EPA, DEQ conclude on-site investigation at Wallowa Lake, find 74 drums, only one with herbicide label, no herbicides detected in lake
Joseph, OR—[Last updated June 27, 9:45 a.m.]
UPDATE: June 27
No herbicides detected in Wallowa Lake
*EPA, DEQ find no herbicides in lake water or sediment*
During the on-site investigation this month into reports of drums labeled with herbicides in Wallowa Lake, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and Oregon Department of Environmental Quality took 15 samples of lake water and eight samples of sediment from the lake bottom. Lab results show no detections of any herbicides in these samples.
The 15 lake water samples include 11 samples of surface water, three samples from the City of Joseph’s drinking water plant, and one sample of water from inside the drum that had the herbicide label.
Find more information, pictures and data about the investigation and removal in EPA’s Wallowa Lake Drums Cleanup Story Map: http://bit.ly/wallowa-storymap
Bill Dunbar, U.S. EPA, 206-553-1019, firstname.lastname@example.org
Laura Gleim, Oregon DEQ, 541-633-2030, email@example.com
UPDATE: June 18, 4:31 p.m. .
The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and Oregon Department of Environmental Quality concluded the on-site investigation today into reports of drums at the bottom of Wallowa Lake labeled with the herbicides "2,4-D or 2,4,5-T." Contrary to previous reports by recreational divers, EPA and DEQ’s investigation found only one drum with the “2,4-D or 2,4,5-T” herbicide label. That 55-gallon drum was rusted out with holes and contained lake water. (See links below for information about those herbicides.)
Over the years, many 55-gallon drums have been filled with rocks and concrete to be used as anchors for floating docks or used as floats – and EPA and DEQ believe the drums they’ve found are part of that history.
The EPA-DEQ investigation found a total of 74 drums in the investigation area on the south side of Wallowa Lake. All 74 drums had holes and contained lake water. EPA’s contractors removed all drums that appeared underwater to be intact or had a label indicating it may have previously contained a hazardous substance, a total of five drums:
• One drum labeled “2,4-D or 2,4,5-T”
• One drum labeled “Inspected”
• One drum labeled “Hosp”
• Two drums that did not have labels but appeared underwater to be intact. After further investigation on land, EPA concluded these drums were not intact.
EPA and DEQ determined the remaining non-intact drums found at the bottom of Wallowa Lake are likely filled with lake water and do not pose an imminent risk to people or wildlife.
Despite finding all drums empty and filled with lake water, EPA and DEQ took multiple samples of water and sediment to test for “2,4-D or 2,4,5-T” as an extra precaution. The agencies expect to have initial lab results later this week.
Federal and state agencies will assess the information and data collected during the investigation and will determine appropriate next steps for the area. That work could include additional investigation, historical review and assessment, and possible additional actions including continued sampling of water and sediment.
EPA and DEQ will host a public informational meeting about the drum removal on Tuesday, June 25, 6-8 p.m., at the Joseph Community Center, 102 E. First St., Joseph, Oregon.
EPA and DEQ worked in collaboration with the City of Joseph, Wallowa Lake State Park, Oregon Department of State Lands, Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife, Oregon Health Authority, Oregon State Marine Board, Wallowa County Sheriff’s Office, Nez Perce Tribe, the Confederated Tribes of the Umatilla Indian Reservation, and Confederated Tribes of the Colville Reservation.
Information on 2,4-D from CDC: http://go.usa.gov/xy35u
Information on 2,4,5-T from CDC: http://go.usa.gov/xy35J
UPDATE: June 18, 7:45 a.m.
Divers removed three drums from Wallowa Lake on Monday: one marked “Inspected” that was not intact, one marked “Hosp” that was not intact, and one seemingly intact drum that had no label.
Divers have now removed a total of five drums. EPA determined all five drums have holes and contain lake water after evaluating them on land.
EPA discovered additional drums today, bringing the total number of drums in the inspection area to 72. Most of these drums are unlabeled and rusted out with holes.
There are four drums remaining for divers to inspect tomorrow, to determine if they are intact or if they have labels that indicate they may once have contained a hazardous substance. All sediment samples were collected and shipped for analysis. Operations on the lake will likely conclude at the end of day Tuesday.
UPDATE: June 16
EPA contractors removed two drums late Sunday, including one drum labeled with "2,4-D or 2,4,5-T." This drum was not intact—it was rusted with holes—and continues to be the single drum confirmed to have an herbicide label. Divers placed the rusted drum in a new black overpack drum prior to removal to contain any substances that may have been in the corroded drum. Upon opening the drum, the contents appeared to be lake water. Out of an abundance of caution, responders sampled the water in the drum and will submit to a laboratory for 2,4-D and 2,4,5-T analyses.
