DOJ accuses Port Gamble sawmill of releasing hazardous substances into bay for 30 years

In a lawsuit filed in U.S. District Court Thursday, the Department of Justice accused a sawmill on Port Gamble Bay of releasing hazardous substances into the bay for at least 30 years.

The lawsuit was brought on behalf of the Department of the Interior, the State of Washington, the Washington Department of Ecology, the Jamestown S’Klallam tribe, the Lower Elwha Klallam tribe, the Port Gamble S’Klallam tribe, the Skokomish Indian tribe, and the Suquamish Indian tribe of the Port Madison Reservation.

According to court documents, the sawmill operated by Pope and Talbot, Inc., next to Port Gamble Bay, from 1853 to 1995, stored, rafted, and sorted logs throughout the bay. In 1985, ownership was transferred to Pope Resources under a lease until 1995, when the sawmill closed. The area was managed by OPG Properties LLC until 2020, then transferred again to Port Gamble LLC, which currently owns the area.

The lawsuit claims there were releases of hazardous substances into the Bay for decades from the sawmill and into the waters of Port Gamble Bay until at least 2015:

“Port Gamble Bay is contaminated with a variety of hazardous substances, including, but not limited to, polychlorinated dibenzodioxins and furans (“dioxins”), polychlorinated biphenyls (“PCBs”), organochlorine pesticides and related products, polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (“PAHs”), metals (including lead, mercury, copper, chromium, and arsenic), volatile and semivolatile organic compounds (including 4-methylphenol), perchlorate, herbicides, organic solvents, antifouling agents such as tributyltin and other butyltins, and wood waste degradation products (including phenol, benzoic acid, hydrogen sulfide and ammonia).”

According to the lawsuit, these substances have injured and killed fish, shellfish, invertebrates, and birds throughout the bay.

The DOJ is asking for damages, including the costs of assessing the damages and any other penalties the court finds appropriate.

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