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Wood Treating Plant on South Yamhill River Issued Cleanup Ultimatum by EPA

Release Date: 11/8/1999
Contact Information: Mike Sibley & Carl Kitz
sibley.mike@epamail.epa.gov
(206) 553-1886 & (206) 5530-1671


November 8, 1999 - - - - - - - - - -99-55

NEWS ADVISORY

Contaminants in Soils, Ditches Threaten River

Taylor Lumber & Treating Inc. of Sheridan, Oregon, must decide by Friday (November 12) if it will -- on its own -- undertake a cleanup that will help keep harmful chemicals from reaching the nearby South Yamhill River where they would pose risks to human health and wildlife.

If Taylor Lumber does not agree to do the job, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency will step in and do it itself, said Chuck Clarke, EPA’s Northwest regional administrator in Seattle.

“EPA is prepared to do the work,” Clarke said. “The contaminants from the Taylor operation are a threat to the salmon and steelhead in the river, and present unknown consequences for the city of Sheridan’s drinking water intake less than two miles downstream.”

The November 12 deadline was set by terms of a unilateral administrative order issued last Friday (November 5) by EPA under the authority of the federal Superfund law, the statute that enables EPA to clean up hazardous substances threatening human health or the environment when the party responsible for the contamination is unwilling or unable to perform the cleanup himself.

The order directs Taylor Lumber to address contamination by arsenic, pentachlorophenol (PCP) and polynuclear aromatic hydrocarbons (PAH). The contaminants, having entered surface soils, have been carried by rainfall into ditches that run into the South Yamhill River, and have migrated into groundwater that also flows toward the river. In addition, the arsenic in surface soils can be kicked up as wind-blown dust, and inhaled by workers and others nearby.

The EPA order requires Taylor Lumber to do the following:
  • to excavate contaminated sediments from drainage ditches on the north and east borders of the Taylor property, and to excavate other areas with highly contaminated soils,
  • to cover contaminated surface soils in the area of the treatment plant on the Taylor property (to keep rainfall from driving contaminants through the soil into the groundwater), and
  • to make improvements in the plant’s drainage system that will keep contaminants from flowing from catch basins into the ditches that connect to the river.

Taylor Lumber & Treating occupies 234 acres that straddle Rock Creek Road near its intersection with State Highway 18B about one mile west of Sheridan. Over the years, the plant has used creosote, pentachlorophenol and arsenic in its wood treating operations. The same characteristics that make these chemicals good wood preservatives also make them hazardous to many life forms when released into the environment.

Environmental problems have been chronic at Taylor Lumber for a number of years, and the company has been the object of a series of enforcement actions by the Oregon DEQ, EPA and the U.S. Department of Justice. Taylor Lumber has yet to comply with a DEQ order to build a stormwater treatment system that would keep most, if not all, of the arsenic, PCP and PAH out of the ditches that lead to the river.

DEQ and EPA share responsibility for ensuring environmental rules are followed at Taylor Lumber. DEQ issues permits for air emissions and water discharges. EPA has the lead for hazardous waste management and cleanup.

A chief concern of EPA is the steady movement of PCP and PAH in the groundwater toward the South Yamhill. The EPA order issued last Friday does not call for Taylor to deal with the underground plume at the present time, but both Taylor and EPA recognize the necessity to take measures in the future to prevent the contaminants from migrating into the river.

The problems at Taylor have been compounded by a couple of spills this year at the plant. In September, more than 25,000 gallons of reclaimed oil and wastewater spilled beyond a containment area, with some of the spill entering a Rock Creek Road drainage ditch that flows into the South Yamhill. In February, there was a 3,500-gallon spill of oil, and approximately 350 gallons entered the river.