Molalla Pioneer

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DEQ tests soil near former Avison lumber mill

By Abby Sewell
Molalla Pioneer

After finding dioxins -- toxic chemical compounds -- buried in the soil of the former Avison lumber mill site in Molalla, the Oregon Department of Environmental Quality has asked Avison Rock Quarry to sample the soil of nearby properties in search of contamination.

Dealing with the soil contamination is the last hurdle facing Avison before 25 acres of the site can be certified as shovel-ready industrial land by the State of Oregon.

Dan Hafley, project manager with the Oregon DEQ's voluntary cleanup program, said the levels of dioxins found in the soil on the north end of the site were low, less than one particle per billion.

"We don't want people to be unduly concerned, because we're not unduly concerned," he said. "But as a precaution, we have asked the property owner to take samples from nearby residential properties."

After conducting the sampling at eight neighboring residential properties tomorrow, the results are expected to come back in three or four weeks. At that point, the DEQ will decide whether contamination from the Avison site is posing a risk to human health.

Long-term exposure to dioxins has been shown to cause cancer in animals and scientists suspect the same is true of humans.

The toxic particles in the soil at the old mill site are residue from dip tanks filled with pentachlorophenol, an anti-mold agent used to treat wood in the 1980s, Halfley said. The mill closed in the early 1990s, and has since remained undeveloped except for the northwest corner, leased by the Molalla Redi-Mix cocnrete plant.

Avison Rock Quarry owner Bill Avison said details of the site cleanup plan are still being finalized.

"We've been working cooperatively with the DEQ to get (the site) to this point, and I think everyone wants to see it completed," he said.

The cleanup could be as simple as shoveling out the offending turf and hauling it away or could entail removing some and capping the rest with cement or another sealant. Halfley said the dioxins on site are not thought to pose a threat to neighboring groundwater.

"We've assessed the groundwater and we have some very localized impacts, but they don't expand off site," he said.

While contamination has also been found on the south side of the 54-acre property, in ditches that extend toward Bear Creek, Halfley said the DEQ's main focus is on the 25 acres in the northern portion of the site, where a certification as shovel-ready industrial land could bring new economic development to the area.

"The potential for development is very important to us," he said.

Jamie Johnk, Clackamas County's rural economic development coordinator, said the site will likely receive its certification in September.

"Once you're done with the certification, it guarantees potential property owners that they can break ground on the site within 180 days," she said.

Once the soil testing results return, and a final cleanup plan is presented, the DEQ will accept public comment before approving the plan.

Avison is funding the environmental study, cleaup, and regulator oversight costs at the site. Some funding for the investigation came through a Clackamas County EPA Brownfield Grant and development funds from the Oregon Economic Community Development Department.

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