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Contaminated soil: White Pine Sash cleanup pushed to 2020

Posted: 8:01 PM, Oct 05, 2019
Updated: 2019-10-06 13:20:04-04
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MISSOULA — It will be one more year before toxins can be removed from the former White Pine Sash window and door frame manufacturing plant.

Dan Norris, Montana Department of Environmental Quality project manager, said the White Pine Sash cleanup plan is still not approved, but he anticipates excavation on the wood treatment area can finally begin next spring.

“I know I said back in March that I anticipated some field work would occur this year. But we’re getting to the point where we’re either going to be able to approve (the cleanup plan) or have very minor revisions,” Norris said. “Unfortunately, things don’t always move quite as smoothly as we all hope that they would.”

This past March, Norris thought enough pieces would fall into place such that workers could begin excavating contaminated soil from the wood treatment area this summer. That was after DEQ had received the second draft of the cleanup plan from Terracon, the contractor working for Huttig Building Products, the company responsible for the cleanup.

Terracon had submitted the original proposal in March 2018, but DEQ sent it back with numerous questions and edits.

This May, after reading the second draft, Norris still wasn’t happy and had to send the plan back to Terracon with more comments. The same thing happened after he received the third draft in June so Terracon got more comments in early September.

Terracon’s deadline to return the workplan is Oct. 7, and Norris is hopeful this will be the final draft.

Norris said DEQ’s remediation department is being extra picky about this part of the cleanup, because the soil in the treatment area is more contaminated with pentachlorophenol – also called PCP – in addition to dioxins.

From the 1930s until 1987, while manufacturing window and door frames, White Pine Sash workers would treat the frames with PCP and mineral spirits as a pesticide to prevent microorganisms from breaking down the wood. Dioxins are present because they are a byproduct of PCP production.

Extra care is required to deal with PCP, so Terracon will have to build a plastic-lined pit, called a “land-treatment unit,” on the White Pine Sash property to sequester the contaminated soil after it’s excavated. The soil will remain there until the PCP breaks down. Once the contamination levels are safe, the soil can be disposed of.

But a big concern is the risk of PCP leaking out of the pit and entering streams and rivers. Because it also serves as a pesticide, it can kill fish or macroinvertebrates, damaging the ecosystem.

Norris said the land-treatment unit was one of the parts of the work plan DEQ had to keep asking Terracon about. But it wasn’t the only holdup.

“I can’t pin (the delays) on one specific thing. It was lots of little details,” Norris said. “But we wanted to make sure that the engineering details on (the land-treatment unit) were adequate for containing the volume and type of waste that will be excavated.”

From the 1930s until 1987, while manufacturing window and door frames, White Pine Sash workers would treat the frames with PCP and mineral spirits as a pesticide to prevent microorganisms from breaking down the wood. Dioxins are present because they are a byproduct of PCP production.Norris said DEQ’s overall issue was dealing with a contractor and liable party that are both based in the Midwest. However, Terracon does have offices in Great Falls and Billings. They aren’t familiar with Montana’s standards for Superfund-type cleanup, so there’s been a bit of a learning curve, Norris said.

When Terracon cleaned up other pieces of the White Pine Sash property in 2016 and 2017 , the waste being removed was just sawdust and wood chips that produced methane as they decomposed, and some soil that contained lower levels of dioxin. So the work plans didn’t have to be as technical, Norris said.

“There was less that could go wrong,” Norris said. “So the work plan was relatively more straight forward than the workplan for this area with the highest levels of contaminants – pentachlorophenol and dioxins, which are pretty persistent.”

Norris expects that the work plan should be ready by November. However, DEQ won’t be taking public comment on the plan.

Norris, who spoke to the Missoula Current in the presence of a new public affairs officer, said he’d be available to answer questions from the public. He’ll post the cleanup plan on the DEQ website “if there’s public interest in having that out there.”

Contact reporter Laura Lundquist at lundquist@missoulacurrent.com.