DEQ advises don’t flush disposable wipes

wastewater treatment plant, Eugene

Even if a disposable wipes have labeling that says they’re “flushable,” they’re not.

The little detail could grow into a big problem if Oregonians don’t properly dispose of disinfectant, baby and other wipes amid the COVID-19 outbreak warns the Oregon Department of Environmental Quality.

When it comes time to dispose of used wipes stop before you flush them down the toilet, said DEQ Manager Dave Belyea, a septic system expert.

“That’s not where they go,” he said.

Wipes may cause sewage backups in homes. A buildup of wipes in sewer pipes and at wastewater treatment facilities may cause clogs in the system. And wipes can cause havoc for household septic systems, particularly septic systems that rely on pumps to move wastewater.

“Those wipes have huge ramifications if they start going down the toilet by the thousands,” Belyea said. “Just put them in the garbage.”

Questions and answers about disposable wipes

What’s wrong with flushing wipes?

Any kind of wipe other than toilet paper doesn’t break down so wastewater treatment systems will get clogged and not function properly.

What will happen if “flushable” wipes continue to be used? 

Wastewater treatment plants are not designed to process these kinds of products. Sewage pipes will be overloaded and clogged, resulting in potential sewage backups into people’s homes.

People were using these products before the COVID-19 pandemic started.  Why is this a problem now?

With more people working from home, toilets are being used on a more frequent basis. The use of flushable labeled products is increasing, which accelerates the potential damage to wastewater treatment plants and residences.

Are there alternatives to flushing wipes? 

Yes. Put them in the trash.

What are the long term implications of using flushable wipes?

In addition to potential residential sewage backups, wastewater treatment systems can sustain damage, which could result in higher costs for rate payers.

To learn more about DEQ’s response to COVID-19 go to https://ordeq.org/covid-19.

– Dylan Darling, public affairs specialist


Environmental Quality Commission approves temporary rules for vehicle inspections

Vehicle inspection station, Portland

UPDATED: Friday, March 20, 2020

Today, the Oregon Department of Transportation’s Driver and Motor Vehicles Division announced that it has partnered with Oregon law enforcement agencies to exercise discretion in their enforcement of driver licenses, vehicle registrations and trip permits that expire during the COVID-19 emergency declared by Governor Brown. Details may be found at https://bit.ly/2U92IGN.

Those still wishing to get vehicles inspected may visit a participating DEQ Too™ station. DEQ Too is a test method that allows private business locations motorists already frequent, such as gas stations, car washes, oil change shops, repair service centers, etc., to complete vehicle emissions tests. More information on DEQ Too, applicable vehicles, and participating locations is available at https://ordeq.org/DEQtoo.

If you have specific questions concerning vehicle inspections, email VIPINFO@deq.state.or.us or call DEQ’s Tech Center at 971-673-1630.

Questions concerning vehicle registrations should go to http://OregonDMV.com or 503-945-5000.

On March 18, the Environmental Quality Commission, Oregon DEQ’s policy-making board, conducted a virtual meeting in which they granted authority for DEQ’s Director to issue a blanket certification to all vehicles needing an inspection between Feb. 15 and April 14, 2020. Action by DEQ in using this new authority is still pending.


Wednesday, March 18, 2020

Following the decision to close DEQ vehicle inspection stations, the Oregon Environmental Quality Commission adopted an emergency order during a meeting, Wednesday, March 18, to allow for short-term deferrals of emissions test requirements. The deferrals apply to motor vehicles with registrations expiring between Feb. 15 and April 14, 2020 that have not already been renewed. This will allow the Oregon Department of Motor Vehicles to process registration renewals for these vehicles. The commission’s vote was unanimous.

DEQ announced it is temporarily closing all vehicle inspection stations as of Tuesday, March 17, to reduce the risk of spreading COVID-19 among staff and customers. DEQ’s Vehicle Inspection Program helps ensure vehicles are properly maintained so emission control systems keep pollution levels within EPA’s allowable standards. In Oregon, a vehicle emissions test is required prior to DMV registration in the Portland-Metro and Medford-Ashland areas every two years. Pending additional news, all stations will reopen on Wednesday, April 15.

“The health and safety of our employees and customers are DEQ’s top priorities,” said Richard Whitman, director, Oregon DEQ. “The VIP prides itself on excellent customer service, which requires close contact among employees and drivers. However, current public health concerns mean we must do everything necessary to mitigate the spread of COVID-19.”

Updates on the vehicle inspection stations will be posted here. For additional information, please call 971-673-1630.

The draft commission meeting minutes and audio files are available on the EQC agenda page here.

Susan C. Mills, public affairs specialist


Recycle Right! campaign now in Spanish

DEQ’s Recycle Right! campaign materials are now available in Spanish on DEQ’s Reciclar Correctamente webpage. This campaign was created in 2019 to help Oregon residents navigate the murky landscape of what to keep out of the recycling bin. DEQ’s Recycle Right website highlights five major recycling contaminants, and offers helpful tips on how to reduce waste and reuse common materials. In addition to the new Reciclar Correctamente webpage, a Spanish messaging toolkit is available on DEQ’s online resource library.

Recycle Right! It won’t take long, but it will make a difference for the environment!


EPA taking comment on permits for dams along lower Columbia and Snake rivers

Little Goose Dam by U.S. Army Corps for Engineers, 2014

The Environmental Protection Agency is asking the public for comment on draft discharge permits for eight federally regulated dams along the lower Columbia and lower Snake rivers.

Public comments will be taken until May 4. The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers operates Bonneville, The Dalles, John Day, McNary, Ice Harbor, Lower Monumental, Little Goose and Lower Granite dams. All are power producers.

The permits address oil, grease and cooling water discharges, according to EPA’s Region 10.

Copies of the proposed permits and fact sheets for the dams on the lower Columbia River are available here. Permits and fact sheets for the lower Snake River dams are available here.

Comments or requests for a public hearing should be sent to Jennifer Wu, EPA environmental engineer, at Wu.Jennifer@epa.gov.

Dylan Darling, public affairs specialist


Memories of the New Carissa

  • boat

Swollen seas and strong winds combined to push the New Carissa onto the Oregon Coast near Coos Bay in winter 1999, starting an epic cleanup and removal saga for the large beached boat.

Twenty-one years later the New Carissa remains one of the biggest environmental disasters in Oregon history. Oregon Department of Environmental Quality officials will never forget their experiences during the initial eventful response in 1999 and final removal in 2008.

“I remember the day I got the call, because I was on an emergency response training exercise in the same area preparing for responses to potential coastal spills,” said Michael Szerlog, who became DEQ’s on-scene coordinator for the incident. Now a manager in the wetlands and oceans section at U.S. Environmental Protection Agency Region 10, Szerlog said, “I didn’t expect to be away from home for three months, but it was the highlight of my career in emergency response work where you strip your job titles and help wherever you’re needed.”

The objective was to protect the environment from fuel released by the New Carissa and response activities, said Bryn Thoms, a DEQ cleanup project manager in Eugene.

“The New Carissa was the Exxon Valdez of Oregon,” he said. “It didn’t impact the environment as much as it could have, but it was one of the biggest spills DEQ has responded to.”

In all, 70,000 gallons spilled. But if it wasn’t for the response of DEQ and its partners, the situation likely would have turned out much worse. The ship carried 400,000 gallons of heavy fuel oil, also known as bunker fuel, and diesel.

“Ships carry a lot of fuel,” said Don Hanson, a hydrogeologist in DEQ’s cleanup program in Eugene. “They are designed to go for a long way.”

DEQ played three key roles in responding to the New Carissa – representing the state, leading the environmental unit and heading up communications. The U.S. Coast Guard and Green Atlas Shipping of Japan, the owner of the ship, were the other two members of the unified command that oversaw the response.

“It was one of the largest Incident Command Teams ever assembled in Oregon,” said Mike Zollitsch, DEQ’s emergency response manager who, at the time, was a liaison for DEQ working out of the state’s emergency response operations center in Salem.