The second drum contractors removed was unlabeled and appeared to be intact. EPA will sample its contents on Monday for analysis.
EPA has now identified 69 total drums in the area, most of which appear to be unlabeled and rusted out with holes.
There are approximately 12 drums that are potentially intact and are undergoing further investigation by divers. Divers will continue detailed inspections of the drums. EPA will prioritize removing any drum, intact or rusted out, that has a label indicating it may have once contained a hazardous substance.
Divers continued taking sediment samples at the lake bottom.
Crews will continue investigation and could remove additional high priority drums Monday.
UPDATE: June 15, 6 p.m.
EPA and DEQ have completed the survey of the area of drums identified by Blue Mountain Divers.
A remotely operated vehicle and contract divers have found 68 drums. Responders have found no 100-gallon drums but have found two floats made of two 55-gallon drums welded together.
One drum with a label “2,4-D or 2,4,5-T” has been found to-date. It is not intact and appears to be filled with water.
Divers are continuing to conduct visual and tactile inspections of the drums.
Depending on safety conditions, EPA will remove drums that are intact, and, out of an abundance of caution, will also remove drums that are not intact but have labels indicating they once contained hazardous substances. Again, responders have found one drum to-date with an herbicide label, and that drum is not intact and appears to be filled with water.
Drum removal is expected to begin Sunday, June 16.
EPA and DEQ also took samples of lake water and lake sediment today.
UPDATE: June 14
The labels on the drums EPA, DEQ, and Blue Mountain Divers have seen in Wallowa Lake say “2,4-D or 2,4,5-T"— indicating the drums might contain one or the other herbicide, not both, and NOT “Agent Orange.”
Both were commonly used herbicides. During the Vietnam war era the two herbicides were combined for the military at very high concentrations to make “Agent Orange,” which was not manufactured for commercial use. The labels on the drums in Wallowa Lake appear to be commercial labels, not military labels.
Again, the labels the agencies have seen to-date say “2,4-D or 2,4,5-T.” There is currently no evidence of drums of “Agent Orange.”
As of midday Friday, responders had identified 18 drums so far, both intact and rusted out, using a remotely operated vehicle. One drum has the “2,4-D or 2,4,5-T” label and appears to be intact. There’s no evidence of any leaking drums at this time. Divers are now working at around 90-120 feet, doing detailed assessments of the drums. Their top priority is doing visual and tactile assessment on drums that appear to be intact.
Responders will continue the assessment, and if conditions allow, could begin removing the highest priority drums as early as tomorrow.
UPDATE: June 13, 6 p.m.
EPA’s contractor used side scan sonar to map the lake bottom in the area around the drums. The team also calibrated and deployed a remotely operated vehicle, or ROV, to take underwater photos and video. Officials will be analyzing the data tonight.
Significant logistical challenges identified: The water is deep, cold, and at high elevation (4,372 feet). Estimated depths of the drums range between 90 to 140 feet. The water conditions will likely constrain the amount of time divers can spend doing the work. Divers may be able to spend as few as five minutes at the depths they are able to reach, and they likely won’t be able to descend to the deeper depths. The response plan will continue to evolve as the responders get more information.
UPDATE: June 13, 9 a.m.
EPA, DEQ, and environmental contractors are on scene coordinating with Wallowa State Park, Wallowa County Sheriff and City of Joseph personnel and conducting reconnaissance of drum locations.
The City of Joseph is temporarily sourcing its drinking water from a backup well rather than the lake as a precaution during drum investigation and removal activities.
UPDATE: June 12
On the bottom of Wallowa Lake, toward the south shore, there are reportedly 12 seemingly intact 100-gallon drums labeled with the herbicides "2,4-D or 2,4,5-T." Despite their labels, the contents of the drums are currently unknown. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, with assistance from the Oregon Department of Environmental Quality, is investigating to determine what the drums contain and how to safely remove them.
Over the years, many 55-gallon drums have been filled with rocks and concrete to be used as anchors for floating docks. EPA and DEQ anticipate the larger drums may be similarly harmless given this history, but the agencies won’t know for sure until the drums are removed and tested.
For this reason, the response team is proceeding with an abundance of caution and treating the drums as if they pose a threat to public health, safety and the environment.
Teams will be testing the water and lake sediment for the herbicides; no herbicide has previously been found in the drinking water from the lake.
Oregon Health Authority advises that visitors to Wallowa Lake may continue with normal activities until further notice.
Removing the drums is a logistically challenging effort, but teams may begin removing the drums after the initial site assessment as early as June 15.
- DEQ's cleanup webpage: https://go.usa.gov/xmtA3
- EPA's response webpage: https://response.epa.gov/WallowaLakeDrumsCleanup