“To Whom it May Concern” – the story of the residents of Northport, Washington

Four years ago when I began looking into the possible link between the century of pollution from a Canadian smelter the residents of Northport, Washingtonhad endured and all their similar health issues, spanning 3 generations, I had no ide…a what I would end up discovering.

Throughout the past four years I have never been so frustrated, angry and exhausted in my entire life. I considered walking away many times. However, unless I could somehow forget the heartbreaking stories, letters and e-mails I have received from past and present residents, walking is not possible.

The EPA referred to these same residents as “insignificant” in an internal 1992 memo. I believe the EPA was not so much calling the residents insignificant, just their concerns for their safety and health. After hearing the pain and suffering in the letters I received, and seeing it first hand in my family members, I can say these strong people are anything but insignificant.

I will continue to annoy the U.S. Agencies involved in the current RI/FS of the area to try to prevent the same injustices done to the area in past studies, with the hope of a small degree of success.

Most importantly I want to create free annual health screenings and an entire Community and Protection Awareness Program for Northport and all the small communities along the Upper Columbia River impacted by their chronic exposure to the pollution released by Teck Resources, the Canadian smelter located in Trail B.C., since 1906.

I wanted to share the residents stories to not only give them a voice but to bring to light the injustices so many small communities throughout the United States have, and continue to, face in similar situations.

The best and most accurate way to tell the story of the residents of Northport Washington is to let them tell it themselves.

I have kept each letter, e-mail and my personal notes of stories told to me first hand and the related research I did and my findings since I began this. It is my hope I can eventually publish a book of these documents titled “To Whom it May Concern”. All proceeds of book sales would go towards the above mentioned Community Program.

For decades these hard-working folks started each of their correspondents, or rather pleas for help, to the State and Federal Agencies involved in the decades of studies with the salutation I have picked for the title of the book.

It took these residents of Northport decades to finally realize, my Grandparents included, that the people and agencies they counted on to watch over and protect them, the “whom it may concern” group of people they were reaching out to for help were the same “whoms” who were well aware of the danger they were in and the volcano of health clusters brewing the entire time. This same group not only ignored their concerns but considered them nothing more than; “an insignificant amount of people” who would be impacted by the millions of tons of heavy metal toxins Teck Resources had dumped into the river and air over the years.

After enough time went by and enough letters went unanswered the residents finally realized there were no “whoms”, or even so much as a “who”, concerned about them or their family’s safety. So eventually they stopped writing the letters, and then they stopped  talking about the growing list of similar diseases and illnesses that they were all being diagnosed with. Until finally no one spoke of the smelter or the health issues at all.

When I began talking to community members it took well over a year for them to feel comfortable enough to finally open up to me and share their stories.

These stories will unfold through the letters and interviews of the hundreds of past and present residents, spanning 3 generations.

Time is something you cannot get back. Hopefully by sharing their stories and their willingness to participate in programs such as The Northport Project and the NIEHS‘s Cumulative Health Impact Programs I cannot only leave a legacy of these amazing individuals heroic fight to be heard, to be seen, and to prove to some very large United States Agencies that they were anything but insignificant.

If you have a story you would like to share about yourself, a family member, a friend, a neighbor….please e-mail me at: northportproject@hotmail.com or jamie_paparich@hotmail.com.

Jamie Paparich
The Northport Project


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