SI Vault
Edited by Jerry Kirshenbaum
June 02, 1980
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June 02, 1980


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The eruption of Mount St. Helens killed at least 35 people, left more than 90 unaccounted for and created scenes in Washington, Idaho and Montana that might have been lifted from a science-fiction movie. Take, for example, the thick layer of ash that blanketed Spokane, Yakima and smaller towns in eastern Washington and threatened to turn the Evergreen State into the Evergray State. Try to sweep the ash away and it swirled around and settled somewhere else. Hose it down and it turned to a cement-like substance. The accursed ash clung to everything, clogging sewers and waterways, gumming up automobile engines, so darkening the skies that midday seemed like midnight. Residents likened it to being in a windless sandstorm. About the only ones who had anything good to say about the ash were Yakima police, who found it helpful in nabbing a suspect in a grocery-store robbery; they said he left a trail of footprints leading to his home in the volcanic dust.

Residents of Yakima and neighboring towns either stayed home or wore surgical masks when they ventured outside. Washington State's spring football game was canceled, as was a three-game Pacific Coast League series between the hometown Indians and the Ogden A's in Spokane's Indian Stadium, where the grass was covered by what wags were calling Ashtroturf. Last Monday Spokane was supposed to start celebrating Non-Polluter Commuter Week, during which citizens would be urged to leave their cars at home and ride bicycles to work. But with most stores and businesses closed, residents wound up not going to work at all.

Wildlife affected by the blowout included the Roosevelt elk herd that usually grazes in the Spirit Lake area at the foot of Mount St. Helens. Some of the elk were presumed killed, and with their range destroyed, the fate of survivors was uncertain. The eruption also spewed hot ash and mud into the Toutle River, a tributary of the Columbia rich in steelhead trout and salmon. The water temperature, normally 52� at this time of year, reached 100�, leaving the Toutle a dead river. Also dead was the Cowlitz River downstream from the point at which the Toutle flows into it. Even without the high temperatures, fish probably would have been killed by silt clogging their gills. In any case, at least 10 million young Chinook and Coho salmon were destroyed. Worse, streams that formerly were gravel-bottomed now had cementlike bases, which will likely disrupt the food chain on which spawning depends. Also, with at least 1,300 feet of its 9,677-foot peak ripped away, Mount St. Helens may no longer be tall enough for the formation of the glacial ice that, during summer thaw, feeds spawning streams. The effect on local fisheries could be calamitous.


The death of Jockey Robert Pineda of injuries suffered in a spill during a race at Pimlico in 1978 cast harsh light on the widespread use of Butazolidin, an anti-inflammatory drug, on horses. The accident occurred when a horse named Easy Edith, who had been given Bute as treatment for sore knees, snapped a leg, causing a chain-reaction pileup of four horses, Pineda's among them. Pineda's family brought a $10 million negligence suit in U.S. District Court in Baltimore against Pimlico and Easy Edith's owner and trainer, alleging that Bute numbed the horse, posing "a great danger to all other horses and to all jockeys because such a horse cannot respond normally and properly to its own injuries."

Last week that case was settled out of court. Ben Cohen, one of Pimlico's owners, called his track's contribution to the settlement "peanuts," adding, "So we pay them what we would have paid the lawyers." But other sources said the full settlement was for $350,000, a sum that didn't seem negligible at all. The settlement made it all the more welcome that the Maryland Racing Commission last week issued a virtual ban on the racetrack use of both Bute and another much-abused drug, Lasix. The commission's action could avert serious accidents in the future—and possibly spare some horsemen and tracks from having to shell out more peanuts.

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