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& & River contamination? & & & &

Spokane -- Two reports released this week by the Washington Department of Ecology (Ecology) show that the Hamilton Street Bridge site is badly contaminated with toxic compounds typically associated with gas manufacturing.

"During the time from 1905 to1948, that's when they manufactured carbonated water gas, coal and gas at the site," says Jani Gilbert, Ecology spokesperson. "What that process does is it produces coal-tar, and that was transferred by pipeline to a coal-tar distribution site that was part of the same facility." The soil is contaminated as far as 80 feet below the surface, and the reports assume that the groundwater in the area is contaminated as well.

"The Spokane River is right there, but so far it looks like none of the contamination has affected the river," continues Gilbert. "Apparently, very little of the contamination has traveled off site, and we are going to keep up the water monitoring to make sure that doesn't start to happen."

The contamination was discovered when the Department of Transportation began looking into realigning Trent Avenue three years ago and examined the bridge and the area around it with replacement in mind.

The site is the current location of Brown Building Materials, but it has been owned by many companies that have contributed to the contamination over the past century. Brown is cooperating fully with the investigation.

"The reports are looking at a number of options as to what to do with the site. Maybe soil-capping will be an option," says Gilbert. "Keeping people off the site is also a concern, and soil excavation has been brought up, too."

The reports are open for public comments until Jan. 18 and are available at the library's downtown branch and Ecology's office in Spokane.

& & Toys for Tots in Idaho & & & &

Boise -- Needy children in the region will benefit again this Christmas from an antitrust settlement with Toys 'R' Us and several toy manufacturers, when 6,966 toys at a total cost of $43,000 will be handed out. Though the companies admitted no guilt as part of the series of settlements with the state of Idaho, the first of which were finalized in 1998, they agreed to pay damages partly in cash and partly in toys.

"This will go on for one more year," says Brett DeLange, deputy attorney general for the State of Idaho. "What the state originally alleged was that Toys 'R' Us was fearing competition and went to the manufacturers and said, 'Listen, we want a deal with you guys, that you don't sell the same toys to us as you do to Wal-Mart.'" The state argued successfully that this practice artificially inflated prices.

"Since it would be very difficult to identify the actual harmed consumers and pay them restitution," says DeLange, "the next best thing was to pool all the damages and let that go toward helping needy children."

Many other states signed on to the settlement, and the toys are being distributed by the United States Marine Corps' Toys for Tots program. Other installments of toys will be distributed in Washington and Oregon as well.

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