Editor’s note: Today’s editorial originally appeared in The Columbian. Editorial content from other publications and authors is provided to give readers a sampling of regional and national opinion and does not necessarily reflect positions endorsed by the Editorial Board of The Daily News.
The next time a politician or a candidate for office talks about “burdensome regulations,” local residents should consider the case of Frontier Hard Chrome east of Pearson Field.
Located just north of what is now the Grand Central Fred Meyer, the area has been on the federal Superfund list of contaminated sites since 1983. This week, it was removed from the list — a cause for kudos but also a cause for reflection. Because the tale of Frontier Hard Chrome and thousands of other sites around the country point out the benefits of rigorous environmental regulations.
From 1958 to 1983, Frontier Hard Chrome operated a chrome-plating business in an era of lax oversight. The company regularly disposed of chromium-polluted wastewater by dumping it into an on-site dry well — a practice that was not prohibited at the time. The discharge contaminated groundwater and soil with hexavalent chromium, a known carcinogen that increases the risk of lung cancer and can damage the nose, throat and lungs.
Since then, the federal Environmental Protection Agency has overseen cleanup of the site under the Superfund program. With the Frontier Hard Chrome area being removed from the Superfund list, the Boomsnub Chrome & Grind and Airco Gases properties along Northeast 47th Avenue are the only Clark County areas remaining on the list.
Boomsnub provides a cautionary tale of its own. That site was added to the Superfund list in 1995, when it was found that the company had spilled hexavalent chromium on the ground and neighboring Airco had spilled volatile organic compounds. Cleanup efforts continue at the sites, with taxpayers footing the bill. As The Columbian reported about the Boomsnub site in 2016: “In 2000, the company agreed to contribute about $2 million to clean the $31 million Superfund site, but it defaulted and filed for bankruptcy in January 2001.”
That story is repeated throughout the country, with polluting industries frequently allowed to escape responsibility for contamination. The Superfund program for cleaning up the country’s most toxic sites was created by Congress in 1980, and until 1995 it was funded largely by a tax on the petroleum and chemical industries. The tax then was allowed to lapse, and Congress has declined to reauthorize it. The result is that for-profit industries are allowed to spoil the environment and hand the public the bill for cleaning up the mess they leave behind.
This year, the Superfund program received $1.15 billion in federal money. While that is a significant amount, it is not nearly enough for effective work on the more than 1,300 listed sites, and it represents only about 40 percent of the purchasing power the fund had when it was created. If congressional members are interested in doing the people’s work, they will reapprove the tax on polluting industries and get serious about decontaminating toxic sites.
Meanwhile, the issue brings light to the trope about “burdensome regulations” that allegedly inhibit businesses. We are wary when we hear this one, and Frontier Hard Chrome and Boomsnub are two reasons for that.
For generations, heavy industry was allowed to befoul the environment, reducing water and air quality while leaving behind chemical contamination. While regulations should, indeed, be examined for their effectiveness, lax standards actually are burdensome to the health and pocketbook of the public. Proper oversight can provide benefits that are essential to our community’s quality of life.