Environmental History 
of the Spokane River


What are PCBs?

PCBs, also known as polychlorinated biphenyls, are man-made industrial chemicals. According to the EPA, PCBs were domestically manufactured from 1929 to 1979 when manufacturing was banned. They have a range of toxicity and vary in consistency from thin, light-colored liquids to yellow or black waxy solids. Due to their non-flammability, chemical stability, high boiling point and electrical insulating properties, PCBs were used in hundreds of industrial and commercial applications.

Who/What is to blame for PCBs being released into the Spokane River?

The Kaiser Trentwood aluminum rolling factory--an industrial complex near the river was once the source of much of this pollution. The factory manufactured metals for bombs and machinery during World War II.

What are some of the modern sources of PCB pollution in the river?

Although the Kaiser Trentwood aluminum factory does not produce PCBs anymore, there is a significant amount of PCB buildup in their groundwater that continually contributes to the pollution. De-icers that the city of Spokane use in winter (also known as road salts) have been found to contain PCBs. In recent years the city has had to grapple with fighting PCBs or keeping roads safe. Other items that contain PCBs are paint, printing ink, pesticides, clothing pigments and dyes, lubricants and hydraulic fluids, and old fluorescent light bulbs

Via Spokane Aquifer Joint Board

What legal action has been taken?

Developed in the 1930s, and produced exclusively by Monsanto in the United States, PCBs were a wonder chemical for industrial technology, with a high boiling point and electric insulating properties. For years, Monsanto suppressed internal findings about their toxicity. When the truth was revealed in the 1970s, the federal government outlawed the production of PCBs. Spokane, Portland and San Diego, among other cities, are mired in lawsuits over the corporate coverup, hoping to recoup some of the costs of the cleanup; in most places, those costs and the necessary investments in infrastructure have fallen on local tax- and ratepayers.

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