156091 Politics of environmental pollution in the post-War period: Asarco's Tacoma copper smelter

Tuesday, November 6, 2007: 9:10 AM

Marianne Sullivan, DrPH , Department of Health Professions and Family Studies, Hofstra University, Hempstead, NY
The Washington State Department of Ecology and local public health departments recently completed the Asarco Tacoma “Footprint” Study, which documented approximately 1,000 square miles of soil contamination with lead and arsenic resulting from nearly 100 years of smelting near Tacoma, Washington. Asarco's Tacoma copper smelter was one of the largest anthropogenic sources of arsenic in the world, and became the subject of intense regulatory scrutiny beginning in the late 1960s. However, community concerns about the public health impact of arsenic and sulfur dioxide emissions from the smelter long pre-dated the involvement of environmental regulators.

This presentation focuses on efforts in the post-War period to address the pollution emanating from the smelter's stacks and from elsewhere in the plant. Following air pollution disasters such as at Donora, PA, Tacoma residents began organizing to demand that local or state government take steps to abate the Smelter's considerable pollution. They even appealed to the US Surgeon General for help. However, they faced public health and other government officials reluctant to challenge this powerful industry, and a company that used both overt and surreptitious means to fight efforts to abate its' pollution. The politics of this struggle will be explored, with a focus on the roles of residents, public health officials and other governmental actors. Asarco's role in undermining efforts to both study and control the smelter's pollution will also be considered.

Learning Objectives:
1. Recognize the possible contribution of historical research to understanding environmental health issues. 2. Understand comunity and public health responses to an environmental health issue prior to modern environmental regulation.

Keywords: History, Environmental Health

Presenting author's disclosure statement:

Any relevant financial relationships? No
Any institutionally-contracted trials related to this submission?

I agree to comply with the American Public Health Association Conflict of Interest and Commercial Support Guidelines, and to disclose to the participants any off-label or experimental uses of a commercial product or service discussed in my presentation.