Pacific Gas and Electric Co. recently settled a lawsuit brought in 2010 by the Ecological Rights Foundation of Garberville. As a result, PG&E has agreed to protect San Francisco and Humboldt bays from dioxin-containing chemicals used on its utility poles.
The lawsuit alleged that oil and wood waste containing dioxins washed into the bays and creeks via storm drains from poles stored at 31 PG&E service yards, endangering human health and the environment.
Under the settlement, PG&E must clean up the storage yards and nearby storm drains, and future discharges are prohibited.
“Dioxins are among the most toxic chemicals known to science,” Fredric Evenson, an attorney with Ecological Rights Foundation, told KPIX News in San Francisco. “This has been a hard-fought, eight-year legal battle, but in the end PG&E now appears to understand that dioxin has no business in our bay, and will now take meaningful action to benefit [Humboldt and] San Francisco Bay’s wildlife and residents who eat locally caught seafood.”
Pentachlorophenol, a wood preservative and fungicide containing high levels of dioxins, was banned by the U.S. EPA 30 years ago for all uses other than power poles. It was widely used in lumber and plywood mills around Humboldt Bay. Although several of these sites have been cleaned up, there are numerous remaining hotspots with contaminated soil, groundwater, and bay sediment. Dioxins can cause cancer and reproductive damage. They accumulate in fish and magnify in fish-eating birds and mammals, posing a threat to human health.
Under the agreement, PG&E will identify storage yards containing treated poles, and will test and implement technologies for reducing dioxin runoff, such as covering poles or keeping them indoors; stormwater treatment; and possibly the use of different materials, such as cement or steel, for utility poles, according to Evenson.
The lawsuit, brought under the Clean Water Act and Resource Conservation and Recovery Act, included PG&E storage yards on 14th Street and Myrtle Avenue in Eureka.In 2015, a federal judge dismissed the lawsuit, but Ecological Rights Foundation won on appeal to the Ninth U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in San Francisco last November. The U.S. EPA joined the appeal in support of citizen’s right to sue to protect bay waters from stormwater pollution.
For more information about Ecological Rights Foundations’ work, visit www.ecorights.org.
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Coastal Cleanup Day: Paddle-and-Cleanup on Indian Island
Since 2014, Humboldt Baykeeper has been partnering with the Wiyot Tribe and the Humboldt Bay Aquatic Center to lead kayak trips to remove trash twice a year. On Coastal Cleanup Day in September, more than two dozen volunteers paddled from the Eureka waterfront to Indian Island, where this year’s event yielded the least amount of trash ever! We hope this is a sign that our efforts are getting ahead of the trash, which washes up on high tides and blows down from the Samoa Bridge. Thanks to the Coast Seafoods crew led by Joe McKenzie, who hauled the trash back to Eureka for disposal. We’ll do it again for Earth Day in April! Thanks to the Humboldt Area Foundation for funding Baykeeper’s 2018 volunteer paddle-and-cleanup events.