“You could say it’s the poster child of why we require oil spill contingency plans for non-tank vessels,” he said.

In DEQ offices around the state employees still display patches at their desk that say “New Carissa Spill Team Member.”

Western Region Administrator Keith Andersen has one of the patches on his wall at DEQ’s Eugene office. When the New Carissa came ashore he was a member of the department’s cleanup team and helped clean up the shoreline.

The wayward ship had the full attention of top DEQ managers and on-the-ground crews.

“Ultimately, a lot of people worked very hard to get that thing taken care of,” Andersen said.

Anchor awry

The New Carissa, a 640-foot wood-chip freighter, arrived empty of cargo off the shore of Coos Bay on Feb. 3, 1999, but worsening weather stopped it from pulling into the harbor. Instead, its crew dropped anchor not far from the beach, an error that contributed to the ship’s grounding the following day.

Once stuck, the New Carissa and its fuel posed a risk to delicate coastal environment. And clearing the ship from the shore proved to be a monumental challenge.

When the New Carissa began leaking fuel within a week, the team leading the response decided to burn the fuel that was on board. The ensuing fireball rising up from the ship is an unforgettable memory for many Oregonians and DEQ employees.

And so is the sight of the ship breaking into two pieces soon after.

Stormy seas

That’s not where the tale of the New Carissa ends. As February faded in 1999, the response team focused on removing the bow. The plan was to sink the ship far out at sea.

A tug boat began pulling the bulk of the New Carissa westward on March 1, but a day later encountered a severe storm with 100 mph winds. The tow rope snapped during the storm and the bow washed up near Waldport.

Hanson, the DEQ hydrogeologist in Eugene, served in the Coast Guard and was selected to be DEQ’s representative during the first attempt to sink the New Carissa.

He wasn’t in the tug boat, but instead aboard the Oregon Responder, a 70-foot oil spill response ship that followed the New Carissa. “Basically we got caught in this really strong storm,” Hanson said. “There was hurricane force winds and really big, heavy seas. (It was a) strong enough storm that the equipment that wasn’t bolted down was coming loose off the deck of the ship.” A second attempt to tow the New Carissa’s bow to sea was successful. The section of ship still was determined to float so it took Navy destroyer big gun fire and a torpedo to finally sink it on March 11, sending it down into 10,000 feet of water about 280 miles west of Waldport.

Damage to Seabirds and Shorebirds

Fuel from the New Carissa was dangerous and deadly for wildlife, particularly birds.

According to Oregon Fish and Wildlife, 2,453 seabirds, including 262 marbled murrelets, and 672 shorebirds were injured or killed.

“A lot of us on the cleanup crew are avid birdwatchers, so the loss of wildlife hit us harder than people might expect,” said Szerlog.

Final removal

The stern of the New Carissa stood as a rusted monument in the sand for nine years, until a salvage contractor cut it up and hauled it away.

DEQ oversaw the three-month salvage that, like so much with the New Carissa was a stunning sight to see. A suspended cable car carried workers to and from a large rig next to the wreck.

It’s been more than a decade since the New Carissa finally left the Oregon Coast. But lessons last, said Dave Belyea, a manager in DEQ’s Western Region. He oversaw the final removal.

“The lessons learned include a requirement for ships passing through waters off the Oregon Coast to have salvage plans and improved pumping techniques to remove bunker fuel from stranded ships,” he said.

Future of DEQ’s Emergency Response and Cleanup Program

The program’s responsibilities have grown significantly in the 21 years since the New Carissa oil spill.

DEQ has a small team of people who are available around the clock to respond to about 1,300 spills around the state each year, and mobilize to respond to an average of 75 incidents.

“These numbers are sobering, and it is a testament to the dedication and commitment of our team that incidents are effectively and reliably managed regardless of the conditions they enter,” said Lydia Emer, DEQ’s land quality administrator. “I have the deepest gratitude and respect for their expertise and energy as we strive to build our response capabilities,” she said.

– Dylan Darling and Jennifer Flynt, public affairs specialists


DEQ enforces the law to protect and restore Oregon’s environment

In 2019, the Oregon Department of Environmental Quality issued 247 enforcement notices – essentially penalties for violating environmental regulations. According to Kieran O’Donnell, Compliance and Enforcement Manager, that is the most DEQ has ever issued in a year. “Penalties are DEQ’s main tool to enforce the law,” Kieran says, “and it generates good environmental results.”

Kieran walked me through the lifecycle of an enforcement action, or penalty.

  1. Identification of a violation. Violations are found in a number of ways. DEQ inspectors identify violations by making announced or unannounced compliance inspections, visiting a site based on a complaint and review reports from facilities. Most permit holders are required to self-report when they violate their permit. Failure to do so can result in additional penalties.
  • Referral to the Office of Compliance and Enforcement. DEQ inspectors follow agency guidance about which violation to refer to enforcement staff to evaluate for penalties. Some smaller violations can be addressed as field citations where the recipient of the citation can fix the violation, document the fix, and send evidence of compliance to DEQ without further enforcement.
  • Evaluation of the penalty. Penalties sent to enforcement staff are evaluated based on an equation written in law. This equation incorporates various factors, including severity of the violation, prior violations, whether the violation has been corrected and any economic benefit the respondent gained by not complying. “Evaluation of economic benefit is how the law levels the playing field,” Kieran says, “so no facility is making more money by not having the controls needed to comply and protect human health and the environment.” 
  • Issuing the penalty. When a penalty is issued, DEQ includes in it expectations for how the violator will address the violation, any documentation that should be provided as evidence of compliance and the amount of the fine.
  • Violator complies with the penalty. The violator can simply pay the fine and comply with the conditions and that can be the end. Over 90% of fines go to the general fund, a statewide pot. Violators are also allowed to direct up to 80% of their fine to a Supplemental Environmental Project where the money goes to support a project with an environmental benefit. For example, some air quality violators in Klamath County have put their fines toward wood stove change-out programs that give people money to exchange their old wood stoves for new, cleaner-burning ones or gas stoves that emit less or no particulate matter.

Violations are DEQ’s last stand for compliance. Recently, DEQ issued the largest air quality fine in history – $1.3 million, most of which was for the economic benefit the company received by not installing and maintaining the needed controls.

“Penalties are a deterrent,” Kieran said. “Not only for the violator of the penalty but for others with that same permit who see enforcement happen.”

– Lauren Wirtis, public affairs specialist


DEQ responds to underground gasoline tank release in Canyonville

Contractors respond to underground gasoline tank release in Canyonville on Tuesday, March 3, 2020

An underground storage tank at a service station in Canyonville failed recently, releasing an estimated 3,000 gallons of gasoline into the ground. Some of the fuel seeped through the ground and into the creek near the Main Street crossing. The creek is a tributary of the South Umpqua River.

The Oregon Department of Environmental Quality is overseeing cleanup of the release, as well as water monitoring in nearby Canyon Creek. The tank is at the 76 Canyonville Buy 2, at 211 SW Fifth St. in Canyonville.

The tank failure was discovered Feb. 25. Late in the afternoon on Monday, the DEQ received a report of gasoline odor and sheen along Canyon Creek, about 400 feet from the service station.

Cleanup response on Tuesday and Wednesday included the placement of 300 feet of hard and absorbent boom in the creek, along with recovery of fuel where it’s entering the creek. Throughout Tuesday the sheen diminished.

Preliminary air monitoring at homes and businesses between the service station and Canyon Creek showed no sign of odors from the release. Water monitoring upstream, downstream and at the site where fuel entered the creek is ongoing. Sampling results are expected soon.

Cleanup crews are removing the faulty tank and adjacent tanks, and will be removing contaminated soil and groundwater from the excavation. The service station is closed.

Media contact: Dylan Darling, DEQ Western Region public affairs specialist, 541-686-7997, Darling.dylan@deq.state.or.us



Staff spotlight on Dana Bailey – Keeping DEQ safe

Dana Bailey

Dana Bailey is all about safety. If you’re not wearing the right gear, she’ll let you know. If you slouch at your desk, she’ll give you tips on ergonomics. As a safety specialist II., working out of DEQ’s Portland headquarters, she writes safety policy, leads safety trainings and conducts hazards assessments. She also serves as a consultant for DEQ’s three safety committees and ensures the agency complies with OR-OSHA rules. This September, Dana will celebrate 13 years at DEQ.

