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Individuals who purchased houses many years ago in North Ridge Estates near Klamath Falls, Oregon were excited about their beautiful new homes. That was until the first spring thaw, when asbestos-containing materials buried under the soil started emerging from the ground. The same thing happened when the winter freeze came several months later.

So why was there asbestos under the ground, residents wondered?

military base asbestosThe answer was simple. The developer built on an area that was once home to a World War II-era military base. It began its life as a hospital where soldiers who developed “tropical” diseases from their time in the Pacific Theatre were treated.

Many of the structures on that base were made using asbestos products, including shingles, siding, tiles, and more. When the buildings were demolished after the base had outgrown its usefulness, many of the toxic materials were buried under mounds of soil.  The clean-up of old military base asbestos will cost about $35 million, says the EPA.

Once the problem was determined, the developer was sued and most homeowners received funds to relocate.

Others who remained verify that what’s left is a big mess.

Enter the EPA, which first found out about the problem back in 2003 and immediately began trying to figure out how best to handle the issue, which included toxic material close to the surface as well as asbestos buried as far down as 15 feet.

Several attempts at clean-up failed.

“First the EPA came out with asbestos abatement crews, we walked shoulder-to-shoulder over the whole site picking up every piece of visible asbestos,” said Judy Smith, community involvement coordinator for the EPA. She’s been monitoring the clean-up since 2003. “When we came back the next year, it was like we’d never even been there, with the freeze and thaw cycle of the winter more asbestos had come to the surface.”

Finally, in 2005, the North Ridge Estates site was declared a Superfund Site and homeowners were temporarily relocated. Later, thanks to money awarded from a lawsuit against the developer, most of the 80 residents were permanently relocated and the EPA collected the land titles in hopes that, after clean-up, they could perhaps resell the lots.

However, more than five years of clean-up efforts didn’t solve the problem, officials note. More help was called for in 2011 and the proverbial big guns were brought in last year.

During the first year of work, huge amounts of soil were moved to two different locations on the property, where all asbestos materials will eventually be buried and capped.

“Work consists of excavation and replacement of septic tanks and removal of decks on homes,” explained an article in the Herald and News. “Some remaining residents are being temporarily relocated for three months at a time while work is done in close proximity of their homes.”

Nine homes were completely cleaned last year and officials say 20 more should be completed this year. Any remaining properties that need attention should be cleaned by 2018.

The cost of all of this? About $35 million, says the EPA.

No asbestos-related illnesses among residents have been reported at this time, but that could be due to the fact that diseases such as mesothelioma take several decades to develop and diagnose.

A hotline has been established to inform area residents as to what’s going on at what time so that they can avoid the area during a period when exposure could be likely.

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