The soil around South Oroville is tainted by cancer-causing chemicals. That’s according to recent studies by local scientists concerned about dioxins left over from the Pacific Oroville Power Inc. (POPI) facility there. Some of the samples show levels so high they would make the World Health Organization shudder.
Of five local samples tested, one was determined to have 1,000 parts per trillion (PPT), far beyond the WHO’s 40 PPT level of concern. Another was found to have 170 PPT, while results for three others range from 4.4 to 32 PPT. Dioxins are a carcinogen that can cause reproductive problems and other human health problems.
The tests were triggered by the discovery of dioxins in the ash created by the operations of the POPI plant, which first fired up in the 1980s and created energy by burning timber waste—wood chips created by the downing of trees. But in the 1990s, as the timber industry died down in Northern California, the plant began burning urban waste—the remains of torn down buildings, which included asbestos, lead and other potentially environment-damaging materials.
|Geologist John Lane gathers soil samples|
When the Butte County District Attorney’s Office learned of the practice, it began testing the ash that resulted. High levels of dioxins were discovered. POPI was owned and operated by a New Jersey-based company called Covanta. The company stopped its Oroville operations in 2012 and was named in a lawsuit by a number of communities where such plants operated, including Butte County. Last year, the suit was settled with the local DA’s office collecting $186,000 of an $825,000 overall settlement.
Dioxins in the region may also have come from the nearby and now-closed Koppers wood treatment plant, which had major fires in 1963 and 1987 that resulted in dioxin-laden smoke and ash drifting across the area.
The soil tests are being paid for by both the DA’s office and the Butte Environmental Council (BEC) through a sub-group called the Oroville Dioxin Education Committee (ODEC). The soil samples and their location determinations are being organized by John Lane, the geologist who owns and operates Chico Environmental Science and Planning. Lane conducted the initial ash testing that revealed the presence of dioxins.