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Huxley students test their pollution cleanup skills

WWU students work with the Port of Anacortes

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Workers remove pilings at the former Scott Paper Mill site in Anacortes, where WWU Huxley students are learning about environmental cleanup through a hands-on project. | Photo by Port of Anacortes
WWU Huxley students tour the former Scott Paper Mill site. The students are working with the Port of Anacortes to learn about environmental cleanup through a hands-on project. | Photo by Ruth Sofield

A polluted paper mill site in Anacortes is a real-world classroom this spring for a group of students at Huxley College of the Environment.

Cleanup is under way at the former Scott Paper Mill site in Anacortes, and 17 students in Huxley’s Environmental Toxicology emphasis spent winter quarter learning the property’s history, state environmental regulations at play and possible cleanup methods. They also drafted mock cleanup proposals and identified research to be done on the site. Now, they’ll spend spring quarter carrying out that research.

“The students will gain hands-on experience with the latest field technologies and they will be forced to make difficult decisions based on technical knowledge, economics, social issues and regulatory guidance,” says Ruth Sofield, the Huxley associate professor responsible for putting the class together.

The Port of Anacortes, state Department of Ecology and Geoengineers, an environmental consulting firm, are collaborating with Sofield to deliver a realistic experience for the students.

“This is the real world they will be stepping into when they graduate,” Sofield says, “and there is no better way to prepare them for it than through an applied learning experience such as this.”

The project is being funded by $25,000 that was part of a damages settlement associated with the cleanup of the site. The money will be used to support the class and the student research related to the site during the spring and summer.