Trainsong’s Contaminated Trust

by Deborah Bloom

EUGENE, Ore. — Despite a slew of recent news reports claiming that soil contamination in the neighborhood of Trainsong is no longer a hazard, residents remain skeptical.

A plume of toxic chemicals from Eugene’s Rail Yard has been seeping into Trainsong’s groundwater for decades, compromising air and water safety. These substances reportedly increase the risk for cancer and cause harm to the immune system, central nervous system, kidneys, and liver.

In 2005, Union Pacific Railroad began to clean up the soil contamination. The following year, the company started to study levels of contamination with oversight from the Department of Environmental Quality. After the railroad’s study on vapor intrusion — a term used to describe toxins that rise from the ground into the air — was concluded, levels were found to have dramatically decreased. Now, they claim the problem is mitigated and will be monitored biannually.

However, some in Trainsong say this is not enough. Chris Daugenti, a resident of seven years, is unconvinced by the recent study’s findings. These plumes can move in the ground, he said, causing some areas to be more concentrated than others at different times. “How much of it is actually getting lower, or is it just moving around?”

Describing the railroad’s response as “proactive,” DEQ employee Don Hanson is confident with decontamination efforts. “Concentrations are low,” he said. And although Trainsong residents should steer clear of the groundwater, “conditions are good.”

Yet, Nicole Sharette, head of the Trainsong Neighborhood Association, explained some residents’ skepticism regarding the railroad’s decontamination efforts.

“I know a lot of neighbors who don’t feel that it’s fine or that the investigation was thorough enough,” she said. “The house across the street [from me] was contaminated, but they never even checked my house. At one point, they just quit checking and said everything was fine after that.”

However, Hanson believes that the railroad’s actions were thorough. Union Pacific performed a comprehensive cleanup of the source area, he said. And the outreach in Trainsong concerning this issue has been immense. “There’s been a huge amount of public involvement.”

But not enough to quell the skeptics. Daugenti believes that more can be done by the railroad, “but it would be more money that they don’t want to spend,” he said. “They are probably doing what they are expected to by the DEQ and that’s probably it.”

According to Sharette, contamination is still a problem, and one that is not easily solved without more social capital. “We have been underrepresented as a neighborhood for years,” she said. “And the powers-that-be have taken advantage of this situation because there is no one to defend this neighborhood.”

Regardless of the study’s efficacy, both the State of Oregon and Union Pacific make one very clear point: it will be a long time until Trainsong residents will ever enjoy safe access to their own ground-water.

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2 Responses to Trainsong’s Contaminated Trust

  1. Pingback: Profiling a cultivated source | Reporting 1 Blog

  2. Nicole Sharette says:

    Well this is just wonderfully written, in my opinion. You quoted me exactly and obviously did good research and heard from all sides. This article is considerably less Gonzo than the first one I commented on. A follow up thing or two fyi: (1) Trainsong neighbors is working with the railraod and community partners to remove invasive species along the East side of Bethel Drive, between the rail line and the residents. The plan is to then plant trees between the rail and sidewalk and then to plant native plants in combination with a bioswale design. This, when it becomes a reality, will create a natural filtration system for the water runoff from the rail road. (2)August 26th from 6pm to 9pm at the Red Cross LRAPA is holding an informational meeting to discuss
    the draft renewal of the Air Contaminant Discharge Permit (ACDP) for the
    J.H. Baxter wood treatment facility.
    LRAPA would be a great source!

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