TIFO was founded in 2012 by Margrit von Braun and Ian von Lindern to address growing disparities in environmental health. TIFO is the non-profit successor to the TerraGraphics Environmental Engineering (TG)/University of Idaho International Initiative. TG worked with local, state, and federal governments to address environmental contamination in the US, including remediation at the Bunker Hill Superfund Site. The Initiative adapted and implemented hazardous waste site cleanup methods to the cultural and socio-economic realities of low and middle-income countries. Drs. von Braun and von Lindern established TIFO to continue this work in the non-profit sector.
Bunker Hill and Beyond: TIFO's Roots in Idaho Mining Communities
1973: Bunker Hill Baghouse Fire
September 3, 1973: a fire destroys pollution control (the “baghouse”) at the Bunker Hill smelter, which continues to operate despite the damage.
1974: Bunker Hill Bypasses All Filtration Measures
In early 1974, Gulf Resources & Chemical Corp (parent company of the smelter) decides to bypass the baghouse completely, operating the smelter without any pollution control, although they had knowledge of the already high lead levels in area children.
Two children are hospitalized for lead poisoning. TIFO Co-Founder Ian von Lindern (age 25) is sent to conduct a lead study as an employee of Idaho’s Department of Health and Welfare. There he meets Phil Landrigan (TIFO Board of Directors), who is the CDC Medical Director leading the Silver Valley Lead Study.
The Silver Valley Lead Study finds 22% of the children within one mile of the smelter have blood lead levels > 80 ug/dL and almost all children in Kellogg have more than 40 ug/dL (current CDC action level is 3.5 ug/dL).
1977-83: Lawsuits Against Bunker Hill
In 1977 the first lawsuit is filed. By 1983 all suits are settled.
1982 & 1983: Bunker Hill Smelter Closes Indefinitely and is Classified as a Superfund Site
In 1982, the smelter closes indefinitely. In 1983, Bunker Hill and surrounding region is added to the EPA’s Superfund list, initiating a massive remediation effort ongoing today.
1984: TerraGraphics Environmental Engineering Established
TerraGraphics Environmental Engineering (TGEE) is created to do assessment and cleanup work at the Bunker Hill Superfund Site. This becomes both the legacy for TGEE, and also the roots from which TIFO’s projects and mission have grown.
2005: International Research and Restoration Iniative Established
TGEE and the University of Idaho create the International Research and Restoration Initiative to identify hazardous sites globally and use lessons learned from Bunker Hill to develop cleanups for those sites. Four sites are assessed and eventually remediated in Russia, China, Dominican Republic, and Senegal.
2010: Nigeria Lead Poisoning Outbreak and Emergency Response
TGEE is asked to assist the CDC with an emergency assessment of a reported lead poisoning outbreak with hundreds of fatalities in Northern Nigeria. The 10 day assessment trip turned into a 12 year project spanning 12 villages across two states. An emergency response transitions to a comprehensive environmental health program implemented by local partners with decreasing assistance from TIFO and MSF.
This is the beginning of the TIFO-MSF partnership, and the impetus for founding TIFO to tackle environmental health crises in marginalized communities around the world.