RIDGEFIELD – Surprise and concern overtook Stephanie Proudfoot when she learned the soil around her Ridgefield home may have been contaminated by a long-shuttered wood treatment plant.
“I have a small child and baby on the way, and I want to know they’re OK playing in the backyard,” Proudfoot said during a March 10 meeting at the Ridgefield Community Center to discuss high dioxin levels in a residential area of downtown Ridgefield.
The six-block neighborhood lies between Maple Street, Mill Street, Railroad Avenue and North Main Street. It includes about 39 parcels, and about half a dozen of its residents attended the meeting.
Officials found high dioxin levels in soil samples taken on right of ways next to the area’s streets, and they hope to test adjacent yards this Spring. So far, no samples have had enough dioxin to pose immediate health risks, officials at the Tuesday meeting said, but the samples are high enough to warrant further investigation.
“That’s good news,” Department of Ecology Site Manager Craig Rankine said of the low health risk. “But they’re still high enough we need to look at it.”
The contamination is believed to be from the former Pacific Wood Treating facility, which opened on property leased from the Port of Ridgefield in 1964. It operated until the Pacific Wood Treating’s bankruptcy in 1993.
Pacific Wood Treating pressure treated wood products with a variety of toxic substances including creosote, pentachlorophenol, chromium, copper and arsenic, according to a Department of Ecology website. Chromium and arsenic are known to cause cancer and other health problems, while the EPA considers pentachlorophenol a likely cause of cancer.
The Port of Ridgefield and Department of Ecology have worked to clean up contamination from Pacific Wood Treating since 1996. They finished cleaning the plant site in December after removing 24,800 gallons of liquid contamination, more than 1.5 million pounds of contaminated sludge and 5,329 cubic yards of contaminated soil. They also decontaminated more than 1 million gallons of groundwater on the site.
The port and the Department of Ecology are now cleaning areas adjacent to the Pacific Wood Treating site that were contaminated. In October 2014, the two agencies finished removing contaminated sediment from Carty Lake, in the Ridgefield National Wildlife area. They are also now removing similar sediment from Lake River, which runs along the site’s west edge.
Dioxins were the only hazardous material found in residential areas near the Pacific Wood Treating site, Rankine said. The substance has been linked to cancer and negative impacts on the immune and reproductive systems, he said. However, a normal person ingesting 200 milligrams of soil containing 13 parts per trillion dioxins each day for 6 years would have a one in one million excess risk of cancer in a 75 year timeframe.
Residents in the contaminated area can help minimize their exposure to dioxins by wearing gloves when gardening, covering bare patches of dirt, wiping pets’ paws, washing hands, removing dirt from beneath fingernails, washing toys and taking other actions to reduce contact with soil.
Consultants hired by the Port of Ridgefield plan to use hand-held augers to sample soil from yards in the contaminated neighborhood. The samples will be analyzed this summer, and the Department of Ecology hopes to make plans for any necessary cleanup during the summer and fall. If cleanup is needed, it will most likely begin in winter 2015 or spring 2016, Rankine said.
Proudfoot, was the only resident who volunteered to participate in the study at Tuesday’s meeting, but officials hope more will follow.