Oregon DEQ’s mission is “to be a leader in restoring, maintaining and enhancing the quality of Oregon’s air, land and water.” What is your greatest concern about the environment?

I have several nieces and nephews and my fear is if we don’t continue to fight for our environment, they will not have the luxury of clean water and fresh air.

What drew you to your role at DEQ?

I wanted to do something that challenged me and this job is very challenging at times. Safety was not in my life plan when I started this job and here we are!

What can be challenging about your work?

Trying to keep everyone happy can be very challenging. Regulating regulators can be tough.

Where did you go to school for higher education and what did you study? How does your education and experience inform your current work?

I am a DUCK (University of Oregon), and I studied everything from computer science to geology to psychology. I also went to Portland State and Mt. Hood Community College to study environmental health and safety.

The majority of my safety experience and knowledge comes from managing restaurants. I also gained knowledge from on-the-job experience and courses I have attended through Mt. Hood.

Do you have any advice for new DEQers?

Enjoy – we come to work every day striving to meet our mission. At times, we get so focused on the mission and doing great work that we forget to take care of ourselves. We can do all those things and still enjoy what we do!

Have you always lived in Oregon/Portland?

Yes. Born and raised.

Be honest, dogs or cats?


What do you like to do in your off-time?

I buy, build and sell LEGO®s, travel and hang out with my fur baby – Rainy.

— Susan C. Mills, public Affairs specialist



DEQ’s pursuit of a Superfund site cleanup: Portland Harbor 101

Portland Harbor is a heavily industrialized stretch of the Willamette River, extending from Portland’s Broadway Bridge to Sauvie Island. Due to decades of industrial activity, some of the sediment, or mud, in the river and along the riverbank is contaminated with pollutants, including PCBs, dioxins and other potentially harmful chemicals. Work to clean up Portland Harbor has been going on for decades, so it is a good time to get back to basics and review some of the most important facts about the Portland Harbor Superfund Site:

  • The Superfund is in the river bottom. The area designated as a Superfund site is literally the bottom of the Willamette River, bank to bank, from the Broadway Bridge to Sauvie Island. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency is the lead agency for investigating and cleaning up contaminated sediment in the river. DEQ supports and collaborates with EPA to ensure this work corresponds with Oregon’s cleanup requirements. But, overall, Superfund = EPA lead agency.
  • It will be kept clean by controlling sources of contamination on land. DEQ is the lead agency for overseeing the cleanup of properties located on the banks of the river, called upland sites. These sites may be sources of pollution to the river, so cleaning them up is crucial for preventing ongoing and future contamination. Upland = DEQ.
  • Cleanup plans for upland sites are based on their intended use. DEQ is responsible for approving the cleanup plans that address contamination on upland sites. First, the property owner decides how they’re going to use their property (continue current operations, redevelop a vacant site, etc.). Based on that use, DEQ determines what needs to be done to protect human health and the environment.
  • Don’t eat the fish. The primary threat to human health is eating contaminated fish that live in this stretch of the river, such as bass, carp and catfish. See Oregon Health Authority’s fish advisory.
  • The cleanup is good for wildlife.  The sediment cleanup will also address risks to animals living in the river such as juvenile lamprey, river otters and birds of prey.

Now that you know the basics, stay tuned for more articles about Portland Harbor. You can stay involved and up-to-date by joining the GovDelivery listserv for Portland Harbor where you can receive text or email updates.

– Lauren Wirtis, public affairs specialist


Updates: Sunken Tugboat in Columbia River

At around 9:30 a.m. Monday, Feb. 24, 2020, the 38-foot Tug Nova was discovered sunken in the Columbia River, approximately 10 miles upriver of the McNary Dam near Umatilla. 

During the night, the vessel broke loose from its moorings due to high winds. Those winds pushed it about three-quarters of a mile where it sank. The vessel was holding 750 gallons of diesel fuel and approximately 50 gallons of lubricating oil when it went down.

A Unified Command is overseeing the response and is comprised of representatives from the Oregon Department of Environmental Quality, Washington Department of Ecology, U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, the Confederated Tribes and Bands of the Yakama Nation, and the tugboat owner, HME Construction.

Tug Nova sank approximately 10 miles upriver of the McNary Dam, on the Oregon side of the Columbia River.

5:30 p.m. Thursday, Feb. 27, 2020

Tug Nova was lifted safely from the river this evening, after an entire day of on-water operations.

Tug Nova was lifted safely from the river and secured on a barge for transport to a Vancouver shipyard.

The 750 gallons of diesel remained contained inside the tug’s fuel tank. About a gallon of a heavy oil released inside the containment area during crane operations, and was quickly removed from the water with absorbent booms.

Crews deployed a second layer of containment boom around the tug site Thursday as a precaution.

Tug Nova by the numbers:

  • 750 gallons of diesel fuel inside fuel tank and about 50 gallons of lubricating oil.
  • 30-50 mph winds when tug broke away from mooring.
  • 0 injured, 0 on board when tug floated away.
  • 0 known impacts to fish or wildlife.
  • 3 environmental agencies, 1 tribal government, 1 business owner overseeing operations.
  • 50+ responders on site.
  • 3 locations with containment boom: around tug, upriver, downriver.
  • 3 oils spill response vessels on-water during tug removal.

Huge thanks to all the responders who worked tirelessly these past several days to bring Tug Nova out of the Columbia River safely.

Unified Command, from left to right: Joshua McCoy, HME Construction; Mike Boykin, U.S. EPA; Jamie Collins, Oregon DEQ; David Byers, Washington DOE; Wil Badonie, Yakama Nation.

11 a.m. Wednesday, Feb. 26, 2020

The current estimate on pulling the tug from the river is midday tomorrow, contingent on the barge and crane arriving on time and all going as planned. It will take several hours to pull the tug from the water. The tug’s fuel tank is secured within the engine room, and risk of fuel release is unlikely.

Responders will have an abundance of precautionary measures in place during the tugboat removal. This includes containment boom deployed at strategic locations in accordance with Geographic Response Plans and response vessels standing by.

Unified Command continues working closely with cultural resource trustees to ensure any cultural resources that may be in the area are not inadvertently disturbed.

Responders staged precautionary containment boom up and downriver of the sunken tug on Wednesday.

2:30 p.m. Tuesday, Feb. 25, 2020

Responders are maintaining containment booms around the tug, implementing plans to protect fish, wildlife, human health and other cultural and environmental resources both up and downriver of the sunken vessel, and staging the area to bring in a barge and crane tomorrow or on Thursday.

A light sheen is present on the river’s surface, which has been contained inside the boom currently deployed around the sunken vessel. Responders are recovering as much of the oil sheen as possible using sorbent pads.

The sunken tug has a 3-foot rupture in its hull, but the rupture has not affected any of the vessel’s fuel tanks. The rupture is presumed to be the result of damage the vessel sustained when it broke free of its moorings on Sunday night in heavy winds.

Tomorrow or Thursday, depending on arrival time of the barge and crane, responders plan to lift the tug off the river bottom with a crane, then load it onto the barge for transport back to a Vancouver shipyard for repairs.

There have been no reports of impacts to wildlife.

Unified Command is working closely with cultural resource trustees, including the the Confederated Tribes and Bands of the Yakama Nation, Confederated Tribes of the Umatilla Indian Reservation, Confederated Tribes of Warm Springs, and the Oregon State Historic Preservation Office, to develop a salvage plan that will prevent any disturbance of cultural resources that may be on the river bottom or in the area.

Responders are conducting water sampling near the sunken vessel and approximately 10 miles downriver at the site of the City of Hermiston’s public water supply intake. There are no concerns of contamination at this time.

