Ash pile raises concerns
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The dioxin-laced smoke from the fire drifted over the neighborhoods south of the park. Subsequent tests showed alarmingly high levels of dioxins in the eggs and livestock sampled from the neighboring family farms. BEC’s Mary Muchowski says initially DA’s Office links it to Oroville cogeneration plant
A huge pile of fly ash recently discovered off Hicks Lane in north Chico has raised environmental concerns with the Butte County District Attorney’s Office. The pile, which is larger in length and width than a football field and about 20 feet tall, sits on property owned by MGM Trucking and has been traced to the Pacific Oroville Power Inc. cogeneration plant in Oroville.
For nearly 30 years the cogeneration plant, located in the Highway 70 Industrial Park, has burned bio-fuel in a controlled environment to make
electricity that is then sold to Pacific Gas & Electric—enough to supply power to 20,000 homes. The plant, known as POPI, is owned by New Jersey-based Covanta. When it was first fired up, in 1983, POPI burned wood chips generated from local timber harvests. But as the lumber industry declined, the plant began burning agricultural waste as its fuel supply.
In more recent years it began receiving and burning the waste of demolished buildings trucked here from the Bay Area. Two years ago the Butte County District Attorney’s Office learned of POPI’s new operations when a DA investigator driving past the plant noticed clouds of dust blowing off the piles of fuel and drifting down from the conveyor belt that runs overhead to feed the furnaces.
In a somewhat related matter, the Butte Environmental Council (BEC) is in the process of testing chicken eggs from properties near the Highway 70 Industrial Park. In 2007 the state began looking into a reported high incidence of pancreatic cancer in the Oroville area. In January 2008 the
California Department of Public Health issued a report noting 23 cases of diagnosed pancreatic cancer of Oroville residents between 2004 and 2005.
Though the state has never put its finger on the exact cause, some point to the 1987 fire at the now-closed Koppers wood treatment plant, which sits close to Covanta in the industrial park. The fire burned an estimated 5,000 pounds of granular pentachlorophenol (PCP), a chemical used in the wood-treatment process. The dioxin-laced smoke from the fire drifted over the neighborhoods south of the park.
Subsequent tests showed alarmingly high levels of dioxins in the eggs and livestock sampled from the neighboring family farms. BEC’s Mary Muchowski says initially seven tests were conducted recently on eggs on property within a mile and a half of the park. Results, she said, ranged from .004 parts per trillion of dioxins to 14,7 parts per trillion. Muchowski said that there is no standard threshold in the United States for what’s
considered safe, but generally eggs tested off the store shelf will be removed if they show 1 part per trillion or greater.
BEC, she said, is looking into finding out what the source of the present-day dioxins is, and noted the toxin doesn’t break down.