Evaluation: Some Action Needed/Closely Monitor

Figure 1. Department of Environmental Quality permit locations in the South Slough and Coastal Frontal watersheds. Permit status is also indicated.

What’s Happening
The Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ) Facility Profiler currently lists 580 terrestrial regulated or permitted facilities and sites in the Coos watershed. These are all sites reported to or permitted by the DEQ in this area historically, and includes water and air quality permits, monitored underground storage tanks, hazardous and solid waste generators, and sites undergoing cleanup operations. Of these, 273 are under investigation, being monitored, or are currently permitted. Many have been in process for many years (some since the early 1980s).

In the Partnership Project area (Figure 1), 11 sites are listed. Included in these are three listings for the Joe Ney landfill: one listing dated October 6, 1988 indicates that this site is “contaminated,” and is a “suspect site requiring further investigation” (see more below); the landfill also holds an active permit for stormwater drainage and is listed as active for “municipal demolition” (this last reviewed in 2007). Other sites with active permits in the Partnership area include fish processors, the gas station, the Port of Coos Bay’s public dock in Charleston, a “private domestic sewage system,” and the old Coast Guard site on Seven Devils Road (status listed as “cleanup started” in 1993).

There are several legacy contaminant sites worth noting in particular: 1) the Coos Head Air National Guard site (currently owned by the Confederated Tribes of the Coos, Lower Umpqua, and Siuslaw Indians); 2) Coos County’s Joe Ney landfill; 3) Oregon International Port of Coos Bay’s Charleston Shipyard; and 4) Coos Bay Area Sediment Contamination.

Coos Head Air National Guard site

From the DEQ Environmental Cleanup Site Information Database

The US Army used this site for a land-based inlet defense until 1957 when it was turned over to the Navy. The property was developed in 1957 as the Coos Head Naval Station and was operated as a land-based low-frequency submarine communications site. The U.S. Navy still operates a small portion of the site; this area is called the Terminal Building. The Air National Guard (ANG) took operational control of the property in December 1987 and operated the facility until October 1996.

Coos Head is in the ancestral territory of the Confederated Tribes of the Coos, Lower Umpqua, and Siuslaw Indians. In 2005, the United States deeded the 43 acre ANG portion of Coos Head to the Tribes. The Tribes intend to use Coos Head for housing for tribal members and also as administrative offices, and an interpretive center.

There are four parallel clean-up projects being done at Coos Head. There is a soil and groundwater cleanup of solvents and Polychlorinated biphenyl (PCB), an underground storage tank cleanup, a US Navy cleanup of a former electrical transformer spill, and a skeet and firing range cleanup. All four cleanup efforts are now managed by the same DEQ cleanup project manager.

The Air National Guard is doing the soil and groundwater cleanup. The Army Corps of Engineers is doing the firing range cleanup. Former military sites are frequently cleaned up only to levels that are considered safe for industrial use. This sets up a potential conflict. The parties paying for the cleanups are not the current owners of the property, and the two sides have different visions of appropriate future use for Coos Head.

Another challenge at the site is that the goal of the Tribes is to have the Coos Head property transferred into the ownership of the Bureau of Indian Affairs and then held in trust for the Tribes. Since the Bureau of Indian Affairs will be the future owners of the site, they are reluctant to accept the deed to any property that has contamination left in place and reject remedies for the site that have use restrictions.
Contaminates at the site include: Total petroleum hydrocarbons (TPH), (PCB), lead, chloroethane, zinc, trichloroethylene (TCE), benzo(a)pyrene
Some of these chemicals were in a dump site, some were poured into a sump with an outlet towards the ocean, some are due to PCB releases and a transformer explosion, some were intentional herbicide releases for vegetation control, some were intentional diesel fuel releases for fire training purposes, some are from small fire arm training ranges.

Status of Investigative or Remedial Action

An initial site meeting and visit was held on 11/30/04. DEQ has reviewed some of the past documents and sent comments regarding the additional work needed to satisfy Oregon’s requirements for a “no further action” letter.

From conversation with DEQ’s Norman Read:
DEQ received a Remedial Investigation Workplan February 22, 2010. Plan describes responsible party’s plan for site cleanup. The site is currently in the final stages of cleanup. The site’s shop building was removed in September 2012 and the associated contaminated sumps will soon be addressed. The last of the benzene and solvent- contaminated soils will also soon be addressed using a process called “air sparging.”

