Newspapers and Environmental Contamination

By Rosenberg, Jim | Editor & Publisher, May 16, 1992 | Go to article overview

Newspapers and Environmental Contamination


Rosenberg, Jim, Editor & Publisher


Like other industries, newspaper companies can find themselves contributors to pollution on their own properties and to contamination of sites sometimes quite far from home when waste haulers transport materials for disposal.

Even small quantities of wastes dumped before the era of strict regulation of content and disposal method can make a company a "potentially responsible party" to a Superfund cleanup site under federal law.

Last November th Gannett Co.'s Environmental Report noted that 14 of its daily newspapers "have been involved to some degree at [Superfund] sites designated by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency."

It pointed out that most had lawfully disposed of small amounts of ink and solvent, and that in some cases the operations "paid an allocated share of current and estimated future cleanup costs."

The report also noted that, throughout the 1980s, Gannett "purchased properties that had been contaminated by previous owners," yet another regulatory peril for relocating or expanding operations. Gannett said remedial action was completed at some sites and is ongoing at others.

McDel Consulting, Berlin, Conn., recently listed 15 newspapers as potentially responsible parties at Superfund sites nationwide, only one of whichis a Gannett operation. In no case was a newspaper's property itself one of the sites.

Though not necessarily of the magnitude of that in Orlando (see story, P. 32), sites across the United States where groundwater is contaminated with chlorinated hydrocarbons number in the thousands, according to Richard Lewis of Groundwater Technology Inc.

The senior vice president and principal hydrogeologist at the Norwood, Mass., environmental cleanup and consulting firm could recall but one other similarly contaminated site where a newspaper company is among the property owners.

In the summer of 1990, the Wichita Eagle was listed among more than 500 possible contributors to the Gilbert-Mosley site in downtown Wichita, where the groundwater was contaminated by chlorinated solvent. In the end, said Eagle production director Kevin Desmond, "We were never named a responsible party" by the city.

Several firms, including Coleman, a longtime Wichita business known for its camp stoves and lanterns, were viewed as likely contributors. Desmond explained that the city and Sedgwick County arranged an "incremental property tax" on the companies listed as responsible parties. Resulting extra revenues, along with proceeds from a settlement with Coleman, have been applied toward the cleanup.

"Basically what they figured was a $20 million cleanup," he said.

Desmond pointed out that the local governments' initiative managed to keep the site off the federal Superfund list. It would have been the city's fourth such site, according to an August 1990 story in the Eagle. The Kansas Department of Health and Environment is managing the cleanup.

"We hired an environmental guy after all this mess," Desmond remarked. The employee, he said, actually divides his time between coordinating environmental concerns and security, which involves compliance with Occupational Safety and Health Administration regulations.

Though the Eagle was not found liable for the contamination, "it probably opened our minds to the potential," said Desmond, citing new, stricter regulations. Monitoring and recording compliance had been part of his duties, but it grew into a job all its own.

It is also as much a response to the parent company's concerns that its papers properly manage everything from worker safety to materials recycling, said Desmond, who noted that Knight-Ridder Inc. …

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