Boeing:
'Committed to the protection of the environment ...'?

In 1987, Boeing president/chair/CEO Frank Shrontz publicly bragged about his company's shift toward environmental sensitivity. "Throughout the company, emphasis shall be placed on ... ensuring the proper handling and disposal of all waste," Shrontz said in a 1987 report on Boeing's hazardous waste programs.

Other Boeing higher-ups were equally as proud: "The environmental division is committed to the protection of the environment," environmental affairs manager Barbara Thompson wrote to the Washington Department of Ecology last August.

As Boeing's pride gushed, however, so did its emissions of chemicals and toxic waste known to cause cancer, birth and reproductive defects, neurological disorders, lung ailments, persistent environmental degradation and other problems.

Here's a sampling of Boeing's environmental report card since Shrontz's 1987 decree:

Nov. 1987-Aug. 1992: Metro cites Boeing's Kent Space Center three times for releasing high levels of copper - a toxic metal harmful to aquatic wildlife - into Metro's sewer system.

May-August 1987: Metro fines Boeing's Renton plant eight times for releasing high levels of acid into Metro's sewer system, and for failing to file required reports or submitting them late.

1988: Trichloroethylene, a cancer- and birth defect-causing solvent, is found in Moses Lake drinking-water wells near an underground storage tank owned by Boeing. The company denies responsibility and tells the EPA that it lost records kept on the facility, though Boeing officials admit that the company had dumped the toxin directly onto the ground two miles from the wells. The area was declared a federal Superfund site last fall, and federal authorities continue to investigate Boeing's cleanup liability.

Feb. 1988-Feb. 1989: Metro fines Boeing's Plant 2 four times for releasing high levels of chromium into Metro's sewer system.

1989: Boeing is fined $25,000 for using cleaning equipment at its Auburn facility and Plant 2 that doesn't meet state standards. The equipment, "vapor degreasers," use solvents containing chlorofluorocarbons, or CFCs, which cause serious damage to Earth's atmospheric ozone.

May 1990: Twenty-year-old jars and bottles with Boeing labels are found in an illegal, PCB-ridden dump in Maple Valley. Boeing denies responsibility but volunteers to clean it up.

Sept. 21, 1990: Capping a sensational federal trial pitting Boeing against its insurance carriers, a jury finds Boeing 50 percent liable for cleanup costs at two "ghastly" toxic waste dumps in King County. Refuting Boeing's denials of negligence, witnesses say the company was warned for 25 years that the dumping could cause contamination and might be illegal, and that the company should build its own waste-handling facility. A state official testifies that Boeing's "protected status" effectively exempted the company from environmental laws that otherwise may have closed the dumps.

Sept. 28, 1990: A week after the trial, the Boeing News, an in-house publication, describes how Boeing "took on" the cleanup effort at one of the toxic dumps, and how it "organized and led" a cleanup committee. "The company decided that someone had to take responsibility for directing the cleanup effort," the News quotes a Boeing official. The EPA, however, had to go to court to force Boeing to pay its share of the cleanup costs. And, it was the EPA - not Boeing - that revealed that the two sites had contaminated soil and groundwater. The News article makes no mention of the recently concluded trial, which had become a local media circus.

December 1990: Boeing is fined $42,500 for failing to tell the EPA about the release of five toxic chemicals.

1991: Boeing is fined $500,000 for operating a natural gas-burning boiler that repeatedly failed to pass emission standards. The boiler, at Boeing's Plant 2, was releasing amounts of smog-forming nitrogen oxides above limits set the Puget Sound Air Pollution Control Agency. Boeing eventually fixes the boiler and pays one-fourth of the original fine.

September 1991: Boeing becomes a possible target of a lawsuit by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration in connection with the flow of heavy metals and toxic chemicals into the Duwamish River and Elliott Bay.

January 1992: The EPA fines Boeing a record $334,325 for mishandling solvent-soiled rags and other toxic wastes at its Everett plant. During one of their inspections, For some reason, EPA officials reportedly were forced to wait outside plant gates for about two hours. Boeing persuades the EPA to reduce the fine from a proposed $620,475.

January 1992: Toxic heavy metals cadmium and chromium - common Boeing by-products - are found in a drainage ditch 1-1/2 miles from Boeing's Auburn plant. Residents are told to stay away from the water.

May 1992: The city of Seattle sues Boeing to force the company to help pay for cleaning up the city's closed-down Midway landfill in Kent. Despite the fact that it dumped paint sludge and other waste at the landfill, Boeing is denying liability for cleanup costs. (See main story.)

June 1992: Boeing is sued by the US Justice Department for $11.5 million to help clean a contaminated drinking water well in Tacoma. Boeing had dumped hazardous waste near the well.

June 1992: Metro fines Boeing's Auburn plant $5,000 for failing to report or reporting late the release of high levels of acid into the sewer system.

December 1992: Metro fines Boeing $228,000 - 10 times the previous record - for an "inadvertent discharge" of 1,392 pounds of chromium, a toxic heavy metal, into Metro's wastewater-treatment system from May to July 1992. Though confessing to the discharge, Boeing has appealed the fine. Metro officials are looking into why Boeing didn't detect the discharge. (See main story)

Spring 1993: Boeing's Renton plant is investigated for the lengthy storage of potentially toxic wastewater in barrels at the facility.

Compiled by the Free Press from government records and other sources.



Related Stories/Resources:
Main Story: "The Other Boeing"
Political Muscle: 'No one fucks with Boeing...'
Boeing, the Media's Sacred Cow: 'The giant moo of them all...'
Boeing to Regulators: 'Who?... US?'



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Contents on this page were published in the April, 1993 edition of the Washington Free Press.
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