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EPA Issues Clean Up Order to Idaho Company & City of St. Maries

Release Date: 1/27/1999
Contact Information: Chris Field
(206) 553-1674

January 27, 1999 - - - - - - - 99-02

For Immediate Release

In order to quickly address creosote contamination that is threatening the St. Joe River in northern Idaho, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has issued a Unilateral Administrative Order to Carney Products Company, Ltd., a wood products company currently operating at the site and the City of Saint Maries, the property lessor of the downtown location. Creosote contains cancer-causing chemicals and is considered a hazardous waste by the EPA.

The Order is a legal tool which enables EPA to require quick cleanup action by responsible parties. If the recipients do not respond to the order, EPA can perform the work itself and recover costs later from any and all liable parties. To date, both parties have indicated their willingness to meet with EPA to discuss how to address the environmental threats posed by the contamination. According to EPA officials, the clean up needs to get started right away.

“We need to move fast to take advantage of the seasonal low water in the St. Joe,” said Chris Field, Manager of EPA’s Emergency Response Unit in Seattle, Washington. “We’re working closely with the City, the Coeur d’Alene Tribe and the State of Idaho to prevent further contamination. Our initial investigation has indicated that there’s a substantial plume of creosote polluting the river. This Order is a necessary legal step that allows work to begin immediately.”

Creosote is a flammable, heavy, oily liquid with a sharp, smoky smell that was used at a wood treatment operation that formerly occupied the site. Creosote is used to chemically treat wood, making it more rot- and insect-resistant. A colorless liquid in its pure form, creosote was usually mixed with petroleum products such as diesel fuel prior to application and can also contain dangerous chemicals such as pyridine and phenols. According to EPA officials, initial estimates as to the approximate size, volume and area of the product plume should be available in early February.

In addition to its popular recreation uses -- including boating and fishing -- the St. Joe River is home to threatened and endangered species, including Bull and West Slope Cutthroat trout. Bald Eagles also feed in the area. Both fish and wildlife can be harmed by creosote poisoning through their food chains and people can be at risk from direct exposure to its toxic ingredients.

Carney Products Company, Ltd. and the City of St. Maries must respond to the order by Friday, January 29, by either starting the clean up or beginning formal clean up discussions with EPA.

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