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Omak Target of Lead Monitoring

Release Date: 9/11/1998
Contact Information: Jack Boller
(360) 753-9428

September 11, 1998 - - - - - - - 98-47

EPA wants to make sure that underground water supplies in Omak, Washington, are not being tainted with lead from contaminated soil at the old Omak Wood Products sawmill and plywood mill.

The new owners of the mill -- Quality Veneer Lumber Inc. --have been sent an EPA order directing them to sample and remove contaminated soil left behind by the former owners, and to take steps to learn if the contaminants might have migrated into ground water used for local drinking water.

The order was announced today by Chuck Clarke, EPA's Northwest regional administrator in Seattle.

"We're in a what-you-don't-know-might-hurt-you situation,' explained Clarke. "We know there are substantial quantities of lead in the surface soil, we know the soil is porous, and we need to find out if the lead has percolated downward to reach underground water supplies."

The order directs the Quality Veneer Lumber Inc. to do the following tasks:
  • remove hazardous wastes and contaminated soils from "the Boneyard," that part of the mill property used by Omak Wood Products as a disposal area.
  • take samples of soil beneath the surface of the Boneyard and determine if they contain lead or other contaminants.
  • install a system for monitoring groundwater beneath the Boneyard and from nearby wells that provide drinking water to the mill, to nearby private residences and to the Omak water supply.

Quality Veneer Lumber took over the operation of the Omak mill two months ago, after it had been clearly established the new company was inheriting a number of environmental problems.

In addition to the hazardous waste contamination at the Boneyard, Omak Wood Products had a history of air pollution violations. Quality Veneer has already begun to install improved venting and new emission controls at the plywood mill.

The full extent of the hazardous waste problems became known in the aftermath of an EPA inspection of the Boneyard in August 1997. EPA discovered 200 drums of waste material in the Boneyard. More than half the drums were unlabeled, with unknown contents, in poor condition, and with many leaking their contents into the soil.

EPA followed up its inspection with an order to Omak Wood Products that required the company to test and analyze the wastes and the soil in the Boneyard. In results submitted to EPA last spring, the analysis of the samples of waste material and surface soil showed concentrations of lead at more than 100,000 parts per million, with one sample at 430,000 parts per million.

Over time, lead in the human body can -- through day-in, day-out exposure -- cause serious damage to the brain, nervous system, kidneys and red blood cells. The degree of harm depends on the level of exposure.
Contact: Jack Boller
(360) 753-9428