Public hearing will lay out case on cleanup at View-Master site
12/05/02
BEAVERTON -- Environmental cleanup is a touchy subject.

In the case of the former View-Master site in Beaverton, where as many as
25,000 workers drank contaminated groundwater for more than three decades
until 1998, the issue is fraught with emotion.

Managers of the Oregon Department of Environmental Quality's project to
cleanse the water beneath the site where View-Master toys were made say
the plan to spend the next 30 years on the job is typical and acceptable.
But others, many of whom drank the water laced with a degreasing chemical
they say is killing them or relatives, contend the agency is taking the
cheap way out, spending too long on the cleanup and going too far to
accommodate businesses that have operated at the site. They base their
argument on the lack of data about the potential dangers of the chemical,
trichloroethylene, known as TCE.

Both sides state their case tonight at a public hearing that will focus on
the cleanup of the plant, which is just a stone's throw from one of
Washington County's busiest intersections.

TCE is a colorless, liquid solvent classified as a probable human
carcinogen. Drums of degreaser waste including TCE were routinely dumped
on the ground nearby from 1951 to 1980. The practice was common at the
time, though it is now illegal.

Mattel merged with Tyco in 1997 when TCE was no longer used. It ceased
manufacturing at the site in 2000 and vacated the property on Southwest
Hall Boulevard off Oregon 217 in Beaverton in May 2001.

Workers at the plant drank well water contaminated with TCE at levels as
high as 1,600 parts per billion -- 320 times the allowable federal
standard. By comparison, the level of contamination at a Woburn, Mass.,
site made famous in the book and movie "A Civil Action" reached 400 ppb.
The plan, drafted by the state's environmental agency along with the
companies that will pay, proposes spending $3.5 million cleaning up
groundwater contamination over the next 30 years.

Early cleanup efforts are already under way at the 52-acre site. Three
wells pump groundwater to the surface, where it's treated and released
into nearby Fanno Creek. A new agreement, which could take effect by
year's end if approved, will double the pumping rate and add additional
wells.

Under the terms of the DEQ plan, Mattel will pay $405,000 of the $3.45
million cost. The rest will come from other former operators and current
property owners.

The new agreement also stipulates that DEQ will not sue the companies as
long as they hold up their end of the bargain and the agency will defend
the companies if they are sued by a third party for not cleaning up the
site.

The agency will allow water contaminated with TCE at the level of 50 parts
per billion to drain into Fanno Creek.

Critics say that ceiling is unacceptable.

"I want them to make sure that whatever they discharge into Fanno Creek
and the wetlands doesn't have any TCE in it at all," Amanda Evans said. "I
think it's way too dangerous for the public."

Evans founded Victims of TCE Exposure to raise money for a health study of
former View-Master plant workers and to raise awareness of toxic
poisoning. Her father, former View-Master creative director, died of liver
cancer in February.

"No one is drinking water out of Fanno Creek," said Bruce Gilles, the
environmental agency project manager for the site. The federal guidelines
for TCE before it's harmful to fish, he said, is 1,500 ppb. So far, he
said, samples taken from discharge have been under 0.5 parts per billion.
Critics of the DEQ plan say they also are concerned about vapors
accumulating in shops built on or near where workers dumped the TCE. In
1999, the DEQ found low levels of TCE vapors in the Powell's book store
near the site.

However, Gilles said the highest concentrations of TCE vapors found at
Powell's are about a thousand times less carcinogenic than breathing
Portland air.

Part of the problem is that no one really knows how harmful TCE is. The
chemical is termed a probable human carcinogen, but no one has linked it
to cancer, said Michael Heumann, lead epidemiologist on a state study of
the former View-Master workers. The true danger of TCE is not known, he
said, because there has never been a study of people who drank water
contaminated only with the chemical. Patrick Harrington: 503-294-5934;
pharrington@news.oregonian.com
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