Joe Ney Landfill

From the DEQ Environmental Cleanup Site Information Database

Past landfill practices may have contributed to groundwater contamination. A complaint was filed 2/21/86 by a man who allegedly saw a “truck dumping 55-gallon drums into dump which were immediately covered.”
Hazardous Substances/Waste Types: Bis(2-ethyl-hexyl)phthalate, benzene, chloroform, semi-volatile organics
Environmental/Health Threats: Groundwater contamination detected.

From DEQ’s Gene Wong:
Groundwater is monitored at the site with semi-annual sampling/analyses using a network of 18 monitoring wells or piezometers, and 4 residential wells. Surface water is also monitored on a semi-annual basis with samples collected from 5 locations. These monitoring points were established between 1989 through 1999 during the course of several environmental investigations conducted at this site. Based on groundwater monitoring results, landfill activities have impacted groundwater, and for that reason, Coos County has prepared a remedial investigation (RI) work plan and will be conducting an RI at this site.

The RI will be undertaken to identify potential unacceptable or excess risk(s) to human health and the environment. While additional investigations are required due to the presence of groundwater contamination, monitoring data showed these impacts were to the shallow groundwater primarily near the closed municipal solid waste disposal area in the western part of the site. Additionally, data showed the impacts decreased with distance from the waste sources and deeper groundwater had not been impacted. Groundwater users in the vicinity of the site are very limited in number, with the closest resident approximately ¼ mile from the site. Residential wells in the area also use the deeper groundwater unit, which has not been impacted.

Given the findings of previous investigations and ongoing environmental monitoring, the primary objective of the RI is to evaluate potential interaction between shallow and deep groundwater units. Understanding this relationship will aid in determining if there are any current or potential risks to human health and the environment which would require remedial action. As groundwater impacts have been identified, groundwater and surface water monitoring is still required as a condition of the solid waste disposal permit.

Charleston Shipyard

From the DEQ Environmental Cleanup Site Information Database

Contaminants are from past practices: sandblasting vessel hulls and grit allowed to enter Joe Ney and South Slough waters which potentially impacts to South Slough and Joe Ney Estuary, especially fish and shellfish. There are also potential impacts to workers and “ecological receptors” (e.g., amphibians, birds, small mammals) from upland soil contamination.

The Port completed the Remedial Investigation in September 1999. Feasibility Study was approved by DEQ in October 2000. Draft Staff Report with a recommended remedial action was developed for public comment in spring 2001. Record of Decision signed June 2001. Remedial Action implemented during summer and fall 2001. Remedial Action Report approved 12/01 by DEQ. The Port has implemented Best Management Practices (BMPs) at the site. Note that this site was one of three shipyard sites in Coos Bay for which EPA signed a Superfund listing deferral agreement with DEQ in Dec 1998.

From conversation with DEQ’s Greg Aitken:
Historic site contamination cleanup status is currently under review by DEQ and Port officials. Looking forward to closing this case (possibly in 2013) with an issuance of “no further action” letter as site cleanup is nearly complete.

Coos Bay Area Sediment Contamination

From the DEQ Environmental Cleanup Site Information Database

In the late 1980s, surface water and sediment samples were collected in portions of Coos Bay after thickened, ball-shaped pacific oysters were observed in the bay. The deformities were attributed to the presence of tributyltin (TBT) in the ecosystem. Sampling found TBT at low concentrations in sediments throughout the bay, and at high levels in the vicinity of five shipyards. Trace metals, polynuclear aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs), and Polychlorinated biphenyl (PCBs) were also detected throughout the bay. DEQ and EPA identified the five shipyards as potential sources of the contamination. Preliminary Assessments and Site Inspections were completed at four of the shipyards in 1997. (The fifth shipyard removed its contaminated sediments under DEQ oversight.) More than half of the sediment samples collected at the four shipyards during the PA/SIs had concentrations of TBT, metals, PAHs, and/or PCBs at levels that could harm fish and wildlife. The manner and timing of these contaminant releases are presumably past practices from cleaning or repairing ships.

Status of Investigative or Remedial Action: DEQ worked in 1998 with all four shipyards to investigate and clean up the observed contamination. However, DEQ believes that there may be other sources or areas that need to be investigated and/or cleaned up before the sediment contamination in the bay can be adequately addressed. If additional sources are identified, DEQ will work with those responsible to investigate and clean up the contamination.

From conversation with DEQ’s Seth Sadofsky:
Two of the shipyards referred to above are in the project area. One is the Oregon International Port of Coos Bay’s Charleston Shipyard (see summary of contaminant issues and current status above) and the other is Kelly Boat Works which received a “no further action necessary” letter from DEQ in 2000. The other three are Hillstrom’s, Mid-Coast marine, and Southern Oregon Marine. Legacy contaminants cleanup status for these three shipyards: remediation ongoing or pending further DEQ review.

