The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and Oregon Department of Environmental Quality are working to remove this summer drums containing herbicides at the bottom of Wallowa Lake in northeast Oregon.
In August 2018, a community scuba dive group discovered approximately 25 55-gallon and 12 100-gallon drums at the bottom of Wallowa Lake. The drums have markings indicating they once held or currently hold a mixture of the herbicides 2,4-D and 2,4,5-T. In the past, these two chemicals were combined to produce the herbicide known as Agent Orange.
While the 55-gallon drums appear to be rusted out, several of the 100-gallon drums appear to be intact, and their contents are unknown. EPA and DEQ have not been able to determine how long the drums have been in the lake, but they appear to have been there for years.
Initial water sampling has not detected 2,4-D in the drinking water sourced from the lake.
The removal is being planned in consultation with the City of Joseph, Wallowa Lake State Park, Oregon Department of State Lands, Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife, Oregon Health Authority, Oregon State Marine Board, Nez Perce Tribe, and the Confederated Tribes of the Umatilla Indian Reservation.
Fifty-five-gallon drums have been found at the lake bottom for years, a remnant of the days when empty drums were used extensively to float and anchor docks. It was common practice for people to fill the drums with water, rock or cement and anchor the drums with rope to floating docks. But the 100-gallon size and chemical markings on the recently found drums are unusual.
For this reason, government agencies are taking extra precautions to test the lake water and remove the drums to ensure the lake remains clean for people, fish and wildlife.
Wallowa Lake is the primary drinking water source for the City of Joseph.
No 2,4-D has ever been detected in drinking water samples, which have been collected regularly since 1985. As a precaution, DEQ and the City of Joseph will be taking water samples for analysis of both 2,4-D and 2,4,5-T at the drinking water intake twice a month until the drums are removed from the lake.
The first such samples will be collected this week. In addition, the City of Joseph will perform additional testing of the city’s finished drinking water to ensure it does not contain 2,4-D or 2,4,5-T.
DEQ is collecting and analyzing water samples near the drum site with the help of Oregon Parks and Recreation and Oregon Health Authority to ensure the water is safe for people to swim and recreate. Wallowa Lake State Park staff will collect water samples from the boat dock and on the shoreline near the drum site twice a month until the drums are removed. DEQ’s lab will analyze the samples and send the results to OHA for review. These results will be shared with the public as quickly as possible.
EPA is contracting a professional environmental cleanup dive team to safely remove the drums as soon as possible. EPA and the dive team will perform an initial dive assessment at the site in mid-June to inspect the drums, verify the information provided by the recreational dive group, and gather site information to prepare for the removal.
The removal will likely occur in summer or early fall 2019, but EPA and DEQ will be prepared to act earlier if the initial site assessment indicates there is an imminent risk of release from any of the drums, or if logistical challenges are overcome sooner than expected.
EPA and DEQ will closely coordinate removal operations with environmental and cultural resource stakeholders to minimize the impact to Wallowa Lake’s fish and its cultural and archaeological resources.
An information meeting will be held Tuesday, June 25, 6-8 p.m. at the Joseph Community Center, 102 E. First St., Joseph, OR 97846.
Find more information about the cleanup site go to https://go.usa.gov/xmtA3