Responders have deployed 1,500 feet of boom in support of three pre-determined protection strategies; an additional 5,000 feet of hard boom is en route to the incident location and can be deployed if needed. Finally, 400 feet of boom is in place around the sunken vessel itself and approximately 500 feet of boom will be pre-staged as a precaution at the City of Hermiston public water supply intake, about 10 miles downstream of the incident location.

Responders worked into the night Monday to deploy containment boom around the sunken tugboat.

6:00 p.m. Monday, Feb. 24, 2020

Divers covered the Nova’s fuel vents this afternoon and the vessel is not actively leaking. The tugboat reportedly has about 750 gallons of diesel on board and is completely submerged.

The Oregon Department of Environmental Quality, Washington Department of Ecology and U.S. Environmental Protection Agency are overseeing operations and investigating to determine if any fuel has been released. Responders are deploying containment boom this afternoon and evening around the tugboat.

A crane is scheduled to arrive on site Wednesday to lift the vessel out of the water.

Responders suspect the tugboat broke loose from its mooring Sunday night due to strong winds, which pushed it about three-quarters of a mile upriver. There was no one on board when the vessel began drifting. The tugboat is called Tug Nova and is owned by HME Construction.

Read the news full release here.

12:00 p.m. Monday, Feb. 24, 2020

State and federal agencies are responding to a sunken 38-foot tugboat on the Oregon side of the Columbia River about 10 miles upriver of McNary Dam near Umatilla.

Oregon DEQ, Washington Ecology and EPA are coordinating with fish and wildlife agencies and tribal governments on the response.

Responders deploy containment boom around the sunken tugboat to capture any potential fuel release.

—Laura Gleim, Oregon DEQ public affairs specialist, 503-577-3697, gleim.laura@deq.state.or.us


FRIDAY UPDATE: Excavation complete at OR 22 fuel spill cleanup, highway repaving underway

Photo credit: U.S. EPA

Cleanup crews finished excavating petroleum contaminated soil Thursday at the site of a fuel spill along the banks of the North Santiam River near Idanha – east of Salem and Detroit Lake on OR 22. The spill resulted from a tanker truck crash on Feb. 16 at milepost 63.

In all, cleanup crews dug up and hauled away about 6,200 tons of contaminated soil. Dump trucks took the soil to landfills in Corvallis and Eugene. Booms and other oil absorbent material will be in place, and tended regularly, as long as a sheen is present on the river. The booms will also be checked after storms to make sure that they are secure and that any additional discharged fuel will be caught and removed. About 700 feet of hard and sorbent boom are in the river at the spill site. The Unified Command – consisting of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, the Oregon Department of Environmental Quality and Space Age Fuel – consulted with natural resource agencies, such as the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, and has implemented an erosion control plan to keep sediments resulting from the cleanup out of the river.

Water sampling data shows that concentrations of petroleum chemicals in the North Santiam River are far below federal safe drinking water levels, except in the immediate vicinity of the spill site. Concentrations are declining and there has been no reported impact to downstream water users, and no water intakes were closed. The nearest drinking water intake is about 25 miles downstream, below Detroit Lake. Crews will continue to monitor water quality in the river and report to DEQ regularly, and will increase monitoring following storms.

A nearly 30-mile stretch of OR 22 remains closed in both directions as the road is repaired and repaved. Crews are repaving the highway Friday. The road is expected to open late Friday evening or early Saturday morning. Check TripCheck.com for the current road status.

The closure stretches from the town of Idanha to the highway’s junction with U.S. 20, east of the crash site. During the closure, traffic between the Willamette Valley and Central Oregon should take alternate routes.

The spill occurred at about 8 a.m. Feb. 16, when a double tanker truck carrying 10,600 gallons of gasoline and diesel overturned, releasing an estimated 7,800 gallons of petroleum products into the soil at the crash site.

DEQ, EPA and Space Age Fuel, the owner of the tanker, are overseeing the cleanup. Most of the cleanup crews are demobilizing Friday, with the exception of the water quality monitoring team and boom tenders. The team is sampling river water and assessing the riverbank daily, and monitoring groundwater through test wells installed at the spill site.

Agencies central to response support include: the Oregon Department of Transportation, the Fish and Wildlife Service, and NOAA, as well as Marion County, the Oregon Department of Emergency Management, Oregon Health Authority, Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife, U.S. Department of the Interior and several downstream municipalities.

(photos courtesy of U.S. EPA)

Media Contacts:
Dylan Darling, DEQ public affairs specialist, 541-686-7997, cell 541-600-6119, darling.dylan@deq.state.or.us

Angela Beers Seydel, ODOT public information officer, cell 541-505-2069, Angela.BEERS-SEYDEL@odot.state.or.us


Update: Water samples show low levels of fuel chemicals in North Santiam River following OR 22 spill

Federal, state and local responders continue to clean up spilled fuel and contaminated soil along the banks of the North Santiam River near Idanha – east of Salem and Detroit Lake on OR 22 – following a crash on Feb. 16.

The agencies responsible for managing the response are monitoring water quality in the area of the tanker crash. Latest water sampling data from the North Santiam River following the crash and spill shows petroleum-related chemicals are present at levels that decrease with distance downstream from the site. Except for at the crash site, all water samples contained extremely low levels of petroleum-related chemicals, at concentrations far below safe drinking water levels. Petroleum contaminants in river water that may reach drinking water intakes downstream are expected to remain below regulatory standards. Communities closest to the spill pull drinking water from tributaries to the river and not the North Santiam itself. The nearest drinking water intake on the North Santiam is 25 miles downstream from the spill site and below Detroit Lake.

The agencies responsible for managing the response continue to monitor the nine surface water sample locations along the river daily. The Oregon Department of Environmental Quality, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and Space Age Fuel, the owner of the tanker, are working closely with the Oregon Health Authority and downstream water providers to protect drinking water intakes and provide information to water supply systems.

Cleanup crews continue digging up and hauling away petroleum contaminated soil. On Wednesday, the cleanup crews were running 48 dump trucks so excavation and backfilling the roadway with clean soil is progressing quickly.

Crews are working 12-hour shifts to clean up the spill and prevent gasoline and diesel from entering the river. As of Wednesday, the crews had dug up and hauled away about 2,300 cubic yards of contaminated soil. Dump trucks are taking the contaminated soil to Coffin Butte Landfill near Corvallis.

The spill occurred at about 8 a.m. Feb. 16, when a double tanker truck carrying gasoline and diesel overturned, releasing an estimated 7,800 gallons of petroleum products into the soil at the crash site. Cleanup crews have recovered about 2,800 gallons of the spilled fuel. Booms and absorbent material are in place along the riverbank to catch fuel and remove spilled fuel for disposal.

A nearly 30-mile stretch of OR 22 remains closed in both directions. The closure stretches from the town of Idanha to the highway’s junction with U.S. 20, east of the crash site. The Oregon Department of Transportation estimates that the entire portion of OR 22 will remain closed until at least Friday evening. Traffic between Willamette Valley and Central Oregon should take alternate routes. Check TripCheck.com for the latest traffic conditions.

ODOT and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service are assisting with the response. Other involved agencies include the Oregon Department of Emergency Management, Oregon Health Authority, Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife, U.S. Department of Interior and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.

Media Contacts:
Dylan Darling, DEQ public affairs specialist, 541-686-7997, cell 541-600-6119, darling.dylan@deq.state.or.us

Angela Beers Seydel, ODOT public information officer, cell 541-505-2069, Angela.BEERS-SEYDEL@odot.state.or.us


DEQ Laboratory releases air toxics monitoring summary

The Oregon Department of Environmental Quality released its 2018 Oregon Air Toxics Monitoring Summary for six locations around the state, including The Dalles, La Grande and four sites in the Portland-metro area. The goal was to determine concentrations in certain communities, including urban and rural areas, and compare the results. DEQ will use the information to track pollution and determine ways to reduce air toxics in Oregon. Data showed that no air toxics were found at levels that would pose an immediate health risk.

