Early in the 21st Century my wife and I were touring Northern California by camper van when we decided to take a day’s excursion to Eureka, California. Nestled at the foot of some of the more rugged coastal mountains of California, Eureka’s position on Humboldt Bay made it a natural shipping point for the lumber industry fed by the forested slopes leading away from the Pacific. As we looked at the setting on the map and read about the area, it seemed worthy of our exploration for neat and interesting places to visit, or even live.
As we crested a last hill before descending to the town below, we could see most of the bay was obscured by what at first appeared to be fog, not an unusual occurrence in California in the summer. As we got closer, it became apparent that what we were really seeing was “smaze”, a term TV weather forecasters came up with so they didn’t have to say “smog” on the air. As we pulled into a grocery store parking lot to replenish supplies, we quickly discovered why “smaze” and smog are the same.
Our first breath of the outside air irritated our throats, nasal passages and lungs. Our eyes burned and watered. There was a distinct acrid odor to the air. My wife wondered aloud what was causing such an awful air problem. My memory had been stirring from the first whiff until I remembered from many years previously the pulp mill in Canton, NC, where I had once visited. Through pursed lips and semi-held breath I blurted out “pulp mill” and motioned we should get into the store quickly. We did and while we shopped we marveled at how few of the people we encountered seemed to be affected by the abysmal air quality. The Evergreen Pulp Mill of Eureka would later be forced to pay hefty court-ordered fines for spewing pollutants into the air and lungs of the surrounding area. Continue reading