A Powell Butte ranch owner in trouble with state environmental officials over illegal dumping of hazardous materials in Crook County is in hot water again this time with federal and state authorities investigating potential new violations at his formaldehyde manufacturing companys headquarters in North Bend on Oregons southern coast.
Ten days ago, federal investigators from the Environmental Protection Agency raided the North Bend facility owned by Dennis Beetham and his company, D.B. Western. They came armed with a search warrant that said officials had reason to believe the company had illegally transported and stored hazardous waste at the site in violation of federal law.
And after its own investigation, the Oregon Department of Environmental Quality has issued D.B. Western and its owner, Dennis Beetham, a notice for several environmental violations in North Bend.
D.B. Western attorney Rick Martson said the company has been responsible in the past and has been cooperative with authorities in Powell Butte and North Bend. He declined to comment further.
Yet officials say the new suspected hazardous waste violations are part of a chain for D.B. Western that stretches from Minnesota to North Bend and to the Cinder Lakes Ranch on Northwest McDaniel Road in Powell Butte, where more than 3,000 tons of formaldehyde and other contaminated materials have been removed since last fall.
Jeff Ingalls, a natural resource specialist with the DEQs hazardous waste program, said the Powell Butte cleanup is one of the largest hes ever worked on. And the agency is continuing to investigate in Crook County investigators have been tipped to several other possible contaminated sites, although they have no reason at this point to believe more formaldehyde will be found.
At issue is how D.B. Western has handled hazardous wastes, particularly formaldehyde, which the company makes for uses like manufacturing particle-
Formaldehyde, a colorless gas that can occur naturally and is also produced by power plants and manufacturing facilities, has been linked to respiratory problems and higher incidences of cancer among people exposed to it over an extended period of time.
Although DEQ officials believe their emergency cleanup of the Powell Butte site in the fall was thorough and that the groundwater was not polluted, the agencys contractor is testing the wells of area residents upon request .
EPA officials would not comment about the ongoing investigation into the activities of D.B. Western and Beetham.
But for the past two months, EPA investigators have been interviewing DEQ officials and people associated with D.B. Western, according to the federal search warrant affidavit issued March 19 for the North Bend raid. Theyve been looking into suspected violations in North Bend and links to the Powell Butte ranch.
Ingalls, with the DEQ, said state officials turned their attention to the coastal facility in January, four months after cleanup began in Powell Butte. Some of the material found on the Central Oregon site was believed to have come from a D.B. Western facility in Minnesota. Ingalls said additional materials from Minnesota could have been transported to North Bend, and officials have traveled there to investigate.
Through interviews with Mr. Beetham and (his) former employees, we learned that waste had come from Virginia, Minn. , and Las Vegas, N.M. , to not only the Cinder Lakes Ranch in Powell Butte but also to the (North Bend) facility, Ingalls said last week. We knew they were getting this material and equipment and possibly waste material, so we wanted to investigate what was going on.
On the Powell Butte ranch , DEQ officials have issued Beetham and D.B. Western three notices for environmental violations ranging from illegal disposal of hazardous wastes to open burning of prohibited materials and operating a hazardous waste disposal site without a permit.
D.B. Western has rented a 32-acre parcel on North Bends North Spit, near Coos Bay, since 1997, said Mike Gaul, the deputy executive director of the Port of Coos Bay. Gaul said the company uses the space to make machinery and parts for new chemical plants in other locations and has not had any prior environmental compliance issues involving its activities.
D.B. Western attorney Martson said the company has acted in good faith.
Were working through these issues with the relevant agencies, he said. I think there are two things that are really important: One is that D.B. Western has been a good corporate citizen, and at the end of this, I would conclude that they are (still) a good corporate citizen, and second, that Dennis Beetham has never done anything consciously thats unlawful.
But Ingalls said his teams mid-January visit to North Bend revealed a company that wouldnt share much information with environmental investigators.
He said when he arrived at the facility, supervisors on duty allowed the state officials to survey the area and talk to workers. But after about 40 minutes, Ingalls said the companys attorneys ordered workers to stop talking and sent DEQ investigators away.
After securing an administrative search warrant, Ingalls said he and the other officials returned to the site to continue the investigation but were met with silence from workers and supervisors. They observed that containers marked as hazardous waste had been welded shut to prevent inspection.
