Hexavalent chromium at site of Salem school; administrators say - KPTV - FOX 12

Hexavalent chromium at site of Salem school; administrators say students are safe

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The Career Technical Education Center in Salem. (KPTV) The Career Technical Education Center in Salem. (KPTV)
The Career Technical Education Center in Salem. (KPTV) The Career Technical Education Center in Salem. (KPTV)

Hexavalent chromium is in the soil and in the groundwater on a site in Salem that used to be a metal fabrication company, but is now being used as a school.

The Salem-Keizer School District opened the Career Technical Education Center on the site on Portland Road Northeast in the fall of 2015.

The toxic chemical has been present on the site for years, and in most places is sealed off by concrete or asphalt, eliminating the risk for exposure. Because the ground water is not used for drinking water, there’s no risk of exposure there either.

But recent tests also showed the chemical in the soil under open, grassy areas which have since been fenced off as a precaution.

A district spokesperson said they learned of the contamination in 2014 – before the school ever opened – but environmental reports and consultants (hired by both by the district and the building owner) assured them it was safe.

The district maintains it still is.

School operations there will continue as normal, and the district says its 350 students and 22 staff at the site have not been exposed.

The school district is just the tenant of the site. The building is owned by Mountain West Investments, and the land is owned by Suntek Oregon, LLC – both private companies.

An environmental consulting firm, EVREN Northwest, Inc., reviewed the recent test samples and found “the current physical barrier and constraints… make the building and site safe for staff and students.”

Superintendent Christy Perry agreed, writing in a letter to CTEC parents: “This chemical can be dangerous in some situations, but in this case is being managed and does not pose a risk.”

The Oregon Department of Environmental Quality told Fox 12 it just learned of the recent test results on Wednesday and is now working to reach all the parties involved.

A spokesperson for the DEQ said the site has been on their radar since 1987 when the EPA did a routine assessment. Details of that assessment weren’t immediately available, but a spokesperson said the indication was that there was a low level of risk.

While there is no requirement for private land or business owners to notify the DEQ of contamination in cases like this, the DEQ also said risk is based on current and future use at any given site and they didn’t know it would be used for a school.

The DEQ’s standard soil screening level for hexavalent chromium is 0.30 ppm (parts per million) at a residential property. Urban residential guidelines allow for 0.67 ppm and an occupational site would give even more flexibility, with a standard screening level of 6.30 ppm.  There is no category for a school.

In contrast, the screening level for standard chromium is 120,000 ppm.

The exact levels that were found at the CTEC site have not been released.

Hexavalent chromium is the same carcinogen made famous in the Erin Brockovich movie about groundwater contamination in Hinkley, California. It’s also the same heavy metal found in the air in southeast Portland earlier this year.

To learn more, visit: http://www.salkeiz.k12.or.us/story/ctec-environmental-testing-information or http://www.deq.state.or.us/Webdocs/Forms/Output/FPController.ashx?SourceId=220&SourceIdType=11.

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