An old Oregon shipyard loaded with paint and blast waste—one of the most contaminated sites in the United States—is finally on the road to a cleanup.
Eighteen months after adding Astoria Marine Construction Company to the nation’s Superfund list, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency announced Tuesday (Sept. 11) that it had handed over the investigation and cleanup of the site to the Oregon Department of Environmental Quality.
|Once a Navy contractor with more than 1,100 employees, Astoria Marine now employs 12. But generations of toxic paint and blast grit have been left behind.|
EPA also announced that DEQ had finalized a consent order with the owners of Astoria Marine, a longtime Navy contractor, to clean up the site.
Astoria Marine dates to 1926, when the shipyard began building wooden-hulled sail- and motor-powered fishing boats. The site occupies about eight acres of low-lying land along the east bank of the Lewis and Clark River at its confluence with Jeffers Slough, in the Columbia River basin.
The Lewis and Clark River and the Columbia River are designated as critical habitat and migratory pathways for a number of fish species.
During WWII, Astoria Marine converted its facility to build wooden-hulled mine sweepers, tugs and other military craft. In the 1960s, the U.S. Navy contract ended, and operations at the site turned primarily to fishing and tow boat repair.
Until 1989, the company used copper-based paints containing organotins, notably tributyl tin, known as TBT. TBT is a toxic antifouling that was outlawed in paints, except for larger vessels, in 1989.
Since 1970, Astoria Marine has been repairing fishing boats. The company that once employed more than 1,100 workers was down to 12 last year.
According to the EPA, the site includes open piles of paint and blasting grit, a burn pit of toxic solvents, and river contaminants more than 500 times the acceptable level. The site’s soil, groundwater and sediments are all contaminated with petroleum, heavy metals, polyaromatic hydrocarbons, and organotins.
In 1996, DEQ received a complaint describing poor waste management practices at the site, including storage of hull sand-blasting grit. Subsequent inspections verified certain aspects of the complaints. Some of the grit was eventually disposed of, but other problems remained.
DEQ tried for years to get Astoria Marine’s owners to clean up the site. Finally, the state gave up and sought the federal clout of a Superfund designation.
In March 2011, EPA proposed adding the site to the Superfund list but deferred final action. EPA prefers to have states administer their own cleanups, but in this case, the parties were trying to determine who would pay.
Earlier this year, Astoria Marine determined that its insurance would cover the cleanup, which allowed the agreements to go forward.
Shipyard owner Don Fastabend, a 60-plus year employee, told PaintSquare News last year that the site posed no threat.
“There’s geese and otters and all kinds of animals around here,” Fastabend said. “There’s no two-headed eagles or three-legged rats.”
Seeking an ‘Efficient and Protective’ Plan
“We are confident that under state oversight, the cleanup at Astoria Marine can be efficient and protective,” said Dan Opalski, EPA Region 10 Superfund Director in Seattle. “This is an arrangement everyone is glad to reach so the important work of refining our understanding of the site and identifying cleanup measures can begin.”
DEQ’s Northwest Region Administrator, Nina DeConcini, said the agency was “pleased to be moving forward with the cleanup of the site and will continue to work with EPA, tribal governments and local citizens. Astoria Marine is an important resource to the community on many levels.”
A Community Involvement Plan has been drafted, and more information on the cleanup is available here.