JOSEPH, Oregon – As both the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and Oregon Department of Environmental Quality conducted an on-site investigation this month into reports of drums labeled with herbicides at the bottom of Wallowa Lake, the agencies took multiple samples of lake water and sediment.
Now, both the EPA and DEQ said Thursday that lab results show no detections of any herbicides in the samples.
Fifteen samples of lake water and eight samples of sediment from the lake bottom were taken.
The 15 lake water samples included 11 samples of surface water, three samples from the City of Joseph’s drinking water plant, and one sample from water inside the drum that had the herbicide label.
On June 18, the EPA and DEQ said that contrary to previous reports by recreational divers, only one drum with the 2,4-D or 2,4.5-T herbicide label was found. That 55-gallon drum was rusted out with holes and contained lake water.
Over the years, many 55-gallon drums have been filled with rocks and concrete to be used as anchors for floating docks or used as floats and both the EPA and DEQ believed the drum they found were part of that history.
EPA spokesman Bill Dunbar told KTEL News both his agency and the DEQ are appreciative that Lisa Anderson and William Lambert, members of Blue Mountain Divers, who spotted the barrels during a dive last summer, followed through in reporting what they thought was suspicious.
“See something, say something,” Dunbar emphasized.
Dunbar also expressed appreciation in the divers assisting the on-site investigation by showing the EPA and DEQ where the barrels they found were located, which was on the south side of Wallowa Lake.
The EPA and DEQ found 74 drums during the on-site investigation and all 74 drums had holes and contained lake water. EPA contractors removed 5 drums that appeared underwater to be intact or had a label indicating it may have previously contained a hazardous substance. Aside from the aforementioned drum that was found, one was labeled “Inspected”, one was labeled “Hosp”, and two did not have labels but appeared underwater to be intact. After further investigation on land, the EPA concluded these drums were not intact.
The remaining non-intact drums found at the bottom of Wallowa Lake are likely filled with lake water and both the EPA and DEQ believe they do not pose an imminent risk to people or wildlife.
“Oregon DEQ will work with local, state, and tribal partners on determining a plan for the many drums that remain in the lake,” said DEQ Public Affairs Specialist Laura Gleim. “We’ll need to coordinate closely with these partners before deciding the best route forward.”
As for the EPA’s next steps, Dunbar said the agency has wrapped up its investigation.