The J.H. Baxter & Co. facility began operation in 1942. The facility treats various wood products such as railroad ties, electrical service poles, and crossarms with water and oil-based chemicals. As the city of Eugene grew around the facility, environmental concerns from their processes also grew.
Community members have historically been concerned about emissions from the J.H. Baxter facility. Most of the community's complaints have been associated with the odors coming from the facility. These odors are largely from creosote and pentachlorophenol, which are used in the facility's wood treatment process.
Beyond the disagreeable chemical smell of the facility, the community has reported difficulty breathing, burning or irritated eyes, headaches, and dizziness. Residents have also expressed concern about cancer and asthma rates in their neighborhoods.
EHAP's current activities at J.H. Baxter
In Fall 2020, the Environmental Health Assessment Program (EHAP) joined a technical workgroup with the Oregon Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ), Lane Regional Air Protection Agency (LRAPA), and the City of Eugene to collaboratively investigate contamination from the facility and to evaluate potential health risks to the nearby community.
In December 2020, EHAP joined fellow government agencies and community stakeholders to form the J.H. Baxter Core Team. The Core Team is comprised of representatives from the following groups:
- Oregon Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ)
- Lane Regional Air Protection Agency (LRAPA)
- Oregon Health Authority (OHA)
- City of Eugene
- Lane County Health Department
- Oregon State University
- Beyond Toxics
- Active Bethel Community
- Bethel community members
The purpose of the Core Team is for community members and agency representatives to share information and ideas about how to resolve air, land, and water concerns around the Baxter facility. Together, the Core Team shares information about lived experiences, regulatory processes, and risk assessment data. These conversations are intended to collectively solve problems and to improve communications with each other and the broader community.
Since it's inception, the Core Team has met regularly to discuss health risks, environmental and public health assessment processes, and how community members can be engaged in these processes.
Chemical spills over the decades have left onsite contamination at Baxter. Soil on the Baxter site has elevated levels of arsenic, polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (Benzo(a)pyrene and dibenzon(a,h) anthracene), and dioxins and furans. This onsite contamination is primarily a result of dripping and leaking from the wood treatment process. DEQ's Cleanup Program has addressed the contamination at the facility, and an investigation is underway to determine the extent of soil contamination in the nearby neighborhood.
DEQ collected soil samples from six locations around the Baxter facility in September 2020. These samples did not show an immediate threat to health of community members, but they did show that dioxin levels in some locations warrant further investigation to determine if there are long-terms health risks. DEQ is collecting additional soil samples in September 2021.
OHA will review DEQ's September 2021 soil sampling data once it is available as part of a health consultation. The health consultation is intended to determine health risks to community members from exposure to contaminants in soil. If contamination is found in the soil samples, EHAP will make recommendations to prevent or reduce exposures, or for other specific health protective actions.
EHAP's health consultation will tell us:
- What are the health risks from contact with the soil?
- What should the facility or regulatory agencies do to reduce exposures and risk in the community?
- What can community members do to reduce risk?
EHAP expects to review DEQ's soil samples in Fall 2021. The anticipated timeline for completing the health consultation is late Winter 2021/2022 or early Spring 2022.
EHAP is working with the Oregon State Cancer Registry (OSCaR) to investigate cancer cases in the community surrounding J.H. Baxter. EHAP conducted a similar study in 2006 and published a follow-up report in 2008 that contained additional data from the state cancer registry.
Community members from the Core Team requested the cancer analysis and helped inform its design. This new investigation will broaden the types of cancers included in previous analyses from 2006 and 2008.
OHA's cancer analysis will tell us:
- How many cancer cases have occurred among individuals living near J.H. Baxter?
- Is there a greater than expected number of cancers cases among individuals living near J.H. Baxter?
OHA expects to complete the cancer analysis in Fall 2021.
Cleaner Air Oregon
EHAP is partnering with LRAPA to assess health risks from J.H. Baxter's air emissions. J.H. Baxter was called into the
Cleaner Air Oregon program (link) in Lane County in 2019. The Cleaner Air Oregon (CAO) program regulates industry by the
potential health risk emissions pose to the surrounding community.
As J.H. Baxter moves through CAO, the facility will inventory how many of 600 unique pollutants are released from their processes. A computer model will determine how these pollutants move across the West Eugene area and at what concentrations. This data will be compared to where people live, work, go to school, and play.
With this information, LRAPA and OHA can determine the potential health risk of J.H. Baxter's emissions. If the risk is high, additional regulations will be applied to the facility until the risk to the community is reduced.
The CAO risk assessment will tell us:
- What is emitted to air from J.H. Baxter, and in what amounts?
- What are the affected areas in the surrounding community?
- What are the health risks to neighbors from air emissions?
The CAO risk assessment will significantly increase what we know about Baxter's air emissions from previous monitoring activities. LRAPA expects the facility to complete the Cleaner Air Oregon program in 2022.