Oregonians Have Had It With Toxic Fumes


     THE DALLES, Ore. (CN) — Residents of a small town in the Columbia River Gorge say a wood-treatment plant emits toxic gases that threaten their health and envelop their homes with the smell of creosote.
     Carmen Kontour-Gonquist et al. filed a $20 million class action for trespass against AmeriTies West on Monday. Kontour-Gonquist says more than 100 households in the area have contacted her attorney about the overwhelming smell emitted by the plant, which makes railroad ties.
     She does not want the plant shut down. AmeriTies is an important employer for The Dalles and its 15,000 residents, according to the complaint. But the process AmeriTies uses to treat railroad ties doesn’t have to be so toxic, Kontour-Gonquist says.
     She says AmeriTies ignored years of complaints from residents who say the terrible fumes make them nauseous and give them headaches. The company could have taken steps to reduce the odor, used alternate treatments that emit less gas, or at least properly monitor the noxious fumes it emits, but it did none of those things, Kontour-Gonquist says.
     The Oregon Department of Environmental Quality released monitoring results on Aug. 2, finding that levels of the toxic chemical naphthalene in the air near the plant “exceed long-term health benchmarks,” though they are not high enough to cause immediate health problems.
     That means the plant is emitting enough toxic gas to “increase lifetime cancer risk with prolonged exposure,” the DEQ said in a statement.
     The DEQ recorded 130 complaints about the plant between 2009 and 2014, the plaintiffs say, 51 of them in 2014 alone.
     One family reported to the DEQ: “We have lived in The Dalles, Oregon and Dallesport, Washington for the last 33 years. The odor from the creosote plant has continually been very nauseating and unpleasant over the years. … There are days that we can’t open our windows, or go outside to do yard work due to the smell. … Please do something to stop the smell,” according to the complaint.
     In April, AmeriTies signed an agreement and final order from the DEQ acknowledging the problem and promising to switch to a new formula for preserving railroad ties that contains less naphthalene by Nov. 30.
     The company’s president, John McGinley, said the plant is on track to make that switch by the end of the year.
     “We conscientiously comply with all state and federal environmental and safety regulations,” McGinley said in a statement. “The state is currently raising issues that have not been raised before. We have demonstrated our commitment to health and safety and will continue to maintain this commitment to our workers, to our neighbors and to our community.”
     Nicholas Kahl, the Portland attorney representing the plaintiffs, said residents of The Dalles tried for years to get AmeriTies to stop polluting their town, but the company seemed short on commitment until it faced a lawsuit.
     Kahl said the purpose of the class action is partly to get compensation for damage the fumes have caused to residents’ homes, but most of all, to find a permanent solution, enforceable in court.
     “After all the residents’ complaints over the many years, and quite a lot of time working with residents in The Dalles and representatives of AmeriTies and trying to reach a solution without seeing any changes, that AmeriTies has voluntarily offered up any solutions contemporaneously with us filing a lawsuit is interesting,” Kahl said.

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