UPDATE: No evidence of leaks had been found during a survey by a remote vehicle and divers, the Oregon DEQ said.
“As of midday Friday, responders had identified 18 drums so far, both intact and rusted out, using a remotely operated vehicle. One drum has the “2,4-D or 2,4,5-T” label and appears to be intact. There’s no evidence of any leaking drums at this time,” according to DEQ.
In an update posted Friday, DEQ said:
Divers are now working at around 90-120 feet, doing detailed assessments of the drums. Their top priority is doing visual and tactile assessment on drums that appear to be intact.
Responders will continue the assessment, and if conditions allow, could begin removing the highest priority drums as early as tomorrow.
The labels on the drums appear to be commercial.
The labels the agencies have seen to-date say ‘2,4-D or 2,4,5-T.’ Both were commonly used herbicides. During the Vietnam war era the two herbicides were combined for the military at very high concentrations to make ‘Agent Orange,’ which was not manufactured for commercial use. The labels on the drums in Wallowa Lake appear to be commercial labels, not military labels.
WALLOWA LAKE, Ore. (KVAL) – The two dozen rusted-out 55-gallon drums found at the bottom of this alpine lake didn’t surprise state and federal officials.
“Fifty-five-gallon drums have been found at the lake bottom for years, a remnant of the days when empty drums were used extensively to float and anchor docks,” according to the Environmental Protection Agency. “It was common practice for people to fill the drums with water, rock or cement and anchor the drums with rope to floating docks.”
But it’s the “12 seemingly intact 100-gallon” drums labeled “2,4-D or 2,4,5-T weed killer” that have state and federal officials working at Wallowa Lake with a remotely operated vehicle and sonar.
A 1-to-1 mix of the herbicides was better known as “Agent Orange” when used by the U.S. military in Vietnam.
Oregon DEQ says it is not yet known what, if anything, is inside the drums. The label indicates the contents could be 2,4-D or 2,4,5-T, but not both, according to DEQ.
“The 100-gallon size and chemical markings on the recently found drums are unusual,” according to EPA. “For this reason, government agencies are taking extra precautions to test the lake water and remove the drums to ensure the lake continues to meet water quality standards for people, fish and wildlife.”
Last fall, the Blue Mountain Divers scuba club from Walla Walla, Washington, found the drums on the bottom of the lake under 85 feet of water.
The lake is the primary drinking water source for Joseph, Oregon.
State officials do not believe the drums are a risk to drinking water. The lake remains open for recreation.
Routine water tests haven’t shown any pesticides or herbicides in the water.
And state officials would like to keep it that way.
The Oregon Department of Environmental Quality determined that “immediate action is critical.”
On Wednesday, teams began testing the water and lake sediment for any trace of herbicide.
On Thursday, the government agencies involved and contractors conducted reconnaissance on the drums using a remotely operate vehicle and side scan sonar.
#Wallowa Lake Update ** @EPAnorthwest w/ @OregonDEQ plan to test and remove 12 100-gallon drums, labeled as herbicides. We’re using a Remotely Operated Vehicle to survey the sunken drums before we can safely remove them. https://t.co/F0orlg2DPM pic.twitter.com/NwNxeN7q8A
— U.S. EPA Region 10 (@EPAnorthwest) June 13, 2019
“The water is deep, cold, and at high elevation (4,372 feet). Estimated depths of the drums range between 90 to 140 feet,” Oregon DEQ reports on a web page dedicated to updates on the work.
“The water conditions will likely constrain the amount of time divers can spend doing the work. Divers may be able to spend as few as five minutes at the depths they are able to reach, and they likely won’t be able to descend to the deeper depths. The response plan will continue to evolve as the responders get more information.”