Environmentalists Push Toxin-Free Paper


As an environmentalist, publisher Fred Garth found himself protesting against pollution caused by making the very type of paper used to print his scuba diving magazine.

“I was in kind of a hypocritical situation,” he admits.

That, however, changed two years ago when Scuba Times became the first general circulation magazine in North America printed on totally chlorine-free (TCF) paper.

Garth and other environmentalists now are pushing Congress to pass legislation that would phase out all chlorine bleaching compounds from paper making.


Chlorine makes paper white but also creates several types of toxins including dioxins, a family of chemicals linked to cancer and neurological, immune, reproductive and developmental problems.

The poisons are released into streams, rivers and other waters from mills that make pulp for fine writing and printing paper. Other types of paper such as newsprint, tissues and cardboards are produced without chlorine compounds.

The TCF bill’s sponsor, Rep. Jerrold Nadler (D-N.Y.), and its supporters, including Greenpeace, the Natural Resources Defense Council, National Wildlife Federation and Sierra Club, face strong opposition from the paper industry.

“With the Congress we’ve got right now, the climate doesn’t seem to be very encouraging,” Greenpeace spokesman Mark Floegel said in Seattle.

The federal Environmental Protection Agency, meanwhile, is considering a new rule that would reduce, but not eliminate, chlorine-related toxins.


Garth, 40, grew up in Gainesville, Ga., and vacationed on Perdido Bay, just west of Pensacola, since childhood. His magazine now is headquartered on Perdido Key, a barrier island bordering the bay.

He is a member of the Perdido Bay Environmental Assn., which has been pressuring Champion International Corp. to stop using chlorine at its Pensacola pulp and paper mill, which discharges into the bay.

“I became a person that was fighting against the paper company that was polluting my frontyard, but at the same time in my business I was buying paper that was chlorine-bleached,” Garth said. “I don’t like to be a hypocrite, so I looked for a way to find a totally chlorine-free sheet.”

At first, he was unable to find coated paper for high-quality color reproduction. Garth began using uncoated TCF paper for a 16-page black-and-white section in 1992. The entire magazine went totally chlorine-free in June 1995 on coated paper imported from Germany.

Scuba Times, which sells for $2.99, prints about 70,000 copies six times a year and averages 100 pages. Garth publishes two smaller magazines, Deep Tech, on advanced diving techniques, and Belize Magazine, an in-country publication for the Central American nation.

“Those are on a heavier paper stock and some of that’s just being developed now so we’re just looking at converting those,” Garth said.

Several other magazines now are using TCF paper. Harcourt Brace prints children’s books on it and Kinkos Inc., the copying chain, has been offering it since 1992.

But TCF remains a tiny fraction of the market because of high cost and low availability, says Steve Doughty, paper manager for Publishers Printing Co. in Shepherdsville, Ky., where Scuba Times is printed. He said TCF paper costs up to 4% more than ordinary paper.

Only one of 105 U.S. bleached pulp mills is totally chlorine-free. The Louisiana-Pacific mill in Samoa, Calif., uses hydrogen peroxide for bleaching. It costs more but does not produce dangerous pollutants.

Unlike corrosive chlorine effluent, it can be reused, reducing water consumption, said Louisiana-Pacific spokesman Bill Windes.

Few U.S. paper companies, however, are willing to pay the higher cost so only about 10% of the mill’s output is TCF bleached pulp, Windes said. The rest is unbleached.

“The Europeans dealt with the chlorine issue far quicker,” said Archie Beaton, executive director of the Chlorine Free Products Assn. in Algonquin, Ill. “They’re not afraid to spend money on new technologies . . . and do something for the environment.”


Germany is 100% totally chlorine-free and Sweden about 60%, Beaton said.

The American Forest and Paper Assn., based in Washington, opposes any TCF requirement.

“The impact on air and water quality is still uncertain,” said spokesman Barry Polsky. “It can’t be recycled as many times and you’re going to have to cut more trees to produce it.”

Polsky said hydrogen peroxide bleaching would increase pulpwood consumption about 10% over the process allowed by the proposed EPA rule. Greenpeace’s Floegel disputed his claims.

The EPA proposal would bar chlorine but allow mills to use chlorine dioxide, a compound of chlorine and oxygen. Agency officials say it would cut dioxin releases by 90%.

EPA has rejected a more stringent proposal to add another process called oxygen delignification--being installed at Champion’s Pensacola mill--which reduces the amount of bleaching chemicals needed.