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DHS news release

Oct. 10, 2006


General contact: Bonnie Widerburg, 971-673-1282
Technical contact: Kathryn Toepel, 503-731-4504


Arsenic reported in Red Rock Road soil in Sutherlin; meeting scheduled




A public health assessment released today by the Oregon Department of Human Services reports an elevated health risk due to arsenic in the soil on the Red Rock Road near Sutherlin.


Red Rock Road is a 17-mile-long railroad grade that runs eastward through part of the city. It was constructed years ago with arsenic- and mercury-contaminated mine tailings, which now are at the surface of some parts of the road.


Residents are invited to a public meeting set for 6:30 p.m. on Nov. 15 at the Sutherlin Community Center, 150 S. Willamette in Sutherlin. State public health officials will be available to discuss and respond to questions about the report.


"People who walk or play on the road have the potential of coming into contact with arsenic in areas where the tailings are exposed at the surface," said Kathryn Toepel, DHS Public Health Division toxicologist.


"Because exposure to arsenic over a long period of time has been shown to cause cancer and other harmful health effects, we recommend that the roadway be cleaned up or capped," said Toepel. "In the meantime, it's advisable for residents to avoid contact with parts of the road where tailings are exposed at the surface."


Toepel said she does not expect residents who have come in contact with Red Rock Road to become sick from arsenic exposure, but that illness is possible if they frequently swallow contaminated soil or soil particles over an extended period.


Because arsenic is found naturally in higher levels in the Sutherlin area, Toepel also recommends that residents who drink from private wells test their drinking water for arsenic.


The complete public health assessment is on the DHS Superfund Web site and can also be reviewed at the Douglas County Library Sutherlin branch at 210 E. Central in Sutherlin or the Roseburg branch, 1409 N.E. Diamond Lake Blvd. in Roseburg.


Information on private well testing can be found at the U.S. Enviro​nmental Protection Agency Web site.


The Sutherlin assessment was developed by the DHS Superfund Health Investigation and Education Program. SHINE, part of the DHS Public Health Division’s work to protect the public from environmental health hazards, assesses risks to Oregonians who live or work near hazardous sites and reports its findings and recommendations.