National Aquatic Resource Surveys Summary: Coos Bay

Stream and estuarine contamination have been recently summarized in a document developed by DEQ through from their participation in the Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) National Aquatic Resource Survey program (Draft National Aquatic Resource Surveys Summary, Coos Bay, Oregon, April 2012).

The document summarizes a variety of historical stream monitoring programs in the Coos Basin and provides an assessment of stream condition based on water temperature, sediment characteristics, and macroinvertebrate assemblages.

The document reports a wide range of contaminants have been detected in sediments and fish tissues sampled in Coos Bay and associated streams. Although carbon and nitrogen are natural components, elevated carbon/nitrogen ratios (C/N; indicative of above-average terrestrial carbon in stream bed and estuarine sediments, generally from human activities) are indicative of degraded habitat and were found in 20 of 67 sites (including all 3 sites sampled in South Slough during 2002). In addition, total organic carbon (TOC) was reported in the “poor” range for sediments in 2 Coos Basin sites and as “fair” for 5 others.

Heavy metals were detected in sediments at all 67 Coos Basin sites sampled between 1999 and 2006. Of these, 39 (58%) had copper, chromium, arsenic, and/or nickel levels exceeding NOAA’s “Effects Range-Low” designation (ERL; defined as “the level below which adverse effects are thought to rarely occur”). In South Slough, levels of these metals at three sites (nickel and chromium at Joe Ney Slough and Brown’s Cove; nickel at Collver Point) were in excess of the ERL, as were levels of arsenic near the mouth of Coos Bay. Nine Basin sites (13%) had nickel concentrations in excess of the “Effects Range-Median” (ERM; the “levels at above which adverse effects frequently occur”). While the DEQ document does not define “adverse effects” nor list potentially affected organisms, the survey reports heavy metal detection in fish tissues at 21 sites (including the mouth of Coos Bay and South Slough’s Younker Point and Valino Island; the fish species are not included). For more information about ERL and ERM values see Long et al. 1995, WA DOE 1995, and NOAA 1999.

A wide range of pesticides were detected in low (“unquantifiable”) amounts in a total of 29 Coos Basin sites (43%), including South Slough’s Joe Ney Slough, Collver Point, and Brown’s Cove. DDT was detected in 22 sites (33%), but locations are unspecified in the report. Pesticides were found in fish tissues at 13 sites (19%), including samples from the mouth of Coos Bay and Younker Point in South Slough. It should be noted that these data are still being interpreted by Oregon Department of Environmental Quality staff so they should be considered provisional at this stage.

Polynuclear aromatic hydrocarbons (PAH) originate from human activities such as the incomplete burning of gasoline, oil, and other hydrocarbons and are a common pollutant near urban areas globally; PAHs were detected in Coos Basin sediments at 35 sites (52%), 7 of these exceeding ERL. Detectable levels of PAH (but below ERL) were found at the mouth of Coos Bay and in South Slough near Charleston Harbor, Joe Ney Slough, Collver Point, and Brown’s Cove. Although its manufacture was banned in 1979, polychlorinated biphenyl (PCB) was detected in sediments at 40 sites (60%, including the mouth of Coos Bay and at all South Slough sites except Younker Point) and in fish tissues at 14 sites (30%, including the mouth of Coos Bay and Younker Point), illustrating the persistence of this chemical in the environment.

According to the DEQ’s modeling of stream macroinvertebrate data (distilled from a variety of surveys conducted from 1998-2007), 54% of sampled streams in the South Coast Basin were in a “least disturbed” condition, while 36% were considered “most disturbed,” based on comparison with macroinvertebrate assemblages in reference streams in the ecoregion. Only Winchester Creek was sampled in the Partnership Project area and was included in the “most disturbed” category. Temperature stress contributed to a “poor” designation in 34% of streams, but “good” for 62% (Winchester Creek considered “fair”); stress attributed to fine sediments gave a “poor” designation to 41% (including Winchester Creek) and “good” for 26% of sampled streams. These designations describe shifts in habitat availability for both fishes and their prey, and directly affect the ecology of Oregon’s streams.

Literature Cited
Long, E. R., D. D. McDonald, S. L. Smith, and F. D. Calder. 1995. Incidence of adverse biological effects within ranges of chemical concentrations in marine and estuarine sediments. Environmental Management 19(1):81-97.

National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA). 1999. Sediment quality guidelines developed for the National Status and Trends Program retrieved from

Washington Department of Ecology (WA DOE). 1995. Chapter 173-204 WAC Sediment management standards retrieved from