SEATTLE – The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and the Oregon Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ) are celebrating a multi-year asbestos cleanup completed at the North Ridge Estates Superfund site in Klamath Falls, Oregon.
“We’re proud to celebrate the successful completion of this important cleanup that will protect the health of the North Ridge Estates community,” said Acting EPA Administrator Andrew Wheeler. “With our partners the Oregon DEQ, City of Klamath Falls, Klamath County, the Klamath Tribes, and others, we accomplished a major cleanup while boosting the local economy with local jobs and a restored community asset.”
Beginning in 2016, EPA and DEQ excavated and removed about 360,000 cubic yards of asbestos-containing materials and contaminated soils across the 125-acre site North Ridge Estates residential subdivision. The cleanup has returned the site to productive use as a residential neighborhood, protecting current and future residents from harmful asbestos contamination.
“This cleanup was uniquely challenging as we worked to protect the people living in the neighborhood while completing a major 3-year construction project,” said DEQ Deputy Director Leah Feldon. “Our thanks go out to the community for their patience and cooperation. We now look forward to watching the North Ridge Estates neighborhood thrive.”
The multi-year project has provided significant local economic benefits. Local contractors have provided nearly 95 percent of the project’s labor services. Most materials used in the cleanup were also supplied locally, including about 80 percent of all gravel, fabric, soil and protective gear. Following the cleanup, 17 restored homes will be available for sale, with three homes listed for sale this year.
The project has also provided broader community benefits. In 2016 and 2017, 32 Klamath Falls area residents completed EPA’s Superfund Job Training Initiative (SuperJTI). The North Ridge Estates SuperJTI was a partnership between EPA, DEQ, Klamath County, Klamath Community College, EA Engineering and North Wind Construction. During four weeks of hands-on training, trainees earned certificates in 40-hour HAZWOPER, asbestos operations and maintenance, work zone flagging and forklift operation. Graduates were placed into positions working on site with North Wind Construction and at other projects.
Located about three miles north of Klamath Falls, the site was a military base from 1944 to 1946 for the treatment of Marines suffering from tropical diseases contracted during World War II. In 1947, the state of Oregon acquired the property for the Oregon Technology Institute vocational college. The college moved from the site in 1964 and property ownership transferred to the federal General Services Administration.
From 1965 to 1977, a private partnership owned the property, demolishing at least 22 additional buildings. A private real estate development group purchased the property in 1977 and most of the remaining buildings on the site were demolished by 1979.
Improper demolition of the buildings contaminated the soil with asbestos and asbestos-containing materials, covering most of the site. Asbestos is a naturally occurring mineral with small, thin, and separable fibers that when inhaled, can embed deep in the lungs and cause asbestosis, lung cancer and mesothelioma.
In 1993, Klamath County approved subdivision plans and later that year, the real estate development group began constructing homes on the North Ridge Estates residential subdivision. The group sold properties in the subdivision to individuals from 1994 to 2002.
At the request of DEQ, EPA first responded to the site in 2003. Investigations found widespread asbestos contamination at the site because of improper demolition of the former buildings. Starting in 2003, EPA conducted several cleanup operations at the surface to remove asbestos-containing materials and contaminated soil. Unfortunately, annual winter frost heave continued to force asbestos to the surface. EPA determined that a more permanent remedy was needed.
In 2006, the North Ridge Estates developer, homeowners, the U.S. Department of Justice and EPA negotiated a settlement to permanently relocate and compensate most subdivision residents. The settlement also provided for a receiver to manage and hold title to the properties as a potential resource for funding cleanup activities.
In 2011, EPA added the site to the Superfund National Priorities List and selected a long-term remedy. The remedy included excavation and consolidation of asbestos-contaminated materials in on-site repositories, engineered controls to prohibit future digging below the excavation, and placement of caps and clean fill over excavated areas.
Over three construction seasons from 2016 to 2018, EPA removed 360,000 cubic yards of asbestos-contaminated materials and restored approximately 40 properties. As part of this work, EPA replaced home septic systems, home decks and driveways, planted over 1,000 trees and shrubs, and resurfaced two roads. EPA conducted perimeter and home air sampling to protect workers, neighbors and to ensure homes were safe for residents. Following the cleanup, the homes will be sold and EPA will monitor the site for two more years. DEQ will be responsible for operations and maintenance of the site beginning one year from cleanup completion.
North Ridge Estates Superfund Site information: https://go.usa.gov/xPXUW