Agencies work together to clean up illegal dumpsite along the Eel River

The Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS) and several other local agencies recently worked together to clean up a hazardous dumpsite along the Eel River.

DHHS’ Division of Environmental Health (DEH) received a call in late February from the California Department of Fish and Wildlife about illegally discarded paint, solvent and demolition debris found along the Eel River near East Ferry Road in Ferndale. A DEH hazardous materials inspector was sent to the scene to investigate. Dumped within feet of the river were more than 30 containers filled with paint, paint-related materials, construction compounds and cleaning supplies. Some of the containers had been punctured with bullets and were leaking onto the river bar.

"Paints and solvents can be toxic to fish and humans even at relatively low doses," said DEH director Melissa Martel.

After mapping out the dump location, DEH’s inspector contacted the California Department of Toxic Substances Control (DTSC), which agreed to contract to clean up the site. An approaching storm was due to hit the North Coast that night, so cleanup needed to be done quickly to prevent hazardous waste from entering the watershed.

"Our inspector took quick action to limit the release of these toxic materials by securing the resources for a successful cleanup operation," said Larry Lancaster, supervising environmental health specialist with DEH’s Hazardous Materials Unit. "It can be challenging when trying to align multiple agencies, but everyone was determined to make this cleanup happen and beat the rain."

Representatives from DTSC went to work the next day, and DEH Hazardous Materials Unit staffers were on-site to supervise the cleanup. Chemicals were packed and properly disposed of and the waste that leaked onto the ground was excavated so it no longer presented a threat and potential damage to the watershed was averted.

"By responding in cooperation with these other agencies, we were able to prevent toxins from going into the water as the river rose during wet weather in the following days," Lancaster said.

DHHS encourages everyone to make sure to dispose of waste, including hazardous materials such as the items dumped along the Eel River, properly from the beginning.

"The Division of Environmental Health hopes that illegal dumping in sensitive areas, or any areas, can be stopped," Lancaster said. "We would appeal to everyone to help in that effort. We also hope that folks recreating in our open spaces would report such dumping and avoid any activity that would make the problem worse."

"Our job at Environmental Health is to keep the public from harm by protecting the environment," Martel said. "It’s unfortunate that people pollute our environment, costing the county and state unnecessary time and money."

To report illegal dumping or to find out how to properly dispose of waste and similar materials, contact the Division of Environmental Health at 707-445-6215 or 1-800-963-9241.

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The Department of Health and Human Services worked with several other local agencies to clean up this hazardous dumpsite along the Eel River.