Workers at the Wasco County Landfill unknowingly handled a potentially hazardous reactive waste for several years, but never encountered a problem with it, a company official said.
The substance, anhydrous magnesium chloride — which can catch fire if exposed to water — was accepted from two companies in the Willamette Valley, which both recently received a combined $825,000 federal fine from the Environmental Protection Agency.
Oregon Metallurgical in Albany, and TDY Industries, in Millersburg, are both subsidies of Allegheny Technologies, Inc., of Pittsburgh, Pa. They did not admit guilt as part of the civil settlement.
John Rodgers, division vice president of Waste Connections, Inc., which runs the landfill, about 15 miles outside of The Dalles, said, “When we accepted that material, it was not deemed or designated by any agency as hazardous, but it was designated as such somewhat after the fact, and when we started seeing the inquiry about this type of waste, we cut it off. We didn’t accept any more material beyond 2008.”
The landfill has 7,900 tons of the magnesium chloride, a white solid, Rodgers said, “but if you factor in, right now, the landfill now has several million tons of refuse in place, from a percentage or proportionality standpoint, it’s a very minor volume.”
Approximately 160 million tons of the material was deposited in four Oregon landfills, includingin Arlington and Boardman, none of which were equipped or permitted to dispose of untreated reactive wastes.
“We’ve implemented additional monitoring steps to be extra sure it’s not causing us any problems,” Rodgers said.
“We’re not seeing any problems with this material, but we’re not accepting it anymore.”
All material brought to the landfill is covered daily with six inches of topsoil. “Upon disposal it became encapsulated,” he said, and the landfill is fully lined.
Since then, the landfill has added additional steps to the monitoring program it already has in place. The monitoring checks to ensure “that there is no combustion occurring. We’ve been doing that for about two years and we haven’t seen any problems.”
This additional monitoring will occur “indefinitely” and is a cost borne by the landfill, he said. It will continue until the involved agencies agree that additional monitoring isn’t warranted.
The material was delivered between 2002 and 2008. It continued through 2008 despite being discovered during a routine inspection in 2007, according to the Environmental Protection Agency.
Kevin Schanilec, an EPA senior enforcement engineer, said the agency had to test, sample and gather the information needed to bring improper disposal to an end. “It just took a long time,” he said.
The two companies produce and process titanium and zirconium, which generates large quantities of anhydrous magnesium chloride as a byproduct.
Schanilec said the government will be monitoring and testing those landfills over the next several years to make sure nothing dangerous arises.
Editor’s note: The Oregonian and Albany Democrat Herald also contributed to this report.