“With resources provided by Oregon’s Legislature, DEQ has been able to set up and operate these air toxics monitoring sites and analyze an enormous amount of data,” said Lori Pillsbury, division administrator, Laboratory and Environmental Assessment Division. “This gives us insights and opportunities to compare air quality in a variety of locations.”

“In addition to sharing this information with the public, DEQ can use it to instruct and update our strategies for decreasing air toxics in Oregon’s environment,” Pillsbury said.

DEQ’s Lab collected approximately 60 samples at each site – one every six days – for at least a year. The data was taken between 2016 and 2018. The six locations monitored included:

  • SE 45th and Harney (Portland-metro neighborhood)
  • Cully (Portland-metro neighborhood)
  • Gresham (Portland-metro neighborhood)
  • Humboldt (Portland-metro neighborhood)
  • La Grande (North Hall St. and East N Ave.)
  • The Dalles (Wasco County Library)

The monitors tested for 109 pollutants in ambient – or surrounding — air. Of these, 28 have air toxics benchmarks, known officially as Ambient Benchmark Concentrations. Only seven pollutants were above their benchmarks. Benchmarks are concentrations at which no harm should come to the health of even sensitive populations, including children, the elderly or people with pre-existing health conditions. Air pollutants come from various sources in a community. As such, monitoring and results were not assigned to a specific facility or source.

Additional details include the following:

  • Six air toxics were found at levels above their benchmarks at all monitoring locations – arsenic, benzene, carbon tetrachloride, naphthalene, acetaldehyde and formaldehyde. That means these pollutants are present at levels above benchmarks in both urban and rural areas.
  • Ethylbenzene measured at levels above its benchmark at three of the monitoring sites in the Portland-metro area: SE 45th and Harney, Cully and Gresham. It was found at levels below its benchmark in The Dalles, La Grande and Humboldt.
  • The average levels of arsenic were higher in the Portland-metro area sites than in The Dalles and La Grande, which are more rural.
  • Benzene was above its benchmark at every site, likely due to vehicle emissions.
  • The average levels of three air toxics – naphthalene, acetaldehyde and formaldehyde – were higher at The Dalles monitoring site compared to all other sites.

DEQ currently implements several programs to help reduce air toxics emissions, including Cleaner Air Oregon, Vehicle Inspection Program, the Oregon Clean Vehicle Rebate Program, the Heat Smart Program for buying, selling or removing wood stoves and more.

DEQ selects annual air toxics monitoring locations based on several factors, including sources of pollution, number of pollutants, relative toxicity, lack of information, community factors and agency program and regional needs. Monitors are currently situated in Eugene, Medford and La Grande, as well as Cully, Hillsboro and Tualatin in the Portland-metro. The next air toxics monitoring report will be released late this year and will include data from samples collected through December 2019.

To view Oregon DEQ’s 2018 Oregon Air Toxics Monitoring Summary, go to https://go.usa.gov/xdNXU.

– Susan C. Mills, public affairs specialist



Update on OR 22 spill cleanup

Cleanup crews Tuesday are digging up and hauling away petroleum contaminated soil following a tanker truck spill Sunday on OR 22 east of Salem and Detroit Lake. The tanker, owned by Space Age Fuel, crashed at about 8 a.m. Sunday near milepost 63, alongside the North Santiam River. About 7,800 gallons of the about 10,600 gallons of fuel in the tanker spilled. Cleanup crews have recovered about 2,800 gallons of the fuel. Booms and absorbent material are in place along the riverbank to catch fuel and remove spilled fuel for disposal. Vacuum tank trucks are on standby at the site to also remove fuel if needed.

A workforce comprised of responders and contractors – as well as the responsible party, the tanker’s owner – is currently working 12-hour shifts to clean up the spill and prevent gasoline and diesel from entering the river: Oregon Department of Environmental Quality, U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, Space Age Fuel, Oregon Department of Transportation and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. Other involved and assisting agencies include the Oregon Department of Emergency Management, Oregon Health Authority, Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife, U.S. Department of Interior and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.

DEQ, EPA and Space Age Fuel continue to work closely with the Oregon Health Authority and downstream water providers to protect drinking water intakes. The responding agencies are sampling the river at the site and downstream of the crash site, and protecting the water remains a priority.

Excavators so far have dug up about 737 cubic yards of soil for transfer offsite. Trucks are currently hauling the soil to the Short Mountain Landfill in Eugene. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service began a shoreline fish and wildlife impact assessment this morning with contractor support and results are expected later Tuesday.

Tuesday’s focus is to remove contaminated soil and minimize further potential fuel from entering the river. The cleanup response Tuesday includes several pieces of heavy equipment, including excavators, bulldozers and about 30 dump trucks equipped with trailers.

A nearly 30-mile stretch of OR 22 remains closed in both directions. The closure stretches from the town of Idanha to the highway’s junction with U.S. 20, east of the crash site. ODOT estimates that the entire portion of OR 22 will remain closed until at least Friday evening so ODOT recommends that traffic between Willamette Valley and Central Oregon use alternate routes.

Media Contacts:

Dylan Darling, DEQ, 541-687-7997, cell 541-600-6119, darling.dylan@deq.state.or.us

Lou Torres, ODOT, 503-559-7118, Louis.C.TORRES@odot.state.or.us (Tuesday)

Angela Beers-Seydel, ODOT,503-505-2069, Angela.BEERS-SEYDEL@odot.state.or.us (Wednesday through the rest of the week)


Federal and state agencies respond to tanker spill on highway 22 near North Santiam River

A tanker truck carrying more than 10,000 gallons of fuel overturned Sunday on Highway 22 about 60 miles east of Salem, spilling more than half of its load. An unknown amount was released into the North Santiam River, which provides drinking water for nearby communities and the city of Salem.

A hazardous materials team and emergency cleanup crew from Oregon Department of Environmental Quality were on the scene to pump remaining fuel out of the truck and to prevent more fuel from entering the river. The highway remains closed in both directions at milepost 63 as crews work to contain the site. The Oregon Department of Transportation advises motorists to avoid the area and find alternate routes until further notice.

According to reports the truck, owned by Space Age Fuel, was carrying a variety of fuels in two tanks. The trailer tank held 6,500 gallons of gasoline which has been released and the truck tank held 4,100 gallons of diesel. (Corrected to reflect vehicle and fuel handling.)

Preliminary indications are that all 6,500 gallons of the gasoline was spilled.
Update: Crews recovered about 2,830 gallons of diesel by Sunday evening.

Fuel from the trailer tank was released into a roadside ditch and some seeped into the river.

Health officials are notifying downstream drinking water system providers of the spill.

Crews will continue to evaluate the extent of the spill and determine cleanup options.

Media Contacts:
Harry Esteve, DEQ, 503-951-3856
Lou Torres, ODOT, 503-559-7118


Tips for safely managing debris after a flood

Hoja informativa: Manejo seguro de los escombros de los edificios dañados por las inundaciones

Many structures and buildings in Umatilla, Union and Wallowa counties, including lands of the Confederated Tribes of the Umatilla Indian Reservation, suffered significant damage from recent flooding. Debris from damaged structures can pose a threat to people and the environment if not handled safely.

UPDATE: DEQ issued an emergency order that temporarily suspends several environmental rules and fees to expedite the cleanup of flood debris and ensure ongoing protection of people and the environment. View the full emergency order here.

Tips for safely handling renovation and demolition debris:

  • Use caution when working in or around any damaged building.
  • Keep children and pets away from debris, where they could be exposed to sharp objects, electric shock or hazardous material, including asbestos.
  • Always wear personal protective gear and clothing, including eye protection, gloves and boots.
  • Check with your insurance company before removing debris. The insurance company may be able to assist.

Disposing of waste

Disposal sites that are willing to accept flood debris but that cannot accept asbestos-containing materials are:

  • Umatilla County: Humbert Landfill, Pendleton Transfer Station and Hermiston Transfer Station.
  • Milton-Freewater:  Milton-Freewater Landfill.
  • Union County: Transfer stations in Union, La Grande and Elgin.
  • Wallowa County: Ant Flat Landfill, transfer stations in Joseph, Lostine and Wallowa.

