Thursday, May 2, 2002


Pole yard works on cleanup plan with state, EPA
Poles Inc. checking cost of removing contaminated soil

Erica Curless
Staff writer

COEUR d'ALENE -- An Oldtown pole yard is researching how much it will cost to clean up dirt contaminated by a toxic pesticide.

Poles Inc., a small company that uses the pesticide to treat utility poles, is negotiating an agreement with the Idaho Department of Environmental Quality that will outline exactly what the company must do to remove soil that contains pentachlorophenol.

The 15-acre family-owned business would pay the cost to hire contractors to remove the contaminated dir
t, said Paula Lyon, a DEQ geologist.

"He is currently in the process of getting cost estimates," Lyon said of Poles Inc. owner Reid Tinling.

Tinling refused to comment Wednesday, but Lyon said he has been cooperative with the state and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.

Before the DEQ can finalize a cleanup agreement or release any specific plans, the EPA must first hand off responsibility to the state agency.

Michael Gearheard, the EPA's director for the Office for Environmental Cleanup, will meet with Oldtown residents May 9 before deciding to give responsibility to the state. The EPA would still maintain oversight of the job and work with the company to make changes to prevent future oil spills and leaks.

"EPA will still be looking over our shoulder," Lyon said.

After $200,000 worth of tests last year, the EPA determined that soil, groundwater and air at the pole yard are contaminated with traces of pentachlorophenol -- a toxic pesticide considered an air pollutant and possible cause of cancer.

The soil levels are high enough to warrant cleanup, but not high enough to close the pole yard that has operated along the Pend Oreille River since 1945.

Cracks in a tank used to dip the logs are the reason high levels of the pesticide were found in the topsoil and the dirt below the surface in the pole yard.

Poles Inc. has already fixed the tank and bought new covers for the storage tanks and a condensation system that will reduce vapor. The company also volunteered to soak its poles at night to minimize the smell.

It's the heavy fuel-like stench that caused teachers at nearby Idaho Hill Elementary School to question if the pole yard was a health problem.

The EPA began testing the site after teachers complained in October 2001 that the smells drifted into the school, allegedly causing headaches, dizziness, nausea, watery eyes and runny noses.

The Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry concluded that current levels of pentachlorophenol should not cause health problems. Yet the federal agency couldn't evaluate past exposure, especially for the pole yard's 10 employees.

The EPA's tests also showed no chemical traces at Idaho Hill Elementary, which is 500 feet uphill from the pole yard. No pesticide traces were found in the groundwater or in soils near the riverbank.

During next week's meeting at Idaho Hill Elementary, Gearheard and DEQ officials will discuss cleanup options.

Some residents asked the EPA in February to conduct additional tests in the pole yard to see if dioxins also have contaminated the soil. Dioxins are found in the pentachlorophenol mixture used by the company.

Gearheard also will address those concerns.

"The goal of the meeting is just to hear what the community has to say before (Gearheard) makes a decision," said Michael Szerlog, the EPA's on-scene coordinator.

Besides cleanup, the agencies would work with the pole yard to minimize the odor released during log treatments. The company soaks utility poles in a heated solution of pentachlorophenol and oil to prevent bug infestation and decay.

"We are still working with the state in determining what the next steps are," Szerlog said.

Erica Curless can be reached at (208) 765-7137 or by e-mail at

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