EarthFix Northwest Environmental News

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.

For years, Multnomah County has been warning people about lead contamination in the home — from paint dust to pottery.

It’s also warned about water, but with the caveat that lead in the water is not a common source of poisoning.

News that 47 Portland School District buildings have shown elevated lead levels in the water in recent years has some experts re-examining that stance.

A new report finds an oil tanker grounding on the Columbia River could cost more than $170 million dollars in damages. Estimates show the oil tanker could spill 8 million gallons of Bakken crude oil.

The report commissioned by the Washington Attorney General's Office looks at possible accident scenarios linked to the proposed oil terminal at the Port of Vancouver.

Peter and Pam Hayes's claim about herbicide exposure in the forest of the Oregon Coast Range begins the same way as most from the news in recent years.

On May 17, they and two others were out tending their property. They heard a helicopter in the distance and thought little of it. Then, they say, they began to smell and taste chemicals.

“The helicopter was not over me. It was not droplets. It was just a super strong, strong taste," Pam said.

The Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife drew hard questions from conservationists Thursday night in Portland as it sought comment on its latest budget proposal.

In a stuffy hotel conference room over the hum of a projector, ODFW Director Curt Melcher explained the agency's current budget situation, how a new task force had been established to seek new revenue sources and that no major changes were planned for any of the agency's programs.

A federal jury in Seattle has awarded a former BNSF Railway worker, and whistleblower, more than $1.6 million.

In 2010, Curtis Rookaird alerted federal officials that his employer had told him to forego an important brake test on a train carrying oil and hazardous materials. He was later fired.

Teachers and kids at Harrison Elementary in Cottage Grove spend the entire school year fundraising for just a four-day trip in May. But those four days at Camp Tadmor in Lebanon — spent canoeing, fishing, studying wildlife and environments, and doing team-building activities — leave an impression on kids that can last a lifetime, say leaders and teachers who have come back year after year for decades.

Think Out Loud went to Camp Tadmor on May 26 to find out what learning outdoors does for kids and why adults have such affection for outdoor school.

Judges Reject Steens Mountain Wind Project

May 26, 2016

The Ninth District Court of Appeals has ruled in favor of the Oregon Natural Desert Association, and rejected a wind turbine project on Steens Mountain in southeast Oregon.

The 104-megawatt project would have included energy transmission lines that cut across potential sage grouse habitat within the protected Steens Cooperative Project.

Cascade Locks Leaders Say Nestle Fight Isn't Over

May 26, 2016

City administrator Gordon Zimmerman is quick with the numbers. Sure, Hood River County voters backed Measure 14-55 by a large margin last week.

But as Zimmerman notes, the stats went the other way in Cascade Locks.

The Portland company Precision Castparts met Wednesday night with a group of neighbors concerned about air pollution from the company. Precision Castparts manufactures parts for airplane engines.

Air monitoring data released by the Oregon Department of Environmental Quality last week showed higher than normal concentrations of nickel near the company’s foundry, but regulators said the nickel was not at a level that causes a risk to public health.

Lead test results are in for nearly 200 people who live and work near Bullseye Glass in Southeast Portland. So far, none of them shows lead levels that would require medical care or follow-up.

Efforts to ban future crude oil projects in Vancouver are moving forward. The city of Vancouver’s planning commission voted Tuesday to prohibit future crude oil storage facilities.

“And to prohibit the expansion of any existing crude oil facilities," said Sandra Towne, the city’s long-range planning manager.

The proposal would also prohibit petroleum refineries, she said.

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