Other regional landfills that can accept asbestos containing materials are: Finley Buttes Landfill in Morrow County; Columbia Ridge and Chemical Waste Management of the Northwest  landfills in Gilliam County (accepts household hazardous waste); Walla Walla Landfill.


Asbestos is in many building materials, and it is difficult to determine which ones. When asbestos is disturbed and improperly handled, tiny fibers are released into the air and may cause lung cancer and other illnesses. Paper masks and bandanas do not filter out asbestos fibers.

Consult with a licensed asbestos removal contractor or call a DEQ asbestos expert at one of the numbers below before disturbing materials that may contain asbestos. Find more info about safe asbestos removal one DEQ’s website.

Mold and indoor air quality

Flood water can make the air in your home unhealthy. This is because when things remain wet for more than two days, they usually get moldy. Inhaling mold can cause adverse health effects, including allergic reactions. Mold also can damage materials in your home. In addition, flood water may contain microorganisms, such as bacteria, or chemicals which may affect your health. (Info from the U.S. EPA.)

Septic systems

U.S. EPA has helpful information on what to do with your septic system after a flood.

Burning of materials

Check with the local fire department before conducting any open burning of construction materials. It is illegal to burn treated wood, asbestos, petroleum-based products, or anything that emits dense or noxious smoke.

Hazardous materials in the environment

If you encounter hazardous materials that may have been released into the environment during the flooding, immediately report the spill or release to the Oregon Emergency Response System (OERS) at 800-452-0311. These items could include labeled or unlabeled barrels or containers of pesticides, fertilizers, oil or other petroleum products. DEQ recommends not handling or attempting to dispose of these items on your own.

Household hazardous waste

Many homes contain small quantities of hazardous waste, including paints, stains, solvents, fuels, antifreeze, aerosols, cleaners, poisons, pesticides, herbicides, fertilizers, oil filters, rechargeable batteries, fluorescent tubes and bulbs, propane tanks, pool and spa chemicals, thermometers, and mercury thermostats and switches. Please follow all local, state, federal and tribal regulations.

Contact your local waste management company or the department responsible for waste collection in your area for information on household hazardous waste. DEQ is working with local providers and volunteer organizations to schedule special hazardous waste collection events in the counties affected by the floods, contact DEQ for more information.

Drinking water wells

The Oregon Health Authority has information on drinking water safety after a flood.

Recycle when possible

Many buildings are constructed of metal, wood, brick and cinder block. These materials have the potential to be separated for reuse or recycling.


  • Asbestos: Tom Hack, 541-278-4626, or Frank Messina, 541-633-2019
  • Solid waste: Eric Clanton, 541-298-7255 x233
  • Hazardous waste: Brian Allen, 541-633-2014

Additional resources


Oregon EV rebate program charges ahead

Expanded rebates will make it more affordable for Oregonians to buy new or used electric cars.

The Oregon Department of Environmental Quality yesterday announced it is now processing all Charge Ahead rebate applications, which are available to low- and middle-income households, as part of the Oregon Clean Vehicle Rebate Program. While DEQ has distributed Standard rebates since late 2018, the Charge Ahead rebate applications have been stored in a queue while the agency retained a contractor with the security standards required to protect financial data. DEQ has now retained the Center for Sustainable Energy, a non-profit clean energy program administrator, to manage the rebates, as well as develop an easy-to-use digital dashboard and marketing strategies to expand consumer awareness.

“The Oregon Clean Vehicle Rebates Program has already issued more than $9 million in Standard rebates since launching in December 2018,” said Ali Mirzakhalili, air quality division administrator, DEQ. “With CSE’s extensive and secure infrastructure, rebates will now go out more quickly. We hope these rebates will encourage more Oregonians than ever to purchase zero emission vehicles and partner with us to improve air quality while saving money.”

The Oregon Clean Vehicle Program has two types of cash rebates for drivers who purchase or lease electric vehicles. The first is the Standard rebate, which gives $1500 or $2500 back for the purchase or lease for a new battery electric or plug-in hybrid electric vehicle. The vehicle’s battery capacity determines the rebate amount. Additionally, a purchase or lease of a zero-emission electric motorcycle qualifies for a $750 rebate.

Next is the Charge Ahead rebate, which gives $2500 back to low- or moderate-income households when they purchase or lease a new or used battery electric vehicle. Plug-in hybrid electric vehicles purchased on or after Sept. 29, 2019 also qualify for this rebate. DEQ has an Income Eligibility Calculator that can help determine if a household is qualified for money back. CSE is processing applications in the order they were received, beginning with those submitted in 2018. It is currently contacting all Charge Ahead applicants via email to request proof of household income.  

“We are proud to assist Oregon DEQ in their efforts to extend electric vehicle rebates to low- and moderate-income residents who are often the most impacted by transportation emissions and the least able to purchase a cleaner car,” said Lawrence Goldenhersh, president of the Center for Sustainable Energy. “The added value of these rebates, in particular the Charge Ahead rebate for used EVs, will help greater numbers of Oregonians to make more sustainable personal transportation choices while supporting state and local goals for cleaner air and reduced fossil-fuel emissions.”

In addition, the Environmental Quality Commission, DEQ’s policy and rulemaking board, recently made permanent previously temporary rules, which broaden the definition of a “household” and allow more people to apply for the Charge Ahead rebate.

“Currently, transportation accounts for nearly 40 percent of Oregon’s greenhouse gases,” said Gov. Kate Brown. “In order to help lower our emissions to our targets, it’s vital to make sure that we are doing all we can to provide viable and affordable alternatives for sustainable transportation, including participating in the Oregon Clean Vehicle Rebate Program.”

Last August, DEQ and other state agencies announced that Oregon had registered more than 26,000 electric vehicles, marking more than halfway to Governor Brown’s goal of 50,000 electric vehicles registered in the state by the end of 2020.

Since 2018, DEQ has received $12 million a year for the Oregon Clean Vehicle Rebate Program through funding generated from a tax imposed on car dealers. The program and annual subsidy will end on Jan. 2, 2024.

— Susan C. Mills, public affairs specialist


OSU-Cascades begins reclaiming former landfill for campus expansion

Oregon State University’s Cascades campus began full-scale excavation at the former Bend Demolition Landfill in December as part of its expansion master plan.

The landfill contains mostly wood waste and sawdust from Bend’s old mills, and test results reviewed by DEQ show the soil from the landfill can be safely reused as filler for new areas of campus. This allows OSU to reuse soil it already owns rather than having to purchase and transport additional soil from elsewhere. It’s also a boon for the environment.

“Soil itself is a natural resource, just like water. So if we can avoid using it, all the better,” said Bob Schwarz, DEQ cleanup project manager.

OSU will screen out the soil from the demolition waste and use it to raise the ground level of the adjacent former pumice mine for the first phase of the expansion. Some of the landfill soil will be blended with clean soil or pumice to ensure it has sufficient strength to serve as a foundation layer for future buildings.

DEQ issued a Beneficial Use Determination in December allowing OSU to use the landfill soil as a filler. Site development will include raising the elevation of the pumice mine floor by about 40 feet. OSU plans to expand its newest campus over portions of the former pumice mine and the demolition landfill.

“Future plans will include removal of the deeper waste on the east side of the landfill, which has been a concern because it generates a lot of heat as it decomposes,” said Schwarz. “That phase of the development will address the primary environmental issue at the landfill.”

OSU purchased the former landfill from Deschutes County under a Prospective Purchaser Agreement with DEQ in 2018. The agreement set requirements for safely removing waste from the landfill for the planned campus expansion.

DEQ’s Bob Schwarz, David Anderson and Ron Doughten are overseeing this work. Tracy England, Charles Kennedy and Scott Yankey are inspecting the construction.

Find more info about the site on the Bend Demolition Landfill ECSI page.

