Asbestos Cleanup Continues at North Ridge Estates

Illustration of potential asbestos exposure in a building

Year two of asbestos work has begun at the North Ridge Estates Superfund site in Oregon and will continue for up to three years. The 125-acre area is a former WWII-era military base located near Klamath Falls.

Year two of the cleanup will include excavation and replacement of septic tanks and removal of decks on homes. For three months, some residents will be relocated when work is being done near their homes.

Year one focused on moving massive amounts of soil to two sites on the property where asbestos-containing materials were buried and capped. Nine homes were cleaned in year one, 20 are predicted for year two, and the remaining will happen in year three.

Many of the base’s buildings were made of materials that contained asbestos. Before it was discovered how bad asbestos exposure could be, most of the structures were demolished and the hazardous material mixed into the ground.

Originally the base was a hospital for veterans suffering from tropical diseases after fighting in the Pacific. Then it became the first Oregon Institute of Technology campus. Lastly, it was turned into North Ridge Estates housing.

Residents first noticed asbestos-contaminated materials would emerge from the ground during winter freezes. The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) then declared the area a Superfund site. Asbestos is on the surface and as far down into the ground as 15 feet, making it one of the most contaminated places in Oregon.

“First the EPA came out with asbestos abatement crews. We walked shoulder-to-shoulder over the whole site picking up every piece of visible asbestos,” said EPA Community Involvement Coordinator Judy Smith.

“When we came back the next year, it was like we’d never even been there. With the freeze and thaw cycle of the winter, more asbestos had come to the surface,” said Smith.

According to Smith, “We found that materials came up as much as 18 inches during the freeze and thaw cycle. To remedy this, we removed a minimum of two feet of contaminated soil, and will go as far as four feet deep if we’re still seeing materials. Then we place a marker layer to indicate the bottom of the excavation, then clean fill is added. It’s become a huge soil-moving project.”

Most trees have been uprooted due to the contaminated soil. The workers wore protective gear and sprayed water on the grounds to prevent the fibers from becoming airborne. All trucks and equipment are cleaned off to not spread the chemical off-site.

Cleanup has been going on since 2003 and estimated to cost $35 million when complete. A lawsuit against the North Ridge Estate’s developers won funding for 80 residents to relocate, but some stayed.

Once the cleanup is done, the Oregon Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ) will monitor the site long-term. Every five years, the EPA will review the site materials.