BANGOR (AP) – The Penobscot Nation is challenging the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s decision against putting Lincoln Pulp & Paper Co. on a list of Superfund sites.

The tribe, which contends dioxin pollution in the Penobscot River has caused high cancer rates among Indian Island residents, contends the decision was based on politics, not science.

The decision is viewed as favorable for Eastern Pulp & Paper, the mill’s parent company, which is mired in bankruptcy.

John Banks, director of natural resources for the Penobscots, said the tribe is reviewing its options.

The EPA announced its decision that the paper company is not eligible for a Superfund listing on Friday following three years of scientific evaluation, said Chet Janowski, acting chief of technical support and site assessment at the EPA’s regional office in Boston.

Banks said the EPA should have waited for a study of possible contamination in the Penobscot River sediment.

That will likely be completed by this time next year, Banks said.

“The decision was not based on sound science,” he said. “It was based on political pressure.”

Superfund is the common name for a federal program created in 1980 to deal with large toxic pollution problems, primarily at old industrial sites.

While Maine has had 14 Superfund sites identified over the years, including Loring Air Force Base and Eastland Woolen Mill in Corinna, none of the state’s paper mills have ever been listed.

Maine politicians worked to ensure that the Lincoln mill was spared such a listing, and trumpeted their success in press releases last week.

Gov. John Baldacci was among those who opposed a listing.

“The specter of Superfund listing … has made it very difficult for Lincoln to resume normal business operations … the overall environmental condition at the property and the river fall well below the level of a national caliber cleanup,” the governor wrote in a March letter to the EPA.

The Maine Department of Environmental Protection has been looking into contamination at the site since 1986, an investigation that began after the company was fined for several environmental violations, including a $1 million penalty in 1990, the largest the state agency has ever levied.

DEP and EPA both found some contamination in the soil and groundwater, but neither believed the pollution to be at a level that justified a Superfund listing.

Doug Walsh, a vice president with the parent Eastern Pulp Corp., cited state effluent testing which showed that dioxin emissions have been below detectable levels in recent years.

AP-ES-08-27-03 0957EDT

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