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KLAMATH FALLS, Ore. — For decades, a 125-acre area among housing developments outside of Klamath Falls has been a veritable wasteland of asbestos-contaminated materials. Now state and federal officials say that they have completed a multi-year cleanup of the North Ridge Estates Superfund site.
“We’re proud to celebrate the successful completion of this important cleanup that will protect the health of the North Ridge Estates community,” said Acting Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) Administrator Andrew Wheeler. “With our partners the Oregon DEQ, City of Klamath Falls, Klamath County, the Klamath Tribes, and others, we accomplished a major cleanup while boosting the local economy with local jobs and a restored community asset.”
The project began in earnest back in 2016, with the EPA and Oregon Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ) beginning the excavation of roughly 360,000 cubic yards of asbestos-laden materials and contaminated soils throughout the North Ridge Estates subdivision. Officials now seem confident that the place is fit for human habitation.
"The cleanup has returned the site to productive use as a residential neighborhood, protecting current and future residents from harmful asbestos contamination," the EPA said in a statement.
Asbestos is a naturally occurring mineral that was once mined and used in a number of products — but particularly the construction of homes and other buildings. However, disturbing the material can cause the release of microscopic fibers into the air, which can then be inhaled into the lungs. Breathing asbestos fibers can cause a laundry list of serious diseases, including mesothelioma.
Origins for the Superfund site go back to the 1940s, when the site hosted a military base for the treatment of Marines suffering from tropical diseases contracted during World War II. For a time, the facility would next be home to the Oregon Technology Institute's vocational college.
During the 1960s and '70s, private owners took control of the property and began demolishing buildings. However, without proper demolition methods, the asbestos-filled walls of the old facility made the site a minefield of contamination.
It wasn't until the early 2000s when a real estate development group had already constructed a number of homes as "North Ridge Estates" and sold them to buyers that the asbestos contamination would come to light.
"At the request of DEQ, EPA first responded to the site in 2003. Investigations found widespread asbestos contamination at the site because of improper demolition of the former buildings. Starting in 2003, EPA conducted several cleanup operations at the surface to remove asbestos-containing materials and contaminated soil. Unfortunately, annual winter frost heave continued to force asbestos to the surface. EPA determined that a more permanent remedy was needed," the EPA said.
By 2006, the North Ridge Estates developer, homeowners, the U.S. Department of Justice and EPA finally negotiated a settlement to permanently relocate and compensate most subdivision residents.
The area became a Superfund site in 2011, but cleanup wouldn't begin in earnest until 2016.
The EPA now says that homes will be sold again in the North Ridge Estates development, which they will continue to monitor for two more years. One year from now, the DEQ will take over operations and maintenance of the site.
“This cleanup was uniquely challenging as we worked to protect the people living in the neighborhood while completing a major 3-year construction project,” said DEQ Deputy Director Leah Feldon. “Our thanks go out to the community for their patience and cooperation. We now look forward to watching the North Ridge Estates neighborhood thrive.”
For more information on asbestos and harmful conditions it can cause, visit the Mesothelioma Cancer Alliance website.