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North Ridge Estates in Need of Asbestos Cleanup from Leftover Military Barracks

Barracks Built with Asbestos Materials Demolished and Improperly Disposed

Asbestos cleanup at the North Ridge Estates subdivision may come to a halt if the government does not come up with the millions it will cost to remove the hazardous substance from the area.

In 1944, the US Navy acquired 744.99 acres of land, three miles north of Klamath Falls to build The Marine Recuperational Barracks. The barracks were used as a place of recovery for the Marines who suffered from tropical diseases during World War II. Over 1,533 tons of asbestos, a well-known carcinogen, was used in building materials for the construction of over 80 buildings. Asbestos-containing material may have been in the roofing, flooring, siding and underground heating pipes. The barracks were eventually torn down and MBK Partnership of Klamath Falls purchased the site, now known as the North Ridge Estates Subdivision, in 1977. Unfortunately, houses were built on the property by those unaware that asbestos contaminated the ground. Exposure to asbestos can cause severe, debilitating diseases such as mesothelioma, lung cancer, and asbestosis. Nevertheless, people continue to live there despite the danger of exposure.

Asbestos Removal Efforts by the EPA

In the 1970's, demolition activities alerted the Oregon Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ) and the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) that asbestos-containing material was scattered about the subdivision. DEQ received a complaint in 2001 of two large piles of asbestos insulated pipe on the surface of a lot being developed at the subdivision. Residents were made aware of the situation and MBK was ordered to contain the asbestos. DEQ helped to supervise the cleanup and over 57 tons of asbestos-containing material was removed from the surface of 30 lots in the subdivision. Once it was determined that more help was needed to finish the job, DEQ referred the subdivision to the EPA emergency response program. The EPA has been involved in the cleanup process ever since and has spent over two million dollars in emergency cleanup costs. However, according to Judy Smith, EPA outreach coordinator, the emergency cleanup effort "was a Band-aid when surgery was needed." (Oregon News, December 14, 2007)

The EPA's plan to remove the remaining asbestos at the site is unclear, and the total cost of the remediation effort is still unknown. Continued asbestos cleanup efforts and source of funding were discussed during a meeting that took place between government officials and local residents in Klamath Falls on December 11, 2007. "So far, we don't have a clear strategy," said Cliff Walkey, Oregon Department of Environmental Quality project manager at the meeting in Klamath. (Herald and News, December 16, 2007)

Cliff Villa, EPA assistant regional council, suggested buying, cleaning and reselling the homes, in addition to the 19 others on the subdivision already in receivership to raise money for the asbestos cleanup costs. But, the housing market is in a slump and the agency is skeptical. "I cannot say EPA will clean it up," said Denise Baker-Kircher, EPA project manager. (Oregon News, December 14, 2007)

Asbestos Not Included in Superfund Formula

Discussions at the meeting also included questions as to why the land cannot be declared as a "Superfund site." A Superfund is a name given to the environmental program established to address abandoned hazardous waste sites. A site that is designated a Superfund site allows the EPA to "clean up such sites and to compel responsible parties to perform cleanups or reimburse the government for EPA-lead cleanups." (U.S. Environmental Protection Agency)

Currently, asbestos isn't eligible as part of the formula that determines whether or not a site is a Superfund site. "When they came up with the formula, they didn't include asbestos," said Denise Baker-Kircher, EPA project manager. "It's a glitch in the scoring system." (Herald and News, December 16, 2007)

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