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DHS news release

Oct. 30, 2007

General contact: Bonnie Widerburg, 971-673-1282
Program contact: Jae Douglas, 971-673-0971

DHS releases final public health assessment of groundwater contamination

The Oregon Department of Human Services Public Health Division today released its final assessment of potential health risk of groundwater contamination from the Union Pacific Railroad yard (UPRR) to residents of the Eugene River Road and Trainsong neighborhoods.

The report will be discussed at a Nov. 1 public meeting at the Oregon Pacific Chapter of the Red Cross, 862 Bethel Dr. in Eugene. The Oregon Department of Environmental Quality, with support from the DHS Public Health Division and the Lane Regional Air Protection Agency, is hosting the meeting.


DEQ plans to discuss the findings of a recent environmental sampling of the Trainsong and River Road neighborhoods with residents who are concerned about environmental and potential health impacts from the UPRR.

DEQ has worked with UPRR since 1994 to identify and clean up industrial chemicals, including solvents such as trichloroethylene (TCE) and tetrachloroethylene (PCE), which have been detected in the groundwater of nearby neighborhoods. Some of these chemicals are classified as probable human carcinogens by the federal Environmental Protection Agency.

In 2006 DEQ and the Oregon Toxics Alliance asked the DHS Public Health Division's Environmental Health Assessment Program (EHAP) to evaluate the potential health risks to local residents. A preliminary report was released May 29 and public comment was taken. Today's final report finds:

  • EHAP accepts DEQ's conclusion that the groundwater is emitting vapors contaminated with TCE and PCE. Indoor air at four locations is potentially affected by these vapors, and three additional locations also may be affected.
  • EHAP accepts DEQ's conclusion that indoor air at the remaining 25 locations in the area of interest is unlikely to be affected by the vapors. Other sources likely are causing the contamination in these locations.
  • The vapor levels detected in crawlspace samples from 11 locations tested between 2004 and 2006 exceeded health guidelines at maximum and median levels. The Public Health Division considers the levels detected during these years to be a past public health hazard.
  • Samples of vapor levels collected in April and August 2007 showed that air in crawlspaces and living areas no longer exceeded health guidelines. However, until additional data show these levels are stable, the Public Health Division considers vapor levels in these locations to be an indeterminate public health hazard.
  • Currently all homes with irrigation wells in the River Road neighborhood receive their drinking water from the municipal supply. Use of irrigation water poses no apparent public health hazard to adults or children if the water is used to irrigate gardens or to hose off outside surfaces.

The report recommends:

  • Additional groundwater vapor samples should be collected to ensure recent lower levels are stable in posing no health threat. In homes where TCE or PCE concentrations exceed health standards and evidence shows contaminated ground water is the source, vapor barriers and/or ventilation systems should be installed.
  • Residents in homes with irrigation wells should limit their use of the water to irrigating gardens and hosing off outside surfaces. Water from the municipal water supply should be used for drinking purposes and to fill backyard wading pools for small children.
  • DEQ should evaluate the need for identifying a mechanism to inform future homeowners and/or residents of the need to limit use of irrigation well water to irrigating gardens and hosing off outside surfaces.
  • DEQ should continue studies in the Trainsong and River Road neighborhoods to further evaluate the magnitude and extent of UPRR groundwater contamination.
  • Efforts to neutralize groundwater vapors to eliminate potential contamination in irrigation wells and indoor air should continue.

DHS and DEQ will continue to provide updated information as it becomes available and respond to community concerns.