Baker County Health Department renovtions.jpg

Renovations were in progress Dec. 30, 2020, at the Baker County Health Department. The Oregon Department of Environmental Quality has fined the county $8,400 for improper removal of vinyl flooring that contains asbestos. Baker County is appealing the penalty.

BAKER COUNTY — Baker County government faces a state environmental penalty of $8,400 for improper removal of vinyl flooring that contains asbestos.

The county has not paid the fine from the Oregon Department of Environmental Quality and is appealing the matter, County Commissioner Bruce Nichols said Thursday, May 6.

Asbestos is a carcinogen, and its fibers can cause lung cancer, mesothelioma and asbestosis. State law requires people who remove materials containing asbestos to have an asbestos abatement license.

The case involves work in August 2020 in preparation for renovations in the building at 2200 Fourth St., Baker City.

The county bought the building in August 2020 from New Directions Northwest for $500,000. The 5,000-square-foot building was constructed in 1970. That building now houses the Baker County Health Department.

County Commission Chairman Bill Harvey, who is a building contractor, said he did the demolition work the DEQ cites in its notice of civil penalty and assessment to the county. But he denies the agency’s claims the building materials he removed contained asbestos.

According to DEQ documents, around Aug. 10, 2020, workers began removing about 280 square feet of vinyl flooring, cutting it into sections and putting the material into a dumpster outside the building. The flooring was taken to the Baker Sanitary Service landfill southeast of town Sept. 1, 2020.

On Oct. 7, 2020, according to DEQ records, an accredited inspector collected samples of the vinyl flooring from inside the Fourth Street building, and an analysis showed both layers of flooring and a layer beneath the flooring contained asbestos.

According to DEQ, from Nov. 16-26, 2020, a licensed asbestos abatement contractor, hired by the county, removed the remaining vinyl flooring from the Fourth Street building and properly disposed of the material.

The work the county did without a license or having a certified contractor qualified as an “asbestos abatement project” under Oregon administrative rule because removing the flooring had the potential to release asbestos fibers into the air.

In an unrelated penalty in Baker County, DEQ issued another $8,400 fine for water pollution against a Salem company operating a mine near the Burnt River.

DEQ fined K&E Excavating Inc., which owns the High Bar mine along Pine Creek about 6 miles northeast of Hereford, for releasing about 2,000 gallons of wastewater from a mine pond into the Burnt River in southern Baker County in December 2020.

The company has a permit to operate wastewater treatment ponds at the mine, according to DEQ documents, but the permit prohibits releasing water from the ponds.

Baker County notified DEQ about the wastewater discharge Dec. 3, 2020, according to records. Kieran O’Donnell, manager of DEQ’s Office and Compliance and Enforcement, said the company has appealed the fine.

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