Lagoon analysis finds contamination at 4 percent of sample sites
A newly released report by Ross Island Sand & Gravel Co. found areas of contamination within the company's area of operations in the Willamette River.
The Portland mining company, whose owner, Robert Pamplin Jr., also owns the Portland Tribune, released Monday morning a 9-inch-thick collection of documents for its state-ordered investigation to the Oregon Department of Environmental Quality.
The reports were prepared by Ross Island's lead scientific consultant, Julie Wilson of Landau Associates Inc., and should be published on the Web site www.rossislandreclamation.org by Wednesday.
The three-year investigation was ordered by Gov. John Kitzhaber after an accident in the Ross Island lagoon four years ago when the mining operation accidentally broke open a confined disposal site filled with contaminated river sediment.
Landau took samples from 88,000 data points within the lagoon and on Ross and Hardtack islands. Four percent, or about 3,500 samples, showed contamination.
Some arsenic and oil
Wilson said in her executive summary that 'on the whole, the É site is remarkably clear of contamination.'
She said the contamination found in the area was not expected to migrate, and removal or capping would prevent unacceptable exposure to human health and the enviroment.
Jim Rue, Ross Island's director of environmental affairs, said the investigation found three distinct types of what he termed 'isolated instances' of contamination:
• Arsenic. Rue attributed the findings of arsenic to high background levels of volcanic soil naturally found in the area. He said the findings have nothing to do with contaminated fill stored in the lagoon.
• High pH levels. Excessively basic ÑÊas opposed to acidic Ñ readings turned up in samples taken from both the islands and the lagoon. Rue said this is because concrete tailings have been stored in the area and concrete contains lime, which has a high pH.
• Petroleum contamination. The samples also showed areas with high levels of polyaromatic hydrocarbons, a petroleum waste product that accumulates in the fatty tissue of river organisms and moves up the food chain.
In addition to the remedial investigation, Wilson also conducted risk assessments involving human health and the environment. Her findings included: Regularly eating fish from Ross Island lagoon would cause health risks that exceed state standards; the worms and bugs living in the lagoon sediment within the lagoon also are exposed to excessive levels of toxins; and endangered species that live in or migrate through the Ross Island area Ñ including bald eagles and salmon Ñ do not face an unacceptable health risk from pollution.
Wilson also found that the human health risks at Ross Island are no greater than in the stretch of the Willamette River between Ross Island and Wilsonville.
Ads emphasize positive
Ross Island emphasized the positive in an advertising campaign launched this week with a full-page ad in Monday's Oregonian. The ad was an open letter from Rue, who states that 'Ross Island poses no real threat to human health, the environment or our drinking water.'
An identical advertisement is running in today's Tribune and also will run in Friday's editions of the Tribune and the Portland Business Journal.
Publicist Len Bergstein of Northwest Strategies Inc., who represents Pamplin and Ross Island Sand & Gravel, said the print ads will be supplemented with radio ads on five different Portland stations Ñ including KPAM, which Pamplin also owns.
Bergstein said the total cost of the three-year study Ñ including consultants and legal fees Ñ was almost $10 million. He declined to say how much money the company was spending on the ad campaign.
DEQ Project Manager Jennifer Sutter said: 'It's a little premature to be starting the public process when the agencies and the technical panel haven't even had a chance to look at the report yet. But this is their study, so I guess it's their prerogative to publicize it. I'll probably have more to say once I've had a chance to read the report.'
Travis Williams, the executive director of Willamette Riverkeeper, said he hoped the ad campaign would not gloss over a discussion of the cleanliness of the fill to be brought into the site.
'If this public relations effort came with an assurance that in the future we won't be using any contaminated stuff as fill,' Williams said, 'then I would be extremely happy about it. But that's not what we're hearing.'