). Environmental safety standards.
Retrieved June 27, 2010, from www.westlinnpapermill.com