GRANDVIEW - Something odd had been taking place since last October near a vineyard on Bethany Road outside of Grandview. Concerns expressed to the Yakima Health District have led to an investigation by the Washington Department of Ecology, U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and Washington State Department of Agriculture (WSDA).
Investigators began looking at a site near 1501 Bethany Road last Wednesday as a possible toxic waste dump site after the Yakima Health District alerted them to the complaints received by their agency.
The complaints were of illegal disposal of drums of oil, pesticides and other chemicals, according to Washington Department of Ecology Central Region Communications Manager Joye Redfield-Wilder.
After surveying the area in question and coordinating with the EPA and WSDA, she said it was decided there was enough evidence to further evaluate and investigate the site, which consists of approximately two acres.
Last Friday, authorities uncovered 10 pits, measuring 10'x10' and larger, and discovered nearly 70 containers of unknown chemicals and waste oil utilized in farming practices. Approximately 30 of the containers could hold 40 gallons or more. Another 40 small containers have also been discovered at the site.
"One pit uncovered this past weekend contained 25 large containers itself," said Redfield-Wilder. She said the pits were deep enough that contents reached groundwater level and it appeared oil seeped into that water.
"The water table is not very deep in the area," she stated.
In addition to the drums unearthed by crews at the site, Redfield-Wilder said there was a lot of waste, such as a golf cart, lawn chairs and other household garbage. What is a real concern was the discovery of a computer monitor in one of the pits.
Redfield-Wilder said there is still a lot to be investigated and crews were busily working on the site throughout the weekend, utilizing ground-penetrating radar to find other anomalies that lie beneath the soil.
She said the EPA is providing technical support with on-call contractors conducting the full survey of the area with the radar.
As the pits are discovered and unearthed, soil samples are collected and sent to a laboratory to determine the extent of damage caused to the area and to analyze chemicals disposed of at the site.
Although many of the containers were labeled, Redfield-Wilder said authorities are uncertain what was truly contained in them.
Because the refuse was close to the water table and the site is near two drainage ditches to the south of the Sunnyside Canal, she advised, "If people have shallow wells and they are concerned, they may want to have their wells sampled."
At this point the investigation is in an emergency investigation phase. Once the initial investigation is concluded, Redfield-Wilder said a second phase of investigation will begin. That phase involves determining the parties responsible for the illegal dumping of the materials at the site and determining who is responsible for clean-up of the site.
It is unknown how much the property owners knew about the site and they cooperated with officials, allowing authorities to access it.
Once it is determined who's culpable, penalties will be assessed and the fines can reach as much as $10,000. Criminal charges are also possible as the illegal disposal of toxic chemicals, such as pesticides and petroleum products, violate both state and federal codes.
Redfield-Wilder had this to add, "Farmers have at their disposal free programs for discarding products through the EPA and the WSDA...they have the advantaged of collection programs." She feels a site such as on Bethany Road is unnecessary and believes those involved should have utilized the services of the programs in place.
Jennie McGhan/Daily Sun News
Authorities and crews investigating the illegal disposal of pesticides, petroleum products and other waste were busy this past weekend. The Washington Department of Ecology, U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and Washington State Department of Agriculture are involved in the joint investigation near the Sunnyside Canal on Bethany Road north of Grandview.