Welcome to Masonite, Home of Ukiah

By Zack Darling

I appreciate Masonite and what it does for this community. For many years it has supplied a strong base for our economy and given employment to many citizens. This town wouldn't be as successful as it is now if it weren't for Masonite. Unfortunately, in the past six years the corporate fatcats that pull our local chains have demonstrated that the health of Ukiah's citizens is not among their priorities.

Every day the students and faculty of Mendocino College drive by Masonite on their way to class. The giant piles of wood chips and the huge smokestacks bellowing out white clouds are a frequent sight to all local commuters. But there is a major problem in this factory that is overlooked again and again: Masonite is seriously damaging the general health of Ukiah with its toxic emissions. The fact that our local politicians have been looking the other way for all these years is infuriating!

We, as voting citizens, put our confidence in the members of the city council and holders of other political offices to represent our needs accurately. Isn't clean unpolluted air a basic human need?

The history of Masonite's foul practices stinks of corruption. From 1977 to 1988 the toxic emissions from the Masonite factory were fairly low. Complaints to Ukiah's air quality officials were minimal so Masonite's emissions reviews became slack.

In 1990 Masonite illegally constructed and began operating their Molded Products Line (MPL). Immediately hundreds of complaints poured in to the state's Air Quality Resource Board (AQRB) about odors, respiratory problems, and related sicknesses.

Many groups took it upon themselves to address this issue: Concerned Mothers of Ukiah (CMU), Citizens For Adequate Review (C-FAR), and it was especially tackled by the organization Citizens for a Healthy Ukiah (CHU).

In response to the complaints, Masonite submitted a report to the Air Quality Resource Board claiming that their emissions bore a minimal health risks. Even though they claimed innocence, the complaints continued for over three years.

Finally the number of complaints was so great that a public hearing was held. Testimonies were heard from six doctors and hundreds of concerned citizens. During the hearing it was proven that Masonite had neglected to obey any emission control and air quality regulations during the MPL facility's construction and operation.

After the hearing, citizens believed they could walk away with hope of restoring quality air in the Ukiah Valley. Wrong! We only succeeded in getting a thermal oxidizer put on one smokestack.

Citizens for a Healthy Ukiah asked that Masonite submit state mandated reports on all of their emissions. Masonite refused for three years. The Air Quality Resource Board had to sue Masonite in order to get them to produce the report that they were legally obligated to submit! Finally Masonite sent the report but when the CHU got a copy, they found that almost all of the information was blacked out! Black boxes covered every page of the report, even the page numbers were black! Masonite claimed that the information was confidential and contained "trade secrets" that they would not release to the public. CHU was furious at this blatant cover-up and demanded to see the real, uncensored reports. This is where it gets really absurd: Masonite then sued the Air Pollution Control District claiming that they had the right to keep the emission information confidential. The CHU countersued with a lawsuit under the Public Records Act. The litigation between CHU and Masonite went on for three years and was won by the CHU this past September. Finally, we get to see what is actually being put into our air-but that doesn't stop the pollution!

Masonite continues to this day to illegally pollute our skies, putting its employees and Ukiahns at serious health risk. As a young adult that has grown up in this area, it disgusts me that a town as small as Ukiah can allow a giant corporation to slowly kill the people that comprise it.

"What are these terrible toxic emissions anyway?" you ask. Before the hearing, Masonite was subjected to tests by numerous air quality officials and specialists. The results showed that their emissions contained huge amounts of toxic chemicals. Nineteen major toxins are being pumped into our valley's air. Here are the Air Quality definitions for five of them.

Sodium Hydroxide- Eye and nose irritant. The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) defines it as a "corrosive poison."

Toluene- Causes birth defects, headache nausea, narcosis, mental and physical uncoordination from exposure.

Ethalene Dychloride- Causes liver and kidney impairment, anorexia, neurological changes, and mucous membrane irritation.

Acrolene- Causes bronchitis, potent irritation of the respiratory tract and eyes, EPA defines it as "extremely toxic."

Methanol- Causes headaches, dizziness, weakness, fatigue, and restlessness.

These are only five of the nineteen known toxins being emitted every day, most of which are known human carcinogens. The EPA rates air toxins on a scale of 1-6 (6 being the most toxic). All of the nineteen chemicals are rated to be 4 or higher in toxicity. Many are reported to have "no safe level of exposure."

In the Masonite factory there are 101 known pollution sources. 53 of them are smokestacks. Out of 101 sources, there are only four pollution control devices!

Masonite is a multi-million dollar corporation owned by International Paper which is a multi-billion dollar corporation. They can afford to make the necessary changes. As Ukiahns, it is our duty to voice our opinions and demand that Masonite stop poisoning our area! If we all take a stand, we can make a big impact on this stinky situation. It is our responsibility as citizens and the responsibility of the political figures which we elect to fight this evil and work towards making Ukiah the pristine, healthy area it once was. Politicians speak up! Where you stand on this issue will be a major deciding factor in how we vote.

Copyright Mendocino College Eagle
Permission granted to excerpt or use this article if source is cited.

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Last Update: 11/8/96