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J.H. Baxter Plant

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.

Another great source of background information about the J.H. Baxter project is this storymap.

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.

Community Engagement

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.

Health Consultation

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 collected additional soil samples in September 2021.

OHA is reviewing DEQ's September 2021 soil sampling data 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:

  1. What are the health risks from contact with the soil?
  2. What should the facility or regulatory agencies do to reduce exposures and risk in the community?
  3. What can community members do to reduce risk?
The anticipated timeline for completing the health consultation is Spring 2022. 
OHA has communicated conclusions about health risks related to the soil samples DEQ collected in 2021 at a public meeting on March 1, 2022 (link to recorded meeting).

Cancer Investigation

EHAP consulted 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 this new cancer analysis and helped inform its design. This new investigation broadened the types of cancers included in previous analyses from 2006 and 2008 to include 22 different cancer types.

The results of OHA's newest cancer analysis are available in this infographic (link). The analysis told us that:

  1. Twenty out of the twenty-two cancer types analyzed in these neighborhoods had the same or lower rates than in the state and county overall.
  2. Two cancer types, lung cancer and Hodgkin's lymphoma, had rates slightly higher in these neighborhoods than in the state or county overall.  
OHA's cancer analysis did not tell us why rates of those two cancer types are slightly higher in these neighborhoods. 

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:

  1. What is emitted to air from J.H. Baxter, and in what amounts?
  2. What are the affected areas in the surrounding community?
  3. 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.

EHAP's previous activities at J.H. Baxter

Previous Health Consultations

EHAP recently released a Letter Health Consultation to the Lane Regional Air Protection Agency (LRAPA) evaluating health risks related to long-term air monitoring data from LRAPA's Highway 99 monitoring location. 

In 2003, LRAPA requested EHAP's assistance in evaluating the potential health risks from J.H. Baxter's air emissions to nearby residents.  EHAP completed a public health consultation in 2004 and found that there was not enough information to determine whether the facility's emissions represented a public health hazard.

EHAP completed a follow-up public health consultation in 2007 that evaluated the impact of air emissions from the J.H. Baxter plant on the public's health. EHAP reviewed air samples collected by LRAPA and concluded that nearby residents of J.H. Baxter are not likely to experience health problems as a result of long-term exposure to the plant's emissions. Chemicals used in the wood preserving process, including volatile organic compounds (VOCs) and polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs) were detected in the air samples.

Napthalene was found most frequently among all chemicals in the air samples. Some of the samples had levels of napthalene that exceeded health guidelines. However, the levels of napthalene were not consistently high enough to harm people's health.

Previous Cancer Investigations

During the 2003 health consultation, residents living near J.H. Baxter asked EHAP to investigate rates of certain cancers in their community. Residents expressed concern that the rates of acute myelogenous leukemia (AML) and brain cancer in their neighborhoods were high and possibly caused by contaminants from J.H. Baxter and other nearby industries. EHAP was asked by residents to investigate local rates of these types of cancer to determine whether they were significantly elevated.

According to the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), "The complex nature of cancer makes it inherently challenging to identify, interpret, and address cancer clusters." EHAP cannot scientifically draw direct associations or causality links between local cancer cases and the J.H. Baxter facility due to scientific limitations in cancer registry data and analysis. However, we do know the primary contaminants that J.H. Baxter emits, and we can investigate the types of cancer that are related to these contaminants. This association has been determined from previous scientific studies in other locations evaluating the strength of the relationship between various contaminants and cancer types.

Although scientific studies have not found an association between AML, nasal cancer, and brain cancer and the contaminants emitted from J.H. Baxter, EHAP agreed to address the community's concerns and conduct the investigation. EHAP found no significant elevations in AML, nasal cancer, or brain cancer cases.