Seattle port to store PCB-laden military waste
Pouze v angličtině
SEATTLE - The Port of Seattle will reluctantly store hazardous U.S. military waste for up to 30 days, giving a Defence Department contractor time to dispose of the unwanted cargo, local officials said yesterday.
Longshoremen were ordered to unload 14 containers of electrical equipment shipped from U.S. military bases in Japan and laced with cancer-causing polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs) from the freighter Wan He. On Wednesday, Canada refused to accept the cargo.
As the scheduled 1 p.m. unloading approached, Washington Gov. Gary Locke was urging federal officials to keep the 110 tons of equipment on the Wan He until the state could verify Pentagon claims that the material was safe.
"The governor does not favour unloading this boat," Lockes press secretary Dana Middleton told Reuters. "We dont want it assumed that when hazardous cargo is destined for another country and that country doesnt take it that we will."
An Ontario disposal company had originally agreed to accept the 14 containers but Canadian authorities refused to allow the Port of Vancouver to handle the shipment, after complaints from environmentalists.
An arbitrator ruled the longshoremens union must unload the ship, despite its concerns about health risks both to the dock workers and the surrounding community.
"Were not happy for a number of reasons," said Scott Reid, president of Local 19 of the International Longshore and Warehouse Union. "But basically by our contract weve agreed to unload those containers."
Environmentalists planned to protest at the port where the Wan He, a Panamanian registered ship operated by the giant China Ocean Shipping Co., docked late Wednesday.
The United States prohibits imports of foreign-produced PCBs, even from its own military facilities overseas, but the Environmental Protection Agency has granted a special permit to store the containers in Seattle for up to 30 days.
"We are concerned. Our hands are really tied on this one. This is U.S. government waste and no one elses," said Bill Dunbar, a spokesman for the local EPA office. "Well allow it because its in transit to another location, even though that location at this point is not known."
EPA inspectors will oversee the unloading and the agency has demanded data samples to back up claims by the Pentagon and its contractor, Trans-Cycle Industries, that the PCB content is extremely low.
"My understanding is that this is safe and not something that will be disposed of in (the Seattle) area," Pentagon spokesman Lt. Col. Steve Campbell told Reuters. "Its in sealed containers and Im not aware that they present any kind of hazard to the people handling them or to the surrounding area."
Campbell said the waste would not stay in Seattle for more than the 30 days allowed by the EPA. He could not say where the shipment might ultimately wind up.
If the safety claims prove true, the state would likely drop its objections, since equipment with similar PCB concentrations, refrigerators for example, are routinely collected in Washington and shipped for disposal in Oregon and Idaho.
Port officials released a statement reluctantly agreeing to store the cargo at a special foreign trade zone.
"This cargo was never intended to be offloaded at the Port of Seattle. This is the Department of Defences issue and we are as anxious as anyone else to have it resolved as quickly as possibly," the port stated.
A Coast Guard official on Wednesday said the shipping agent handling the cargo had found at least five countries willing to take the cargo.
PCBs first gained national attention in the 1970s when the city of Times Beach, Missouri, was evacuated by the federal government after it found high concentrations of PCBs and other hazardous chemicals.
Story by Chris Stetkiewicz
REUTERS NEWS SERVICE
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