Unlike the Santosh Landfill in Scappoose, for years the focus of state environmental clean-up efforts until the site was covered by an impermeable cap in 2009, the Boise Inc. landfill in the hills outside of St. Helens is largely out of sight and mind.
The landfill is permitted to receive clarifier solids from Boise Inc.'s paper mill in St. Helens.
But there are some environmental considerations at the landfill worthy of note, says Oregon Department of Environmental Quality's Steve Fortuna.
Foremost, Fortuna says, there is a record of contamination leaching from the 16-acre active site. There have also been historical berm breaches, runoff to a nearby creek and at one point DEQ's Solid Waste Program was requiring a tightening of engineering improvements due to faulting in the landfill's underlying bedrock, he says.
It's even more of a concern in light of the water wells and residences downhill of the landfill, Fortuna says.
'That's the problem, especially when you get into faulting in that area,' he says.
Still, contamination in and around landfills, generally speaking, is not unusual.
'Yes, there is local groundwater contamination, but for most landfills you have attenuation, and concentrations decrease as you move away,' says Bill Mason, the senior groundwater hydrogeologist in DEQ's Eugene office.
Recent DEQ budget cuts have resulted in some regulatory shifts in the agency, including a recent reassignment for oversight of the Boise Inc. landfill to Mason's department. Though he is new to the landfill, he says a graph review of pollutant concentrations compared to time intervals gleaned from groundwater sampled in 2010 at three wells gives little reason for concern.
'There's a lot of variability, but it seems to be relatively stable for a number of compounds,' he says. 'I'm not seeing anything that sticks out like a sore thumb.'
Boise Inc. has had an infrequent history over the last few years regarding its use of the landfill. In 2010 it registered no deposits with DEQ, as it also had in 2008. In 2009, however, 1,161 cubic yards of clarifier solids were deposited at the site, the largest volume since 2003 when as much as 14,391 cubic yards were deposited. The year 2003 was also the last time monitoring at the site picked up contamination, including stormwater or leachate discharges high in copper and zinc.
Clarifier solids at the site, according to DEQ's Environmental Clean-up Site Information file on the landfill, likely contain a laundry list of hazardous materials, including arsenic, cadmium, lead, cyanide and DDT.
Andy Tinkess, administrator for the McNulty Water Association, which has two water wells slightly less than a mile southeast from the site, said the landfill is not a problem.
'I would say the majority of people don't even know that it's there,' Tinkess says. If monitoring wells did spike, he says he would receive a DEQ report, which he hasn't.
Exactly what Boise Inc. is doing with its waste from the St. Helens mill today is unclear. Mason said there is a trend for wood-based industries to preserve valuable landfill space and recycle its wastes, though any use for agricultural purposes, an increasingly popular option, must be reported to DEQ.
Boise Inc. has not reported any change in its operations, and did not respond to requests for comment on this article.
A routine inspection is scheduled to occur at the site this summer, a DEQ official says.