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EPA settles with BNSF Railway Company for improperly handling contaminated soil in North Portland

Release Date: 04/25/2012
Contact Information: Mark MacIntyre, EPA PIO/Seattle, 206-553-7302, macintyre.mark@epa,gov; Cheryl Williams, 206-553-2137, williams.cherylb@epa.gov

(Portland, OR – April 25, 2012) – The BNSF Railway Company has settled with the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency for mishandling and transportation of contaminated soil from a construction project near the McCormick & Baxter Superfund site on the banks of the Willamette River. The BNSF Railway Company will pay a $37,500 penalty as part of the agreement.

Documents associated with today’s action show that BNSF Railway Company excavated and removed at least three truckloads (36 cubic yards) of soil containing a listed hazardous waste, pentachlorophenol. EPA alleges that BNSF Railway Company then:

  • failed to properly characterize the excavated waste
  • failed to lawfully store and manage the waste on site, and
  • failed to properly transport the contaminated soil from the site to a disposal facility equipped and permitted to handle such waste.
Each failure was a violation of federal hazardous waste law, enforced by EPA to protect communities and the environment. Although BNSF’s contractor performed the work BNSF is responsible for ensuring that all construction projects are performed in a safe and lawful manner.

According to Edward Kowalski, Director of EPA’s Office of Compliance and Enforcement, BNSF Railway Company has ample experience in handling, managing, transporting, and disposing of contaminated soil.

“Major corporations and their contractors are well aware of the rules and the importance of properly managing hazardous waste,” said EPA’s Kowalski. “Managing and transporting contaminated soil safely requires that you pay attention to detail and strictly comply with all federal, state and local laws.”

Pentachlorophenol, a manufactured chemical, was used in wood treating that took place while the McCormick & Baxter facility operated. It is a restricted use pesticide that has been used industrially for decades as a wood preservative for utility poles, railroad ties, and wharf pilings. Exposure to high levels of pentachlorophenol has been shown to cause liver damage, harm the immune system, and have damaging reproductive and developmental effects. EPA has also identified pentachlorophenol as a probable human carcinogen.

The Oregon Department of Environmental Quality was instrumental in bringing this situation to the attention of EPA. In October, 2009, inspectors from the Oregon Department of Environmental Quality (ODEQ), who happened to visit the McCormick & Baxter site, observed employees of BNSF Railway Company’s contractor excavating soil close to the known cap boundary (finished in 2005).

Subsequent sampling and analysis of excavated soils confirmed the presence of constituents of various wood-treating preservatives, and pentachlorophenol in particular. Further investigation by EPA and ODEQ over the next several months brought the additional violations to light.

Under the terms of the agreement, BNSF Railway Company will pay the $37,500 penalty.

By signing the agreement, BNSF Railway Company did not admit to the allegations contained in the agreement.