One of the most toxic dumps in Oregon remains in legal limbo.
A deal cut by the state with the company that owns the site has now been dropped. And the Department of Environmental Quality has no plans – or money – to clean it up.
About 60 miles north of Lakeview a barbed wire fence surrounds a patch of desert. Warning signs tell people to stay away.
Boyd Levet remembers watching in 1976 as the dump was created.
“It was probably just acres but it seemed like miles and miles of barrels just lined up in rows. It was a sight you would not expect to see in a place as beautiful as Oregon,” says Levet, who was a reporter back then for KOIN-TV.
25,513 barrels containing more than 1 million gallons of pesticide had been stacked next to Alkali Lake. They promptly started leaking.
Levet’s old news film shows the state of Oregon sent in bulldozers. They didn’t just bury the drums. They crushed them, allowing more toxics to pour out.
The chemicals include 2,4,5-T and 2,4-D – the prime ingredients of Agent Orange – notorious for its use during the Vietnam War.
Oregon’s Department of Environmental Quality pushed the 25-thousand crushed barrels in trenches, then shoved dirt on top.
The trenches were not lined.
The dioxin-laced pesticides quickly reached the water table below, just 3- to 6-feet down.
“The groundwater near the landfill is very contaminated,” says Bob Schwarz, DEQ’s current project manager over the Alkali Lake Disposal Site.
The state has put up a fence around it. Tests have measured contaminated ground water spreading nearly half a mile underground. The nearest families live 3 miles away. And the town of Christmas Valley is about 30 miles to the west.
“I would say if it was near any population center, even a town as small as Christmas Valley it could very well have been declared a Superfund site,” Schwarz says.
Former Lake County Commissioner J.R. Stewart is angry that the state does not intend to clean up the chemical dumpsite.
“If it’s not affecting you it’s not a problem. Well, it’s affecting Lake County,” he says. “It’s affecting the state of Oregon and it has the potential, in time, to be a great effect and a danger. Why not remedy a very bad situation as soon as possible, rather than turn a blind eye until you absolutely get beat over the head and have to do it?”