Maine and the Environment: A Digital Collection of Archival Resources
This collection documents the efforts of Walter Lawrance to identify, track, and resolve pollution-related problems impacting the Androscoggin River from Gorham, New Hampshire to Lewiston, Maine. The collection is composed of the reports Lawrance made of his annual studies of the river's odor and other qualities beginning in 1943 and continuing through 1977. These reports were based on water samples taken daily from late spring to early fall from hundreds of sampling stations. This work was completed by Lawrance along with several Bates College student assistants and colleagues from the mills and the College.
Also included are the annual reports of his research projects, undertaken from 1946 to 1959 with representatives from the three major paper companies located along the river and done under the auspices of the National Council for Stream Improvement. These projects focused on means of controlling and resolving water pollution, including investigating the river's flow, using sodium nitrate to replenish the water's oxygen, and filtering the waste water. Their encouragement, along with Federal pollution controls, ultimately led the paper companies to adopt the Kraft method for paper production, which resulted in significantly less pollution and a vastly improved river.
The collection also includes Lawrance's related research material, including material documenting similar work he did to improve the Presumpscot River. There is also material about civil defense against biological and chemical weapons, an area in which Lawrance maintained expertise, and a sizable collection of reference material related to water pollution.
Walter Albert Lawrance was born in Pimlico Herts, England on September 4, 1894. He grew up in Canada, receiving an A.B. and A.M. from McMaster University in 1916 and 1919 respectively, and a Ph.D. from the University of Toronto in 1921. In 1916, he worked for the Aetna Chemical Company, and from 1920 to 1921, he served as an Assistant Professor of Chemistry at McMaster. In 1921, he joined the Department of Chemistry at Bates College, where he remained as Stanley Professor of Chemistry until his retirement in 1965.
Lawrance became a consultant for the State of Maine in 1943 following the first of several lawsuits brought by the state against the International Paper Company in Jay, Maine, the Oxford Paper Company in Rumford, Maine, and the Brown Company in New Hampshire. The state charged that the companies' use of the river to discharge sulfite waste liquor, a by-product of wood pulping process, had resulted in such severe pollution that the river smelled of rotten eggs and caused buildings nearby it to discolor. Lawrance was given the responsibility of developing anti-pollution standards for the river, and thus initiated his annual study of the river's odor and other qualities.
In 1947, the Maine Supreme Court appointed him Rivermaster (later called Administrator) of the Androscoggin River. In this position, Lawrance had the power to restrict not only the amount of waste discharged into the river by the mills, but also their overall production, as previous measures had failed to reduce pollution significantly. In this role, Lawrance worked collaboratively with researchers from each company to determine other means of controlling the problem, including adjusting the water temperature and flow. The group formally became the Androscoggin River Technical Committee in 1948, composed of Lawrance as Chair and two representatives from each of the three paper companies. In 1953, the Committee recommended and the companies adopted pollution standards vastly more stringent than those imposed by the State, and yet the river continued to be one of the most polluted in the country.
A turning point for the river came in 1967 when the International Paper Company converted to the Kraft method of producing paper with Lawrance's encouragement. A German process, this technology allows for the strong waste materials to be burned and only weaker waste to be discharged into the river. The other companies converted by 1977. By this point, voluntary actions, as well as clean-up mandated by Federal laws, such as the Clean Water Act, had resulted in a significantly improved river, so much so that the Androscoggin River Committee was officially disbanded at the end of 1977. Early the following year, the Maine Supreme Court ended the position of Rivermaster, and Lawrance officially retired from his duties. He died in 1987.