Lane County Property Owners Wary After Mill Fire Spreads Ash Debris

A fire occurred last week at the Springfield Plywood and Veneer mill, and according to the Lane Regional Air Protection Agency (LRAPA), a sample of ash debris that is believed to have come from the mill has tested positive for asbestos.

Northwest Hazmat Inc., a Springfield-based company, tested the debris after receiving a complaint from a property owner located approximately four miles southeast of the fire site.

Jo Niehaus, spokeswoman for the LRAPA, said further testing is being done to confirm the presence of asbestos, but in the meantime, she asked that nearby Lane County property owners be forthright if they suspect ash has wound up on their land. “We’re trying to get a sense of the scope [of the problem]. So far, we only have the one complaint,” Niehaus said, adding that it wasn’t entirely clear that the asbestos-containing debris had in fact come from the Springfield Plywood and Veneer Mill.

The mill was constructed with asbestos-based insulation on its steam pipes, and although many of the pipes have since been replaced with asbestos-free insulation, there are still some that contain the contaminant.

The Swanson Group, which owns the mill, has hired an independent environmental engineering firm to also test the ash debris, as well as an asbestos remediation firm, spokesman Chuck Wert explained. “As soon as we were made aware of [the asbestos concerns], we got experts on the ground to start investigating,” he said. The remediation firm will determine the extent of asbestos still present at the burned mill.

Niehaus urged locals to be safe if they suspect the toxic ash has landed on their property. “As long as the debris is solid and undisturbed, it will reduce the risk of possible fibers becoming airborne,” she said.

When asbestos is friable, it easily breaks apart and emits dust, which is when it can be inhaled. Asbestos exposure may cause a variety of respiratory health problems, including mesothelioma, a type of cancer that is almost always fatal.

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