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Tuesday, December 5, 2023
Dec. 5, 2023

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EPA probe of private property finds no contamination

Complaints, photos led to investigation of north county site

By , Columbian Transportation & Environment Reporter

A series of complaints prompted a federal investigation into the presence of hazardous materials on a private property in north Clark County last month.

The response culminated with the Environmental Protection Agency obtaining a warrant to enter the property on Northeast Spring Hill Road outside Yacolt in mid-July. But by then, the materials had been removed and investigators found no evidence of significant contamination or disposal, said Brooks Stanfield, a federal on-scene coordinator with EPA.

At one point, barrels containing an estimated 1,100 gallons of chemical labeled as isopropyl alcohol — a highly flammable material — were on the property, Stanfield said. Photos that were circulated among several agencies appeared to identify the material and caught the attention of EPA, he said.

“At that point, the whole thing kind of turned,” Stanfield said. “That’s when EPA started to take a little more interest in this.”

Mystery remains

Investigators determined that the barrels belonged to Portland-based Apollo Chemical and Equipment Co., Stanfield said. The company confirmed to EPA that the chemicals were indeed Apollo’s but didn’t know they had apparently been relocated, he said.

The Spring Hill Road property is owned by Joseph Gent. Multnomah County property records show Gent also owns a building next to Apollo’s facility in Northeast Portland, which the company had used for storage, Stanfield said.

It’s unclear how the chemicals ended up on Gent’s property in Clark County. Neither Gent nor a representative of Apollo could be reached for comment.

Complaints about possible activity at the property came in to several agencies starting in early June, Stanfield said. Neighbors repeatedly said they suspected burying or burning of hazardous materials at the site, he said. But investigators found no such evidence, Stanfield said.

Officials from the Southwest Clean Air Agency and Clark County both visited the site early on. Both found numerous barrels on the property filled with materials.

County inspectors also didn’t find direct evidence that any substance had been released, said Chuck Harman, a program manager with Clark County Public Health. Still, the situation raised enough concern that it was referred to state and federal authorities who were better equipped to evaluate it, he said.

“We don’t have equipment and things like that to do that level of work on a site,” Harman said.

EPA reached out to Gent but found him less than cooperative at times, Stanfield said. The agency obtained a warrant after additional reports of activity on the property came in, he said.

EPA investigators spent two days on the property. Among other work, they took soil samples, looked for evidence of burning and used ground-penetrating radar to look for disturbances that might indicate burial of materials, Stanfield said.

Investigators passed on information to EPA’s enforcement arm that would determine any potential penalties or criminal charges, Stanfield said. But Stanfield stressed that the agency didn’t observe any significant anomalies on the site.

“Based on everything we’ve seen, we’re not expecting that there’s going to be a huge role for EPA at this time,” he said.

Part of EPA’s role is assisting local agencies in cases like this one, Stanfield said. That will continue as needed, he said.

“It’s a difficult situation, and we appreciate that,” Stanfield said.

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