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Weyerhaeuser Mill Settles $700,000 Complaint

Release Date: 3/17/1998
Contact Information: Suzanne Powers
(360) 553-9475

March 17, 1998 - - - - - - -   98-10

The Weyerhaeuser Company will pay more than $700,000 to settle an EPA complaint alleging that Weyerhaeuser's pulp and paper mill at Longview, Washington, failed to make prompt notification of a chemical spill to local and state emergency officials in January 1997. That's when an accidental release of sulfate turpentine at the mill produced a foul-smelling toxic gas that spread as far north as Olympia, Washington, as far south as Portland, Oregon, and west and southwest to oceanside communities in both Washington and Oregon.

The settlement agreement with Weyerhaeuser was announced today by Chuck Clarke, EPA's Northwest regional administrator in Seattle.

Weyerhaeuser agreed to pay $400,000 in civil penalties.

In addition, Weyerhaeuser-EPA settlement will provide emergency management agencies in five counties of southwest Washington and northwest Oregon with $295,710 worth of equipment and supplies to enhance their efforts in emergency planning and preparedness, and for response to releases of hazardous chemicals.

The equipment and supplies were identified by each of the agencies as items each needed. Weyerhaeuser agreed to make purchases in the following amounts:

In Washington
  • Cowlitz County Department of Emergency Management....$22,650
  • Lewis County Department of Emergency Management......$94,700
  • Wahkiakum County Department of Emergency Management..$90,000

In Oregon
  • Clatsop County Department of Emergency Management....$24,000
  • Columbia County Department of Emergency Management...$64,360
Weyerhaeuser also agreed to spend at least $10,000 to develop and maintain a publicly-accessible Internet web site that will provide emergency agencies with up-to-the minute weather data collected at the Longview mill. In the event of an accidental release of hazardous chemicals, the information about wind speed, wind direction and other weather conditions could help predict the spread of those chemicals.

The EPA-Weyerhaeuser settlement also requires Weyerhaeuser to keep EPA informed of the status of a $6 million environmental protection improvement program at Longview. Weyerhaeuser began the program at the mill in response to EPA concerns about last year's release. The improvement program, already in progress, will help reduce the chances of future accidental releases of hazardous chemicals and to ensure prompt reporting if such releases should occur.

EPA's complaint against Weyerhaeuser stemmed from federal requirements relating to releases of hazardous chemicals whenever such releases exceed specified quantities. In those situations, companies must make immediate notification to state and local emergency management agencies in any area where the community is likely to be affected by the release. Immediate notification must also be made to the National Response Center in Washington, D.C.

According to the EPA complaint, Weyerhaeuser knew last year it had a spill on its hands shortly after noon on January 27, but did not begin notifying emergency officials until the next day. Cowlitz County was notified in the late morning of January 28. The National Response Center was notified early that afternoon, and state officials in Washington early that evening. Oregon officials were not notified until January 30.

In addition, according to the complaint, Weyerhaeuser waited at least seven weeks before making written follow-up reports to any of the state and local emergency response agencies officials. EPA regarded the late submittals as violations of the federal Emergency Planning and Community Right-to-Know Act. That statute requires such reports to be submitted "as soon as practicable" after a release occurs.

The Emergency Planning and Community-Right-to-Know Act was enacted after a Union Carbide plant in Bhopal, India, released toxic gas that killed 2,500 people and injured thousands more.