Insult to injury in Oroville

The city of Chico recently rejected a plan by the Army Corps of Engineers to sort millions of tons of metal debris from the Camp Fire at a site in Chico. The feds are now planning to take it—up to 400 truckloads a day—to Oroville.

The proposed location, the now-closed Koppers industrial plant, is designated as a “Superfund” site due to the large amount of dioxin and other poisons that resulted from its previous use as a wood treatment facility. Big fires at the site in the 1960s and ’80s released even more deadly toxins into the surrounding soil and groundwater. That area of south Oroville already has an extraordinarily high rate of pancreatic cancer.

The impact of this plan on the health, real estate, roads and businesses of Oroville has the potential to be catastrophic.

Although the Army Corps is claiming the debris will be nontoxic, that seems somewhat dubious in view of the immense amount of toxins, such as asbestos and pesticides, that are released in house fires. Meanwhile, people who have returned to their homes in Paradise have been amazed to find that some are now officially designated as “clean” despite the large amount of hazardous substances remaining.

Apart from the possible toxicity of the debris, what about the health of the workers who will be sorting it on a Superfund site still known to contain extremely hazardous material? Although it will be “covered” with an unspecified fabric, on top of an existing blanket of dirt, the presence of hundreds of trucks and heavy machinery is bound to release toxic dust, and possibly exacerbate the existing groundwater contamination. A 2018 EPA report on the site said that the groundwater is not expected to finish being cleaned up “for 30 or 40 years.” The report notes that there is also a zone that cannot be remediated and will remain contaminated in perpetuity.

Oroville already took a major economic hit with the dam evacuation two years ago. That event resulted from the longstanding refusal of government officials to consider the health and safety of the town and its residents. Now the residents are saying, “Enough is enough!”