EarthFix Northwest Environmental News

A year before 16 of its oil tanker cars derailed and caused a fire, a spill and an evacuation order in the Columbia River Gorge, Union Pacific lobbied against stronger oversight of oil trains moving through the Northwest.

The railroad industry lost in Washington. But in Oregon, it won.

Tribal leaders from around the Northwest gathered Thursday in Mosier, Oregon, not far from the site of last week’s oil train derailment in the Columbia River Gorge.

They prayed and spoke out against oil trains.

“We should not have any fossil fuels coming through our ancestral homeland, especially along the river," said Austin Greene, the tribal chairman for the Confederated Tribes of Warm Springs.

The number of people in Portland testing their water for lead has spiked dramatically this month.

In a typical year, the Portland Water Bureau sends out about 3,000 kits to customers who want to test their drinking water for lead. But in the first nine days of June alone, the water bureau has received 1,500 requests for test kits. And that’s on top of roughly 2,900 kits the water agency sent between January and May.

“It’s been quiet a significant increase for us this year," said Scott Bradway, who manages lead hazard reduction efforts at the Portland Water Bureau.

A 1,900 acre fire near Lake Billy Chinook continues to threaten more than 900 homes. Officials said the fire is 30 percent contained.

The Akawana fire is within a few miles of a subdivision northeast of Sisters in Jefferson County, and it's triggered a preliminary evacuation notice for residents. Residents in the area have been asked to be ready to leave at a moment’s notice.

The lighting-caused blaze is currently burning in heavy brush and ponderosa pine on state forestland.

The U.S. Forest Service has released the data that kicked off concerns about Oregon’s system of monitoring air quality and air toxics in Portland. Hundreds of readings gathered all around the city are expressed on an interactive map that shows readings taken in 2013.

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency says it will take 30 years and around $746 million to clean up a 10-mile stretch of the Willamette River known as the Portland Harbor Superfund Site.

The area from the Broadway Bridge to the Columbia Slough is highly contaminated from more than a century of industrial use. After 16 years of study, the EPA finally has a plan for how to clean it all up.

The Bend Parks and Recreation Board has passed a memorandum of understanding about the future of Mirror Pond under new, potential private ownership of the Mirror Pond dam.

The non-binding MOU outlines future collaboration between the district and Mirror Pond Solutions, a corporation owned by local developer Bill Smith and construction company owner Todd Taylor.

Mirror Pond Solutions wants to lead negotiations with Pacific Power, owner and operator of Mirror Pond dam, and explore purchasing the structure.

Railroad industry experts are questioning the early explanation from Union Pacific for why its oil train crashed in Mosier, Ore.

Union Pacific said the preliminary indications from its investigation are “the failure of a fastener that connects the rail to the railroad tie,” according Justin Jacobs, a railroad spokesman.

Union Pacific confirmed Tuesday it won’t be sending trains of crude oil through Mosier, Ore., until derailed cars there are cleared, the crash has been investigated and the town has adequate notice.

On Monday, a Union Pacific spokeswoman said the lack of oil trains through Mosier was simply the result of railroad scheduling, not a railroad decision to halt shipments through the town.

"We don't run very many crude oil trains through here," she said. "Again, remember crude oil is 1 percent of the shipments that we carry."

For weeks, DEQ and Bullseye Glass have been negotiating over whether the company should be allowed to resume using heavy metals while DEQ crafts rules for the art glass industry. Late Monday, the two sides announced a deal. OPB's April Baer sat down with DEQ's Keith Johnson to find out more about the major points.

The Oregon Department of Environmental Quality has lifted a cease and desist order against Southeast Portland’s Bullseye Glass.

The company had been ordered last month to stop using several toxic metals in furnaces without filters after lead emissions were detected at a day care near the art glass maker.

The black Union Pacific oil cars that derailed Friday in the Columbia River Gorge are lined up next to the tracks that cut through Mosier, like oversized, crumpled beer cans discarded with little regard.

Crews spent Monday continuing their cleanup efforts, pumping crude oil out of the derailed cars into tanker trucks that drove the oil away from the scene. Around mid-morning, officials turned their efforts to newly discovered oil in a pipe leading from Mosier’s water treatment plant to the Columbia River.

Firefighters have contained a 21,000 acre fire near the Idaho border.

A lightning storm sparked the blaze, called the Owyhee Canyon fire, Sunday night.

A Bureau of Land Management spokesman said the fire grew more than 10,000 acres Monday morning. But he added that the fire is in a remote area and no homes are in direct danger.

The northwestern perimeter of the fire is approximately 1.5 miles south of Rome, Oregon.

Crews will remain in the area to make sure the fire is contained and mop up any remaining fire.

Union Pacific began running trains Sunday past the site of an oil train derailment in the Columbia River Gorge.

Local officials in Mosier, the site of Friday’s oil train derailment, said they counted five trains moving through town Sunday night.

The Washington Department of Ecology indicated Monday that crews found more spilled oil in a pipe near the town's waste water treatment facility. Crews have already removed about 10,000 gallons of oil and water from the treatment facility. Officials said 42,000 gallons of oil spilled and about 32,000 gallons burned off.

Elevated lead levels in water at the Multnomah Arts Center were detected over the course of three years – in 2011, 2012 and 2013, according to new information from Portland Parks & Recreation released Sunday.

It wasn’t immediately clear why the test results came to light, years after the testing occurred. PP&R officials said the water fountains have been turned off at the arts center.

Jim Appleton, the fire chief in Mosier, Ore., said in the past, he’s tried to reassure his town that the Union Pacific Railroad has a great safety record and that rail accidents are rare.

He's changed his mind.

After a long night working with hazardous material teams and firefighters from across the Northwest to extinguish a fire that started when a train carrying Bakken crude derailed in his town, Appleton no longer believes shipping oil by rail is safe.

This week, parents upset about lead in school water fountains have called for Portland Public Schools Superintendent Carole Smith to resign.

But federal, state and city officials have known for years that schools and homes in the Portland area are at risk for lead above federal drinking water standards.

Many Oregon school districts are acknowledging they haven’t tested their water for lead, but they are announcing plans to do so. State lawmakers appear ready to mandate such testing in the future.

You might’ve first heard about lead in drinking water from Flint, Michigan. And locally, you probably heard about problems in Portland schools.

But there were similar levels in Salem and at a middle school in Beaverton.

“We actually had a student ask ‘when was the last time you had the drinking fountains tested for lead?’” said Beaverton spokesperson Maureen Wheeler.

Washington state officials are holding a public hearing Friday in Vancouver on new rules targeting oil train safety.

One proposed rule would require trains carrying refined or crude oil to submit spill response plans that the state would approve.

Another proposed rule would make oil terminals and refineries alert the state that they plan to receive crude oil. Right now, companies that move oil by rail aren’t required to share that information with state officials.

Even though the Portland Public Schools District continues to tackle revelations of lead in drinking water at several schools, another concerning toxin has emerged: radon.

Results from radon testing in school buildings released late Wednesday show classrooms across the district have elevated levels of the radioactive gas.

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