SALEM, Ore. (AP) — Oregon has approved a developer’s plan to truck pesticide-contaminated soil from a proposed residential development in northeast Salem to a farm 6 miles away.
The soil, contaminated with dieldrin, would pose ingestion, inhalation and skin contact hazards for new residents, but “should be safe for farm use,” regulators said in a response to public comments on the controversial proposal.
Dieldrin is a breakdown product of the insecticide aldrin, which was banned for crop use in 1970. It persists in soil for years and can accumulate up the food chain.
Neighbors and government agencies raised alarms when the plan was announced in July, saying it had the potential to contaminate groundwater and surface water and could spread contaminated dust as the dirt is trucked through neighborhoods, passing three schools. They also questioned the safety of using the soil to grow crops.
In a written response to their comments, the Oregon Department of Environmental Quality said its toxicologists do not expect risk standards to be exceeded in the air or dust during soil removal or trucking.
They also will require the developer to use dust-control measures.
Elizabeth Sagmiller, environmental and technical division manager for the city of Keizer, said that isn’t good enough.
The farm where the soil will be dumped is in Keizer, less than half a mile away from Clear Lake. The dirt would have to be trucked through Keizer neighborhoods.
“They used words like ‘DEQ does not expect there to be a problem.’ They don’t say ‘DEQ guarantees there won’t be a problem.’ That doesn’t give us a lot of confidence,” she said. “I was less than happy with their response but they’re the regulating agency and it’s up to them to make the decision.
As a result of public input, DEQ will require the contractor to cover the contaminated soil at the new site with three feet of cleaner fill soil before the farmer grows crops in it.
The farmer also has indicated he will plant hazelnut trees, which are unlikely to take up significant levels of dieldrin, said Don Hanson, DEQ’s Western Region cleanup manager.
The permit now specifies that the contractor must obtain floodplain and wetland permits from Marion County, the Department of State Lands and the Army Corps of Engineers before the southern quarry is filled.
Nichole Tarter, who lives near the proposed development, organized a community meeting in September, where neighbors heard from state environment, health and agriculture officials.
“We were told that the soil contamination is so minimal that we shouldn’t be concerned basically,” she said. “So the general consensus from those that I talked with was, why dig it up at all and move only part of it to a new location? It doesn’t sound right.”
“It still left neighbors wondering why the soil needs to be moved at all, if it isn’t a threat to us,” Tarter said.
Some neighbors had asked DEQ to approve a different option, such as taking the soil to a landfill licensed to handle the waste or treating the soil with an additive that lessens the contamination.
But Hanson said DEQ must choose the least expensive option that still protects human health and the environment.
“By law we get into trouble if we start requiring people to do more than is really required under the law,” he said.
The proposed residential development in northeast Salem includes plans for a community called Northstar, with 500 home lots, plus duplexes and apartments.
The soil will be taken to a farm at Windsor Island Road, where it will be used to fill two former quarry pits.
DEQ has allowed the developer to excavate soil from the east side of the contaminated property and temporarily stockpile it on the west side, where it is fenced, graded and seeded to prevent erosion.
Underground utilities will be installed over the winter, and streets will be paved in the spring.
Contaminated soil is tentatively scheduled to be removed between April and August 2018.
“They used words like ‘DEQ does not expect there to be a problem.’ They don’t say, ‘DEQ guarantees there won’t be a problem.’ That doesn’t give us a lot of confidence.” Elizabeth Sagmiller, environmental and technical division manager for the city of Keizer, Ore.