Life and Death in a Maine Mill Town

A powerful story that resonates here in our world of paper mills.

Yet it’s almost impossible to draw a straight line from our mill to cancer. Someone leaves town. They get cancer. Some people never leave. They get cancer. Or vice versa. My grandmother smoked.. She didn’t get cancer. You work in a paper mill like my father, grandfather, and great-grandfather, you get cancer. Some people do not. At least not yet. There are long delays between environmental exposures and cancer, too long to calculate, and each cancer comes with individual risk factors, symptoms, causes. If you think your town contains a cancer cluster, consider the criteria: clusters require a greater-than-expected number of cancers in a narrowly defined group, i.e., the people must have the same type of cancer, in a limited geographic area, over a limited period of time, and all these factors have factors, including the limitations of science itself. In addition, if several family members get cancer, it doesn’t count toward the cluster evidence you need. Ordinary cancers don’t count either. And it doesn’t appear the CDC analyzes how individual bodies respond to specific environmental factors. And even if a cancer cluster is found in your neighborhood, they may not be able to determine the exact cause or do anything about it. One in three people develop cancer over their lifetime, so maybe the question is, when will we get cancer?

Port Angeles Public Forum for Rayonier Mill Cleanup


Dr. Peter deFur will speak on the state of the hazardous waste cleanup at the Rayonier mill site, Monday, June 15, 7 PM in the Carver Meeting Room at the Port Angeles library, 2210 South Peadbody Street. Dr.deFur is the Technical Consultant to the Olympic Environmental Council, the local non profit organization funded by the WA State Department of Ecology to do public outreach and education on the Rayonier cleanup of contamination. Dr. deFur has served as their consultant since 1998. His presentation will cover where we are in the process of the cleanup under the WA State Department of Ecology Model Toxics Control Act, and the contaminants of concern to public health and the environment such as dioxins, PCBs and heavy metals relevant to Port Angeles soils, Port Angeles Harbor sediments, and the mill site. He will compare this site to others he consults on, such as the Duwamish River in Seattle. Dr. deFur is president of Environmental Stewardship Concepts in Richmond VA, and an Affiliate Associate Professor and Graduate Coordinator in the Center for Environmental Studies at Virginia Commonwealth University, where he conducts research on environmental health and ecological risk assessment. He has consulted on several cleanup sites around the nation. He served on the National Research Council Board on Environmental Studies and Toxicology, on the Virginia State Advisory Board to the Air Pollution Control Board, on various federal advisory committees, on numerous scientific reviews of EPA ecological and human health risk assessments, and on federal advisory committees for EPA’s Endocrine Disrupter Screening and Testing Program. The event is free. —