EPA Cuts Hit Close to Home: Linn and Benton Counties depend on EPA to monitor toxic sites

Rear view of the ATI Wah Chang Facility.

A 7000-volt electrified fence, marked with bright yellow warning signs, formed the barrier between the ATI Wah Chang and the Cox Creek.

ATI Wah Chang in Millersburg, Oregon in Linn County, formerly known as Teledyne Wah Chang, is listed as one of the “nation’s most contaminated hazardous waste sites.” The EPA describes the site as “contaminated by wastes from a metals production plant, including radionuclides and volatile organic compounds. These contaminants impacted site groundwater, sediments, and soils”

President Trump recently proposed a budget that would cut 31 percent of the funding for the EPA. The Environmental Protection Agency is tasked with enforcing environmental standards and regulations but a lesser-known function of the EPA is toxic cleanups and monitoring.

While the EPA is a federal agency, 29 toxic cleanup and monitoring projects in the state of Oregon are operated by the EPA, with over $1 billion allocated to their efforts on the Portland Harbor alone. Among the abandoned mines, factories, and grain facilities are 18 sites listed on the National Priorities List (NPL) described by the EPA as a “list of national priorities among the known releases or threatened releases of hazardous substances, pollutants, or contaminants throughout the United States and its territories.”

$32.6 million has already been paid in compensation by ATI Wah Chang, including $2.3 million in medical costs alone.

Testing of watersheds surrounding ATI Wah Chang showed a consistent presence of contamination in fish in 1991. A recommendation was made by the Oregon DHS to retest in 2008, although it remains unclear if a second study was ever completed.

Although work was done in the 1990’s to excavate the contaminated soils and remove groundwater, the site is still currently monitored by the EPA and a report in 2013 recommended the use of additional technology, as the previous remedy had proven unsuccessful for containing contamination.

With the proposed cuts at the EPA, funding for the projects may very well be in jeopardy. EPA Media Contact Mark Macintyre described the budget as a “particularly thorny subject.” Macintyre declined to comment while awaiting approval from the D.C. office.

“As a policy, we don’t speculate on budget issues,” said Macintyre.

One site on the NPL is the former locale of Universal Chrome Products, Inc. in Corvallis, Oregon. Pollutants from the chrome plating facility leaked into the 2.5 acres it operated on from 1956 to 1985. The ground was contaminated with chromium, which causes rupturing of the blood cells, liver failure, cancer, and allergic reactions.

The EPA removed the chromium-contaminated liquids in 1985, but it was not until 2000 that the City of Corvallis began removing contaminated soil. Groundwater extraction ended in 2004, but according to the EPA, an isolated portion of the site’s groundwater is still contaminated.

Eva DeMarie, an EPA project manager at the United Chrome site for the past year, declined to comment without first speaking to a PR person at the EPA. Before DeMarie declared herself unable to comment, she stated that the City of Corvallis pays for monitoring but the EPA pays her and other project manager’s salaries with federal money. DeMarie chose not to speculate on the possible outcomes of no longer having EPA funding to monitor the site, but did confirm that there is still contamination present.

Story by K.Rambo

Photos Elliot Pond

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