– Laura Gleim, public affairs specialist


DEQ takes crucial step to improve health of Willamette Basin

After several years of research, outreach, data analysis and effort, DEQ’s water quality team issued on Nov. 22 a revised plan called a Total Maximum Daily Load, or TMDL, to reduce mercury in the Willamette Basin. (See OPB coverage) One week later, the EPA sent DEQ a letter disapproving the TMDL. EPA now has 30 days to issue its TMDL.

“DEQ is disappointed with EPA’s action,” wrote Jennifer Wigal, deputy administrator for water quality. “Implementation of DEQ’s revised TMDL would be protective of Willamette Basin streams, eventually meet water quality standards throughout the basin and continue to reduce mercury levels and make it safer for communities to eat fish from the river basin. DEQ’s revised TMDL represented a balanced approach, informed by scientific research and substantially more data than the 2006 TMDL.”

DEQ will continue to work with EPA to understand the implications of this action to ensure that an EPA plan meets the goal of protecting the health of people who consume fish from the Willamette Basin. DEQ will continue to communicate with affected parties as details of the process forward are clarified.

The Willamette Mercury TMDL website has more information, including the EPA letter.


What is the future of recycling in Oregon?

Dozens of recycling thought leaders gathered in Salem to hear about ways to modernize Oregon’s recycling system.

Dozens of Oregon recycling representatives gathered in Salem on Jan. 31 to learn about potential options for a future recycling system in Oregon. 

The information session was part of the multi-year Recycling Steering Committee project, which is convened by DEQ and facilitated by Oregon Consensus, a program of Portland State University and the National Policy Consensus Center. About 175 people attended in person or by webinar, including state, regional and local governments, recycling collection companies, material processors, manufacturers and environmental nonprofit groups.

Oregon’s recycling system was heavily disrupted in 2018 after China and other international markets began restricting their acceptance of many materials. Since then, DEQ and its partners have been working through the steering committee to make recommendations to update and modernize Oregon’s recycling system. The goal is to ensure the recycling system creates benefits for the environment, is strong and adaptable to change, and restores and maintains public trust.

Resource Recycling Systems, the researcher working on behalf of the steering committee, presented results from their in-depth analysis of several potential options for a future recycling system. These options include policy changes, contracts and agreements, which the steering committee will consider for the state’s future system.

In their analysis, the researchers evaluated five potential scenarios, which include a range of government and producer responsibility options for financing and operational control of the system. The scenarios were each evaluated against 16 key “functions” that the steering committee would like to see a future recycling system achieve – such as resiliency, shared responsibility, equitable access, integration and transparency.

Next step: the steering committee will begin seeking consensus in mid-March about a recommendation for a path forward, based on the scenarios offered by Resource Recycling Systems research and input from participants throughout the process. Stay tuned to the project website for updates. The full in-depth evaluation is available online here.

— Sanne Stienstra, material recovery specialist


Retired Prairie City landfill gets upgrade thanks to Orphan Site Account

An old landfill outside Prairie City will get necessary upgrades this year thanks to funding from DEQ’s Solid Waste Orphan Site Account.

DEQ will reimburse the eastern Oregon city up to $100,000 for improvements to the landfill, which closed in 2016. Prairie City will use the funds to reinforce the landfill’s run-down soil cover and reconstruct drainage ditches to prevent stormwater from flowing over the site and causing further erosion.

These improvements will prevent people and wildlife in the area from coming into contact with waste—and protect them from the associated health risks.

The Oregon legislature created the Solid Waste Orphan Site Account in 1989 to support projects where the responsible parties are unknown, unwilling or unable to complete necessary cleanup or maintenance. The program is funded by a 13 cent per ton fee on tipping rates for solid waste disposed in Oregon.

Eastern Region’s Matt Slafkosky, Bob Schwarz and Ron Doughten are overseeing the project. They expect the landfill to begin construction late spring or early summer.

– Laura Gleim, public affairs specialist


DEQ is 2nd in state for most public record requests

Kristen Mercer, left, and Leela Yellesetty handle thousands of public records requests every year.

Every hour of every day, on average, DEQ receives a public records request. In 2018, the agency received a total of 4,635 separate requests for data, emails, reports and other documents – making it second only to the Oregon State Police for volume of requests among state agencies.

On the receiving end are Leela Yellesetty, public records officer, and Kristen Mercer, public records coordinator, whose job is to ensure a timely response, whether the request comes from a news reporter, a member of the public or anyone else with an interest in DEQ’s work.

“One of the things I love about working in public records is getting to see all the diverse and important work taking place across the agency,” says Yellesetty. “It’s impressive.”

Additionally, she says, public access to DEQ’s records help “showcase our work to the broader community. It’s also a great way for us as an agency to get a pulse on what the public is interested in so we can get them the information they need in new and better ways.”

Every document produced at DEQ is considered a public record, although a small fraction may be exempt from disclosure. People request records from DEQ for all kinds of reasons. A contractor wants to know about storm water permits at a certain site before building or remodeling. A reporter wants access to emails regarding a recent spill. A real estate agent needs documentation on an underground storage tank.

Yellesetty and Mercer make every attempt to fill the request within a few days, and nine out of 10 are filled within 15 business days.

Mercer credits public records coordinators within each DEQ program and region for the quick handling of record requests. “They do the heavy lifting,” she said. “For instance, we just got 203 requests from one company, and they are taking it in stride. They truly are the ones who get these requests completed in a timely manner.”

In other words, it’s a team effort, she said. According a recent survey, some 60 percent of DEQ staff had helped respond to a public records request.

Yellesetty and Mercer recently sent out an anonymous survey to DEQ records requesters. The vast majority of responders expressed satisfaction with how their requests were handled. Here is what one had to say:

“Of all the agencies I have requested info from, DEQ is the most outstanding. I told that to the Governor’s public records task force committee. They already had heard that DEQ was an example of outstanding transparency. Thanks!”

And, DEQ is working to respond even faster by investing in a new system to modernize the public records request process. The new system will include an online portal where the team can interact with requesters, including posting records directly online.

“It will also allow self-service for some requests,” Yellesetty said. “Our goal is to provide the best service we can to the public.”

— Harry Esteve, communications manager


DEQ to play a big role in upcoming legislative session

The State Capital Building Adorned With The Oregon Pioneer With
The 2019 legislative session gets underway Feb. 3

The biennial “short session” of the Oregon Legislature opens Monday, Feb. 3, and the Oregon Department of Environmental Quality will figure prominently when the gavels come down in the House and Senate.

“This session will be framed by the climate conversation,” said Annalisa Bhatia, senior legislative advisor for DEQ. At stake is proposed carbon “cap and trade” legislation, currently contained in a bill similar to one that prompted a walkout by Senate Republicans during last year’s legislative session.

One difference, however, is that DEQ would be given oversight authority of the cap and trade program, should the bill pass in its current form. In previous sessions, the legislature considered creating a separate agency to oversee the program.

The carbon reduction bill is one of hundreds that will be introduced during the 35-day session, which is expected to last through the first week of March. Already nearly 300 bills have been introduced, with more coming every day, Bhatia said. Of those, more than 30 are directly or indirectly related to DEQ – primarily on the water quality side.

One issue that could get significant attention is the testing of water systems for cyanotoxins from harmful algae blooms, which disrupted Salem’s drinking water supply in 2018 after appearing in Detroit Lake. Bhatia says there will be legislation to bolster DEQ lab’s water testing capabilities through investment.

Also on the docket is a bill to create a product stewardship program for mattresses and additional grant funding for onsite low interest lending.

The pace can get hectic because there is little time to meet bill deadlines, Bhatia said. “It’s a whirlwind,” she said. But it’s also exciting and critically important to DEQ and the rest of the state.

“What I like about it is, everyone is talking about how to make the best policy for Oregon and how to make it a better place,” she said.

Joining Bhatia is the office of policy and analysis team of Matt Davis (air), Abby Boudouris (land) and Rian Hooff (water). We wish them luck!

— Harry Esteve, communications manager


Turning water into beer

Washington County’s recycled water can now be used by breweries and distilleries to make beer, whiskey and other adult beverages.

