by Deborah Bloom
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.