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Fume probe continues in John Day

Authorities advise people to air out their homes if they detect the odor.
Scotta Callister

Blue Mountain Eagle

Published on May 19, 2015 3:15PM

Last changed on May 19, 2015 3:18PM

JOHN DAY – Southwest John Day residents continue to report nasty smelling fumes rising from the ground into their homes, as officials investigate the source of the problem.

So far, the indications are the fumes don’t pose a health hazard, but residents are urged to ventilate their homes to clear the odor.

“We don’t believe it is particularly harmful to people,” said Thomas Nadermann, an industrial hygienist with Sterling Industries of Vancouver, Wash. “But is it an irritant? Absolutely.”

Nadermann reported the situation to the state Department of Environmental Quality, which is expected to do a site assessment this week.

City Manager Peggy Gray said officials are hopeful the DEQ will quickly identify the source of the odor. She said the city police, fire and public works departments are ready to assist the state agency in its efforts.

Nadermann was first called in to investigate when the Soil and Water Conservation District reported the problem in March at its building on Canyon Boulevard. The other reports are much more recent, indicating the substance causing the odor is on the move again, underground.

Nadermann and Michael Montgomery, a building contractor who specializes in hazard mitigation, canvassed the John Day neighborhood last Wednesday, May 13, to try to determine the extent of the problem.

John Day Police Chief Richard Gray and Fire Chief Ron Smith also were in the neighborhood last week, checking new reports and talking to the neighbors.

Last weekend’s rain didn’t seem to alleviate the problem. Chief Gray said a new report came in to John Day Dispatch on Monday.

So far the problem has been documented at about a dozen houses, the Grant County Library, the Canyon Creek Apartments and the SWCD building.

Gray said the city also received an odor report at the Canyon City Community Hall, well south of the area of focus, last week. However, he said it did not appear to be connected to the others.

Officials said the substance causing the odor seems to be migrating downhill toward the river.

As it moves, the odor has been emerging from the ground, into basements and crawl spaces, and in the case of the library, through cracks in foundation slabs.

People who notice fumes seeping into their homes or offices in southwest John Day are asked to contact John Day Dispatch if they have not already talked to city officials.

Nadermann said new reports will help officials map the problem.

He said his tests indicate the odor is caused by some lightweight compounds commonly used in solvents. He said the problem is not gasoline or a petroleum-based fuel.

Nadermann theorizes that the substance causing the fumes could be moving through the groundwater, which flows toward the river. It also could travel through utility conduits.

Where the substance was released into the ground is not known, but a solvent dumped anywhere in that general area would sink easily through loose soils and mine tailings to the groundwater, and then move from there, he said.

Nadermann said he plans to return to John Day this week, and groundwater testing is the likely next step.

Meanwhile, he and Gray advised residents to air out their homes if they detect the odor.

“Don’t sit inside and let the fumes build up,” Gray said.

Nadermann said these types of odors tend to dissipate quickly with enough ventilation.

To report any new incidences of the problem, call John Day Dispatch office, 541-575-0030.


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