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BREAKING: Citing Violations, Oregon DEQ Fines JH Baxter Over $223,000

Brian Bull

The JH Baxter wood preservation facility in Eugene has been fined more than $223,000 for environmental violations.

The Oregon Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ) leveled the penalties. Public affairs specialist Dylan Darling says the two biggest offenses are for Baxter treating 1.7 million gallons of hazardous waste without a DEQ permit over a 5-year-period.  Operators at the facility did not use chambers – called “retorts” – properly.

Retorts pressure-treat wood with water and chemicals to make it more resilient.

“DEQ found that Baxter illegally used its retorts to boil off or evaporate liquid process waste," says Darling.  "This was not a permitted use for the retorts, to manage hazardous waste.”

That violation alone comprises $178,000 of the overall fine.

“Also $14,735 for a stormwater treatment pond that overflowed during two weather events in Spring 2019," continued Darling.  "And this allowed overflow to go into a storm ditch that leads into Amazon Creek.”

Darling says these fines aren’t tied to the DEQ’s recent findings of high dioxin levels in nearby soil, which are still being investigated.

In a release, DEQ says that along with the civil penalties, they are ordering Baxter to create three plans for investigation and sampling to better understand and mitigate impacts of the violations to the environment, and to prevent potential future violations.  The plans would assess the potential impacts associated with the release of hazardous waste and improve stormwater management at the facility.

Baxter has 20 calendar days from the issuance of the fines to respond. 

In an email sent to KLCC regarding its response to the DEQ's fines, the company says:  "J.H. Baxter & Co. has always done our best to comply with regulatory requirements and will continue to comply with agency requests.  To that end we continue to work with the DEQ site clean up program and the Lane Regional Air Protection agencies Cleaner Air Oregon program.  We care about the health and well being of our neighbors and employees and will continue to work diligently to protect human health and the environment."

Copyright 2021, KLCC.

Brian Bull is an assistant professor of journalism at the University of Oregon, and remains a contributor to the KLCC news department. He began working with KLCC in June 2016.   In his 27+ years as a public media journalist, he's worked at NPR, Twin Cities Public Television, South Dakota Public Broadcasting, Wisconsin Public Radio, and ideastream in Cleveland. His reporting has netted dozens of accolades, including four national Edward R. Murrow Awards (22 regional),  the Ohio Associated Press' Best Reporter Award, Best Radio Reporter from  the Native American Journalists Association, and the PRNDI/NEFE Award for Excellence in Consumer Finance Reporting.
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