SPRINGFIELD -- At least one sample of ash debris believed to have traveled from last week's fire at the Springfield Plywood and Veneer mill has tested positive for asbestos, the Lane Regional Air Protection Agency said Thursday.
The complaint of possible debris from the mill fire came from a private property owner in the Pleasant Hill area, about four miles southeast of the Springfield mill, LRAPA spokeswoman Jo Niehaus said.
The complaint was received Wednesday, and initial testing by Northwest Hazmat Inc. in Springfield found evidence of asbestos, Niehaus said. Further testing is being conducted to confirm those findings at an accredited lab in Portland, with results expected by today, she said.
Niehaus urged anyone who has noticed ash debris on their property and who suspects it may have floated there from the mill site, to contact the air protection agency at 541-736-1056.
"We're trying to get a sense of the scope" of the problem, she said. "We're trying to compile a list, but so far we only have the one complaint."
The burned materials found in Pleasant Hill ranged from small flakes of ash to larger, palm-sized charred debris, Niehaus said.
A spokesman for the Swanson Group, which owns the mill, said the company has hired its own independent environmental engineering firm to test the debris.
Spokesman Chuck Wert said the company also has hired an asbestos remediation firm to assess the extent of asbestos that may still be at the burned mill site as the company prepares for demolition and cleanup.
"As soon as we were made aware of (the asbestos concerns), we got experts on the ground to start investigating," Wert said. The company is working with both LRAPA and the state Department of Environmental Quality, which is also investigating, he said.
Old steam pipes in the mill were originally insulated with asbestos-based materials, but over the years, as pipes were repaired and replaced, newer asbestos-free insulation was used, Wert said.
It's not yet 100 percent confirmed that the asbestos-containing debris actually originated from the mill, Niehaus said.
Asbestos is a carcinogen that can be harmful when airborne.
If a person sees fire debris on their property that is white, beige or gray in color and is felt-like in appearance, they should not disturb the material, Niehaus said. "As long as the debris is solid and undisturbed, it will reduce the risk of possible fibers becoming airborne," she said.
If a person decides to remove fire debris on their own, he or she should use a water mister to wet down the material and then store it in a sealed plastic bag, Niehaus said. High-pressure water hoses are not recommended, however, because they may break apart the remains, he added.
Anyone trying to remove fire debris also should wear a protective mask and gloves, she said.
To learn how to best dispose of any collected material, call the Lane County Department of Public Works' Waste Management Division at 541-682-4120.
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