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In late 2012, residents of the West Salem, Oregon area submitted two petitions to the EPA citing their concerns about multiple cases of osteosarcoma in their community. The petitions asked EPA to look for environmental contaminants that could be causing people in their community to fall ill.
In response to the petitions, EPA worked with state and local agencies and the West Salem community to look for potential sources of environmental contamination that could pose risks to public health using our Preliminary Assessment process.
Learn more about EPA’s Site Assessment process
Read our report:
EPA specialists spoke to community members to identify common areas in the community where the osteosarcoma patients spent their time. Based on this information, we came up with five sites to study. The preliminary assessments included reviewing how the sites were used in the past, researching ownership records, and looking for evidence or history of environmental contamination. In addition, because of the high level of concern from the community, we also collected soil and sediment samples and analyzed them in the lab.
The five sites studied were:
- Walker Middle School and surrounding grounds
- West Salem High School and surrounding grounds
- Orchard Heights Park
- Ball Field at 7th and Patterson
- Wallace Marine Park
What we found:
EPA analyzed each sample for almost 200 compounds, including metals, rare/exotic metals, organic compounds, pesticides and radionuclides.
- None of the soil samples contained contaminant concentrations above Oregon’s health-based criteria. These criteria are based on the likelihood that the contaminant will make someone sick. In this case, any contaminants in the soil we found were at levels below the level that Oregon State has determined to be dangerous for humans.
- Polycyclic Aromatic Hydrocarbons (PAHs) were found in three sediment samples collected from Glen Creek in Orchard Heights Park and in one sample collected on the Willamette River. The level of PAHs detected in the sediments is also not considered a threat to human health.
- The screening gamma radiation did not reveal anything abnormal.
EPA did not find contamination at levels of concern at any of the locations we studied. Therefore, we will not be conducting any further work at these sites. We encourage West Salem residents to talk with the Polk County Health and Human Services Department, the Oregon Health Authority and the Oregon Department of Environmental Quality to learn about reducing health risks and preventing illness.
EPA partners and their roles
- The Oregon Public Health Division – Oregon Public Health (OPH) is available to support the EPA and its partners during the assessment. Once the results of the assessment are available, OPH will determine its next steps.
- Polk County Public Health - Polk County Public Health is a liaison between community members and the agencies involved in the assessment. PCPH has also taken on an advocacy role to ensure the citizens of Polk County stay informed and have a local point-of-contact. This point of contact is Randi Phillips, Polk Co. Public Health Manager, 503-623-8175, x2307.
- Salem-Keizer Public Schools –The Salem-Keizer School District is fully cooperating with all parties involved in the EPA’s Preliminary Assessment.
- City of Salem Public Works Department –The area in question is within the City of Salem's municipal boundaries and Salem Public Works is cooperating fully with all involved agencies.
- Oregon Department of Environmental Quality - ODEQ is participating in an advisory role to the assessment team.