|Conventional wisdom traces the
environmental movement in the United States Congressional passage
of the Clean Air Act in 1963, and the Water Quality Act in 1965.Yet
a report was discovered showing that Salems City Council
was wrestling with environmental issues four decades earlier.
An engineers detailed study that enabled the Council,
in the spring of 1929, to force two companies to quit spewing
soot and cinders over downtown Salem. The fall of partially
burned material had been so intense that The Oregon Statesman
described "soot-begrimed citizens" walking in downtown
with their eyes "kept half-closed" for protection.
Cinders and soot were not the Salem Councils only problem
in that last Spring before the Great Depression, the Statesman
newspaper reported. In Spring, 1929, the city council began
developing a municipal water service to replace the Oregon-Washington
Water Services Corp., which was delivering not only water but
also "vegetable growth" to the citizens. The Council
ordered livestock especially goats and chickens
ousted from the City unless neighbors agreed to the farm animals
presence. It awarded the citys first bus franchise, debated
possible conflicts of interest in the citys purchases
from companies owned by council members; added 96 acres to the
new Salem Airport and authorized the Citys first traffic
None of those issues, however, matched for longevity the nuisance
caused by the fall of cinders and soot, produced in wood-burning
boilers, at factories along the Willamette River. The council
passed Salems first anti-smoke ordinance in 1923. But
enforcement lagged and cinder, fly ash, and soot continued
to fall. The City needed evidence to put teeth into its law.
So the Council, acting on the advice of its Smoke Committee,
hired E.B. Boals, a professional engineer from Oregon State
Agricultural College in Corvallis. It is his report to the Council,
dated April 29, 1929, that was found in the Marion County Historical
He said his tests showed "the soot-fall" over downtown
Salem to average 1,400 tons per square mile annually. Compared
to other cities, he said, "the intensity of the soot-fall
in Salem is decidedly heavy" worse than the 426
tons that fell on London, England, and the 196 tons experienced
by Portland. Only steel-making Pittsburgh, PA, ranked worse
than Salem on Boals list.
Boals inspected four riverfront factories in Salem: Spaulding
Lumber Co., Oregon Pulp and Paper Co., Portland Electric Power
Co., and Hanson Planing Mill. The wood-burning boilers at all
four, he found, were operated in accordance with the citys
smoke ordinance. The smokestacks at all four plants were equipped
with spark arresters.
But Spaulding and Oregon Pulp had failed to install cinder
removal devices for their smokestacks, Boals found. "Equipment
for the removal of dust particles from air or gas streams
has been built for many years," Boals said, noting that
such devices had been improved during the 1920s because of
higher boiler ratings in steam plants, the development of
pulverized fuel combustion systems, and municipal regulation.
Spaulding Lumber was located on the river between Trade and
Ferry streets, while Oregon Pulp operated between Front Street
and the river on Trade.
Boals found both Spaulding and Oregon Pulp to be violating
Salems 1923 smoke ordinance. He recommended that the
City Council require both companies "to install equipment
for the elimination of a reasonable proportion of their cinders
from their smokestacks
."Such action, he said, would not establish a precedent,
reporting that other cities like Eugene and Portland already
had invoked legal sanctions against industrial polluters to
clean their air. Boals report was so persuasive that
neither Spaulding Lumber nor Oregon Pulp argued.Within a month
of his report, Spaulding Lumber announced it would convert
its steam-driven saws to electricity and abandon its boilers
before July 1st.
Oregon Pulp & Paper said it would buy newly designed cinder
arresters that Carl Gerlinger of Dallas would have on the
market by August. The report that forced Spaulding and Oregon
Pulp to eliminate their production of cinders included Boals
studies of soot and cinder fall from December, 1928, to April,
Simply from observation from downtown roof-tops, Boals knew
that Spaulding and Oregon Pulp were the principal sources
of the cinders - - defined as "partly burned combustible
substances." Boals said Salems cinders were "small
bits of charcoal."Boals initial hope had been to
measure the cinders being produced by the two companies
boilers, but the companies apparently balked. "Apparatus
for the measurement of the quantity of cinders discharged
was constructed, but not used, because of a difference of
opinion as to a point of sampling," Boals wrote.
His evidence came, rather, from cans - - six inches in diameter
and 10 inches deep - - placed on roofs of 10 downtown buildings.
The measuring sites were:
1. Salem Statesman newspaper, Commercial at Ferry, about 650
feet from the two mills.
2. State Street Garage, Front at State Street.
3. U.S. National Bank, Commercial at State, about 950 feet
4. Eikers Garage, Liberty at Ferry.
5. Western Auto Supply, Commercial at Court.
6. Farmers and Merchants Warehouse, Liberty at
Court, about 1,300 feet away.
7. Millers Store, Liberty at Court.
8. Oregon Building, State at High.
9. Capital Second Hand, Commercial at Chemeketa, about 1,720
10. Odd Fellows Building, High at Court.
Boals put out his cans twice - - December 8th and February
10th. His first test failed, however. So much rain fell in
December and January that many of the falling cinders had
been washed out of the cans. But, after the 21-day second
test, Boals found 5,998 grams of soot and cinders in the ten
He emptied his cans and resumed testing until April 6th.
Translating his measurements, he declared that 7,250 pounds
of soot and cinders fell on the block bounded by Commercial,
Ferry, Trade, and Front Streets during 43 days. That was an
average of almost 170 pounds a day on the block surrounded
by Court, Liberty, State, and Commercial.
Like many consultants reports, Boals document
was put on a shelf to gather dust. But why not? It was so
well done, that its mere preparation had led to the solution
of the problem Boals had been hired to address. Would that
all municipal issues were so easily solved.
Written by John McMillan
Marion County History, Volume XV, Page 129, Salem Public Library