Authorities release new information on hazardous materials at Oso landslide

by: Linzi Sheldon Updated:

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OSO, Wash. - Authorities at the Oso landslide said Friday that the threats of hazardous materials in the debris field are not as serious as crews initially feared.

Early on, crews described the site as a "witch's brew" containing items from septic tanks and propane to household cleaning chemicals.

"Imagine all the household chemicals in your home, stirred up, poured out," U.S. Army Major Bill Pola said.

After digging, surveying, and testing the air for vapors, they said it's not as bad as originally thought.

"We now understand that the hazards, the chemical hazards and the biological hazards, are not as great as we were concerned," Dick Walker, with the Washington Department of Ecology's Spill Response Team, said.

Decontamination, including hosing and scrubbing down, is still required, but officials are not finding high concentrations of hazardous materials.

"Whatever we had was diluted in over a million cubic yards of dirt," FEMA's Dr. Rich Bradley said.

Officials took camera crews to the edge of the massive slide.

Fortunately, the slide pushed the chemicals away from the river and buried septic tanks deeper. But it flooded and contaminated wells and tossed around flammable propane tanks.

"We're removing those tanks as we find them," Walker said.

Dogs trained to find remains headed out with special task forces from California and New York on Friday to join the search efforts.

Officials say the safety and health of their volunteers and workers is the top priority, from injuries to sickness.

"We're watching everybody who comes off the pile, off of the debris field, to see if there's any evidence of an increased rate of disease," Bradley said.

Authorities said they will be looking into the stability of the slope at the site. Once they move out of the emergency phase, they plan to test the soil and study the impact on the Stillaguamish River.