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Paying Dividends
Making money can be a dirty business. But when Deb Sanchez attended a workshop at her Wild Oats grocery store promoting "social awareness investing," she thought it sounded like a good way to grow her small nest egg. Social investors focus their portfolios on things like environmentally friendly companies or those that donate to charity; they can choose to stay away from companies that sell tobacco or weapons parts or those that do animal testing.

Sanchez met again with young investment rep Bradford Cushman and was quite impressed. He struck her as sincere and committed to the idea of helping people invest in good-guy corporations. Then he handed her his business card: It read "Salomon Smith Barney."

The huge investment conglomerate also owns--by way of a series of corporate marriages--the Shattuck Chemical Company, which along with the EPA and the State of Colorado has left a six-acre, fifteen-foot-high radioactive waste heap outside of Sanchez's kitchen window.

Shattuck, at 1805 South Bannock, was declared a Superfund site in 1983. In 1992, 50,000 cubic yards of radioactive waste were entombed there in fly ash and concrete. For years, area residents and city officials insisted that the waste should have been carted away instead ("Not in Their Backyard," August 6, 1998).

Recent revelations, they hope, might finally convince the EPA.
Former Shattuck workers have now revealed that the plant had processed radioactive scrap and salvaged uranium from defective fuel rods used in nuclear reactors, waste material that should have been treated much differently from the mining tailings known to be on site.

This month, EPA ombudsman Bob Martin and special investigator Hugh Kaufman are digging into Shattuck's history ("Mr. Clean," April 1). They are investigating whether the waste pile is sinking, examining its contents and questioning "all the players," says Kaufman. Tim Fields, head of the EPA's national Office of Solid Waste, will decide by the end of the year whether to reopen the case, an unusual scenario that probably would occur only "if there is clear evidence the remedy isn't working or if new information becomes available," explains Debra Asiumus Overn, an attorney for the Shattuck citizens' groups.

If the investigation doesn't result in forced removal of the waste, "all we would probably have left is to convince--or cajole--Salomon Smith Barney" to do the right thing, says Helene Orr, a member of the Overland Neighborhood Environmental Watch.

"Part of me said all of us should invest a little bit of money" in Salomon Smith Barney, adds Sanchez with a laugh, "and then we could write the company as shareholders and say, 'Hey, get this dump out of our neighborhood.'"

Cushman, whose fall 1998 newsletter to potential investors ran the headline "You Don't Have to Sacrifice Profits for Principles," says he'd like to comment but has to defer to Salomon's official spokespeople in New York. They responded with a fax explaining that the EPA's remedy "provides a socially responsible balancing of all interests." A 1986 decision by Congress, they say, determined "that it was irresponsible to simply move contaminated materials to someone else's backyard, city, county or state."

If the waste does indeed contain castoffs from military or nuclear sites, the U.S. Department of Defense or Energy might have to pay some of the estimated $35 million removal cost. Colorado would have to pay up to 10 percent of the tab.

It would be nice, neighbors say, if Salomon Smith Barney's parent company, Citigroup, which just posted better-than-expected second-quarter profits of $2.48 billion and whose CEO, Sanford Weill, made $167 million last year, would help. That, they say, would be a real investment in social awareness.

--Gayle Worland

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Gayle Worland