Whatcom Watch Online
January 1998
Volume 7, Issue 1
Chlorine Being Phased Out of Pulp-Bleaching,
GP Plant to Be Affected

by Robyn du Pré

In November, the Clinton Administration signed into rule a new package of water and air standards for the nation's pulp mills. The Environmental Protection Agency first proposed this "Cluster Rule" in December 1993 to regulate air and water discharges, especially dioxin, from pulp and paper mills.

The new rule applies to most mills in the country, including the Georgia Pacific plant in downtown Bellingham. While the rule is over 1,200 pages long, with many sub-sections and technical sections, the gist of it boils down to bleaching technology. Most mills in the U.S. use either elemental chlorine or chlorine dioxide to de-lignify and bleach pulp. Chlorine and chlorinated chemicals are of concern because their use can result in the production of dioxins and their close cousins the furans, a highly toxic family of cancer-causing chemicals that settle in fish and, in turn, in humans who eat the fish caught near pulp mills. Airborne dioxin is carried by the wind to settle on food crops and grazing lands. In addition to being a carcinogen, dioxin has been linked to neurological problems as well as problems of immunity, reproduction and development.

The new rule requires most mills to transition away from elemental chlorine and adopt chlorine dioxide bleaching processes, instead. All affected mills will be required to have their new bleaching technologies on-line within three years. This move will markedly reduce dioxin and furan production by pulp and paper mills. Many environmental and indigenous rights groups, however, feel that the Environmental Protection Agency did not go far enough. The use of chlorine dioxide in bleaching results in the lower levels of dioxins, but some dioxins are still produced. Many environmental groups promote the "totally chlorine-free" option already adopted by many European mills.

What does the Cluster Rule mean to our community? Georgia Pacific will have to change their bleaching process away from the use of elemental chlorine. This will result in a reduction, if not elimination, of dioxins being released into our environment. It will also result in a reduction of other hazardous air pollutants resulting from the bleaching process, such as chloroform.

But what about the chlorine plant? GP currently produces approximately 219 tons of chlorine per day at its downtown facility. They use about twenty percent of that chlorine in the mill's pulping and bleaching processes. The remaining eighty percent is shipped out by rail for use by other mills and other users, such as municipal water treatment facilities.

This rule does not apply to the production of chlorine per se, but only its use in the pulp and paper process. So, GP will not have a use for the chlorine produced at its downtown chlorine production facility in its own processes and will lose much of its outside market for its chlorine, as well. We believe that once GP has transitioned to chlorine dioxide bleaching, it will be very difficult for the corporation to justify the continued manufacture of a chemical as hazardous as chlorine at this antiquated facility in the heart of our downtown.

RE Sources is currently working to encourage GP to close the chlorine plant. We have had a number of encouraging discussions with local plant officials. It seems that the corporation, head-quartered in Atlanta, will be making decisions about the chlorine plant within the next year or two. RE Sources will be working with local plant managers and corporate officials in Atlanta to encourage the company to be a responsible corporate neighbor and close the chlorine plant. We want to encourage the corporation to announce this closure in 1998 and to work with the community to plan for clean-up and to minimize job loss. We do not want the workers to suffer a last minute lay-off. Rather, we want the corporation to work with the community to plan this closure in a responsible manner. If you'd like us to keep you posted on the status of our negotiations, or would like to get involved in our work, give us a call. RE Sources can be reached at 733-8307 or resource@nas.com.

Consumer Choices and Chlorine

Just as we did with recycled paper, we as consumers can help create a market for environmentally responsible paper products. But, it's confusing...TFC, ECF, PCF-how's a consumer to make the right choice? To help you decipher all the lingo, here's a quick primer on the various choices.

For information on Totally Chlorine-Free, Process Chlorine-Free, and Elemental Chlorine-Free paper products available locally, call RE Sources at 733-8307. You can also remind the folks at the copy shop and the office supply store about this issue by requesting chlorine-free paper every time you shop.

County Organizations:
New Water Quality Coordinators
for Whatcom County

What is the Whatcom County Council of Governments?

by Gordon Rogers

Recently the community has asked the Whatcom County Council of Governments to shoulder responsibility for coordinating water quality and quantity issues in the county. The Council of Governments has been pleased to work toward developing a process that allows wide participation in identifying specific water issues and assisting the community in working through associated water problems and solutions. Whatcom County Council of Governments has no legislative authority in this matter buts acts only as a coordinating and facilitating organization providing a forum to everyone with a stake in the county's water issues.

Who We Are

The Council of Governments was established in 1966 as a multi-jurisdictional body representing general purpose local and special district governments in Whatcom County. The Whatcom County Council of Governments provides technical support and coordination for transportation and census data information services to its members who are the county and its cities, plus three water districts and the Port of Bellingham. Whatcom County Council of Governments is the region's Metropolitan Transportation Planning Organization and Regional Transportation Planning Organization which coordinates state and federal transportation planning requirements and prioritization of transportation projects in Whatcom County.

Beginning in 1996, Council of Governments also assumed, at the request of the Whatcom County Executive, responsibility for implementation of the Washington State Commute Trip Reduction Law. In April 1997 the Council of Governments was asked and agreed to be the lead agency for coordinating cross-border issues with U.S. and Canadian local, state, provincial and federal agencies. In this role, the Council of Governments has developed a process including a bi-national, multi-level, coordinating group to identify and remove impediments to efficient trade, tourism, economic development and transportation. This organization has pinpointed many of the important short and long range issues plaguing border-crossing efficiency, proposed potential solutions and worked to identify needed funding. This is a long term project that will produce both short and long range results. The process is named the International Mobility and Trade Corridor project. Federal transportation funding will be identified to implement the projects identified through this important project.

The Council of Governments is comprised of a full council, an executive board and committees.

Full Council

The Whatcom County Council of Governments full council is comprised of elected representatives of general purpose local governments and many special district governments throughout Whatcom County. The full council is responsible for adopting the annual Whatcom County Council of Governments operating budget, electing the eight members of the executive board and establishing and amending the bylaws of the Whatcom County Council of Governments.

Executive Board

The executive board directs day to day and month to month activities and actions of the Council of Governments; members include the Mayor of Bellingham and one Bellingham City Council member, the Whatcom County Executive and one Whatcom County Council member, a representative from the Port of Bellingham, and three members rotating from three of the six remaining cities.

Transportation Technical Advisory Committee: Whatcom County Council of Governments has one standing committee, the Transportation Technical Advisory Committee. The existing Transportation Technical Advisory Committee was established in 1990 following formation of the Regional Transportation Planning Organization and is responsible for technical review of transportation projects and programs and project prioritization for regionally prioritized categories of funding. Members are representatives of member jurisdictions' planning and engineering departments, Whatcom Transportation Authority, and the Port of Bellingham. Ex-Officio members represent the Federal Highway Administration, the Federal Transit Administration, and the Washington State Department of Transportation.

Any plans requiring board adoption that are developed and published by the Whatcom County Council of Governments are reviewed and approved by the appropriate board or council through a public hearing process. Drafts of any such documents or plans are normally available to the public fourteen days prior to the public hearing.

Whatcom County Council of Governments is a small organization currently staffed with four permanent full time employees, two non-permanent employees, and two interns. The water coordination duties discussed above will necessitate two additional employees and an additional intern from time to time. Financial support is from a broad range of federal and state grants as well as local dues and contributions. The Council of Governments operates out of offices in the "Copper Building" at 2011 Young Street in Bellingham. Jim Miller is the executive director and may be contacted at 676-6974, fax'd at 738-6232 or e-mailed at wccog@az.com.

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