Unlike in Powell Butte, Ingalls said no materials appeared to have been buried in North Bend, but unpermitted hazardous waste appeared to have been stored in several large containers.
We were able to get samples and document hazardous waste at the site, to observe it, but we couldnt ask any questions, he said. We found paint waste, and two of the containers were labeled as waste, but we couldnt tell what the other dozens of containers were.
All of that information is included in the affidavit for the federal warrant, whose author, EPA Special Agent Daniel Sekerak, concluded that he had probable cause to believe that D.B. Western is illegally storing hazardous waste at its facility.
The search warrant gave investigators the right to take chemical samples and seize business records, computers and other materials. On the same day, more than two months after its own visit, the DEQ issued Beetham and D.B. Western a notice for 10 suspected violations, including denial of access, illegal transportation of hazardous waste, operating a storage facility without a permit and failure to properly manage containers of hazardous waste at the North Bend facility.
As with the investigation in Powell Butte, Ingalls said the company now has 30 days to respond to the notice and create a work plan for further investigation.
The company has run into trouble with environmental agencies in other locations in the past.
In 1991, the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency cited D.B. Western for several waste-related violations at its Virginia plant, which is no longer open.
Ingalls, who has been working with environmental officials in Minnesota during his investigation here, said Beetham and D.B. Western were fined about $9,200 for offenses, including failure to apply for and obtain a hazardous waste and storage treatment permit, failure to report a formaldehyde spill and failure to properly label hazardous materials.
Ingalls said the company was forgiven around $5,500 of the fine after they fixed some of the problems.
In addition to the North Bend headquarters, Martson said the company operates three facilities: in Stockton, Calif., La Porte, Texas, and Rapid City, S.D, where it produces chemicals for companies that make cabinets and lycra products, among other goods.
At the South Dakota Department of Environment and Natural Resources, Brian Gustafson, the air quality program administrator, said the company had a recent violation involving its air quality permit, but that it had been due to a mechanical problem and was not considered a major problem.
In Texas, records show that D.B. Western has self-reported a few minor violations for effluent discharge levels and was ordered by the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality to fix its method of collecting oil and grease samples for quality monitoring.
Officials in California and New Mexico, where D.B. Westerns plant in Las Vegas is now closed, said they had no records of any violations.
After reports on the Powell Butte and North Bend sites are complete, the cases will be referred to the DEQs Office of Compliance and Enforcement, where officials can decide if they will issue civil penalties.
Jeff Bachman, a DEQ environmental law specialist, said past violations in the state of Oregon fit into the decision about fines or other penalties, depending on their severity and how recently they took place.
He said out-of-state violations dont automatically play a role in Oregon fines but could help determine how much money an environmental offender has to pay.
Bachman said D.B. Western and Beetham face potential maximum fines of $10,000 per violation for every day the violation occurred, but he said the department rarely issues the maximum available penalty.
Powell Butte ranch
Although officials already have cleaned up known dump- sites on the Powell Butte ranch, D.B. Western has just finished a work plan for an investigation into new alleged dumpsites on the property.
Marcy Kirk, the DEQ hydrogeologist overseeing the cleanup process, said the latest information gathered by the department shows that most of the areas were probably not used as dumpsites, but they will still be investigated. The work plan and the rest of the process will be up for public comment at a community meeting scheduled for April 9
in Powell Butte.
The meeting is the first for the public since February, when dozens of Powell Butte residents packed the Powell Butte School for an often-tense informational meeting about the cleanup.
In the meantime, Ingalls said he and other officials are still gathering information about all of D.B. Westerns activities and hope to be able to connect more of the dots between sites in the future. He said many of the violations in Powell Butte, North Bend and Minnesota seem to be similar and could add up to problems for the company .
In 1991, (D.B. Western) was told that they needed to stop taking hazardous waste, stop shipping it and apply for a permit, and thats the same thing we told them at Cinder Lakes ranch, Ingalls said. We found the same issues in North Bend ... it would have paid for them to pay attention (with earlier violations in Minnesota), and they didnt, and its cost them a lot in Oregon now.
If you go
What: Community meeting hosted by state Department of Environmental Quality officials to update concerned residents about the cleanup of hazardous materials from the Cinder Lakes Ranch in Powell Butte
When: 7 p.m. Wednesday, April 9
Where: Powell Butte Elementary School