For decades, a 9,000-pound cannon from a war between Japan and Russia was the landmark motorists noticed at the corner of East Marginal Way and Ellis Avenue — if they noticed anything about Sternoff Metals at all. The old Hat ‘N’ Boots gas station just up the road got more attention.
But Marv Hopkins got a different view of Sternoff Metals back in the 1960s. He pulled his Union Pacific Railroad engine right inside the junkyard on a spur line built so the railroad could pick up scrap metal.
And from that perspective, Hopkins could usually count on seeing a worker processing electrical transformers. The process involved pouring out the oil inside — almost certainly containing highly toxic PCBs — directly onto the ground.
“I saw hundreds of gallons poured out,” said Hopkins, 72, of Des Moines. “It was month after month after month after month.”
Usually there were between 10 and 100 transformers waiting to be pulled apart. Rex Allen, 61, a former engineer who also took trains into the yard, said he never witnessed actual dumping, but the ground was black and “all oily.”
All this took place about 150 yards from a spot on the Duwamish River where authorities today are scrambling to trace a mysterious source of PCBs contaminating Slip 4, a small bay off the Duwamish.
That spot on the waterway has some of the highest concentrations of PCBs anywhere on the Duwamish, as well as other pollutants. This “hot spot” was supposed to be cleaned up by now.