DEQ recently approved Clean Water Service’s request to expand their high purity recycled water program, allowing CWS to provide this water to commercial brewers and distilleries to produce alcoholic beverages for sale to the general population. This decision broadens DEQ’s approval in 2015 to allow home brewers to use this same process in a competition for distribution at trade shows.

Clean Water Services is the water resources management utility serving urban Washington County.  CWS uses a process that takes the highest quality of recycled water in state regulations from one of their four water resource recovery facilities and subjects it to a treatment train of ultrafiltration.

“CWS’ mobile treatment system—the Pure Water Wagon—utilizes a four step process of ultrafiltration, reverse osmosis, ultraviolet disinfection and advance oxidation to produce high purity water that is cleaner than drinking water,” said Mark Jockers, Government and Public Affairs Director for CWS.

DEQ’s water quality and Oregon Health Authority’s drinking water programs have reviewed and approved this treatment process for creating water that meets or exceeds federal and state drinking water standards. The same process is used in parts of Texas, New Mexico and California for domestic drinking water supplies.

“The use of recycled water can improve water quality by reducing discharges to rivers and streams and decreasing demand on clean water not being used for drinking,” said Pat Heins, DEQ’s Water Reuse Program Coordinator.

Since DEQ’s 2015 approval, Oregon Brew Crew has held five annual Pure Water Brew competitions for home brewers using the CWS high purity water. The pioneering work by CWS, Oregon Brew Crew and DEQ has spawned similar efforts worldwide with utilities partnering with home and commercial brewers in Florida, Arizona, Colorado, California, Idaho, Kentucky, Singapore and Portugal. In 2017, CWS joined other utilities, consultants, equipment manufactures and brewers to form the Pure Water Brewing Alliance to advance sustainable water management globally.   

The U.S. Brewers Association has reported that Oregon has 284 craft breweries (10th in the nation), which generated 1.03 million barrels of beer, or 32 million gallons (9th in the nation). Beer is 90 percent water and, according to the Brewers Association, it can take three to seven gallons of water to produce one gallon of beer at the brewery.

“We must judge water based on its quality, not its history,” said Jockers. “We are producing water that is fit for purpose—water that can be returned to environment; water for irrigation—even water for beer.  Water should be defined by its purpose, not its history or the level of treatment that it has received.”

Commercial brewers are scheduled to begin brewing with 100 percent pure recycled water in 2020 with the official launch scheduled at the 33rd Annual Oregon Brewers Festival at Portland’s Waterfront Park in July. 

“As our brewers are fond of saying, ‘all water aspires to be beer,’” added Jockers. “But this water really deserves it!”

Lauren Wirtis, Public Affairs Specialist


Concrete crusade: DEQ’s initiative to reduce carbon emissions with a different kind of concrete

Businesses and governments looking to reduce their carbon footprint are turning to an unlikely source: concrete. The ubiquitous product—used in roads, bridges, buildings and sidewalks—is responsible for about 8 percent of greenhouse gas emissions worldwide.

“Concrete is the second most consumed substance on Earth after water,” said Jay Mustard, materials management specialist for DEQ’s Eastern Region. “We pave a lot of this planet.”

Now concrete producers, with the help of DEQ, are measuring and reporting the environmental impacts of different mixtures to meet market demands for greener concrete.

Traditional concrete mixtures use cement as the glue that holds the rocks and sand together. Cement is derived from limestone, which is naturally high in carbon dioxide. When limestone is heated to very high temperatures during the cement production process, it releases its naturally occurring carbon dioxide. About half of the carbon emissions produced during this process are from the limestone itself, with the other half coming from the fossil fuels burned to generate heat for the kiln.

Lower-carbon formulas use a cement alternative like slag, a byproduct of steel manufacturing that would otherwise be headed for a landfill. There are several other substitutes that also have significantly lower carbon emissions than cement. These alternatives can reduce carbon emissions from concrete up to 50 percent and are usually available at a similar price.

Jordan Palmeri, senior policy analyst in DEQ’s Headquarters, has worked with local Oregon concrete producers, including CalPortland, Hooker Creek and Knife River, to develop Environmental Product Declarations for several concrete mixtures. These third-party certifications provide consumers information about the environmental impacts of making the product—similar to nutritional labels on food products.

Having an Environmental Product Declaration scores points in the LEED green building rating system and is a selling point for local governments and businesses that have carbon reduction goals. DEQ runs a voluntary program with the Oregon Concrete and Aggregate Producers Association that provides concrete producers with resources and financial incentives to develop these declarations.

“This is one of these options where the technology, materials, opportunity is there — it just needs to be used more,” said Palmeri.

Because of DEQ’s work, the city of Portland recently passed an ordinance requiring concrete Environmental Product Declarations to be submitted on all city construction projects, and the city of Bend incorporated recommendations about concrete into its forthcoming Climate Action Plan, which the Bend City Council is scheduled to vote on early this winter.

Mustard is also advising Facebook’s sustainability director on the possibility of using low-carbon concrete for the massive data centers Facebook is building in Prineville and other locations around the world.

“Getting cities and businesses to switch to low-carbon mixtures can have a huge impact,” said Mustard. “And I think they’re going to do it.”

Learn more about the tools DEQ and partners developed to support low-carbon concrete at the Oregon Concrete Environmental Product Declaration Program webpage.

— Laura Gleim, public affairs specialist


DEQ opposes rollbacks of Clean Water Act regulations

On Oct. 21, 2019, Gov. Kate Brown sent a letter to the Acting Administrator at the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency detailing opposition to proposed changes to section 401 of the Clean Water Act. Section 401 gives the Oregon Department of Environmental Quality and tribes the authority to issue water quality certifications for projects that require a permit that may result in a discharge to waters.

“Water quality certifications are required for any activity that is obtaining a federal permit or license and will, or has the potential to, impact waters of the state,” said Steve Mrazik, DEQ Water Quality Program Manager. “They’re how we ensure that projects will meet the state’s water quality standards, which is why the Clean Water Act allows for state input and conditions on these projects.”

DEQ worked with the governor’s office to articulate what these changes would mean for Oregon’s water quality. The letter highlights a number of significant concerns, including:

  1. Limiting activities that require water quality certification to point sources only
  2. Hindering states ability to include conditions for approval and allows federal agencies to dismiss conditions
  3. Restricting application review time regardless of project complexity or completeness of the application
  4. Lacking meaningful input from the states

There are many potential consequences if these changes go into effect. “If this were to be implemented, it would impact water quality in Oregon,” Mrazik said. “Additionally, Oregon has created some innovative solutions to promote water quality while working with permitees, but limited timeline and ability to enforce conditions would undercut these efforts.”

The governor’s letter is a clear request of EPA to reconsider rolling back regulations that work well.

“The State of Oregon requests that EPA give due consideration to the grave and significant concerns raised in this comment letter, withdraw its unlawful proposed rule, and sit down in a meaningful collaboration with the states to define what problems need to be fixed.”

EPA will be reviewing comments received in the fall before making a final decision in May 2020.

-Lauren Wirtis, public affairs specialist


Deeper dive on health of Oregon’s waterways

DEQ released its most comprehensive evaluation yet of the health of Oregon’s rivers, stream, lakes and other waters.

Water quality and DEQ lab staff made significant improvements to the Integrated Report on Surface Water Quality and List of Water Quality Limited Waters, including a more robust analysis. The report is available this year in a new digital and fully interactive format, which offers tremendous amounts of information in a more user-friendly format.

The report provides a unique opportunity for the public to understand the overall status of Oregon’s water quality and gain a better understanding of how DEQ is maintaining, improving and protecting Oregon’s waters.  

Some highlights to note in this report:

  • DEQ held its first statewide request for data submission since 2004/2006
  • DEQ reviewed and included data from over 70 organizations comprising 7 million rows of data and 140 different pollutants
  • The most widespread water quality impairments continue to be temperature, dissolved oxygen, and E. coli
  • For the first time, the entire Oregon coastline appears in the report as an area of concern for acidification

DEQ submitted the report to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency for approval after public comment ended in December 2019.