JH Baxter Superfund site continues to operate in Weed

Skye Kinkade
College of the Siskiyous chemistry instructor Jenny Heath demonstrates how contaminated water from the JH Baxter Superfund site is treated with sodium hydroxide to raise the pH, and aluminum sulfate to coagulate particles which can then be filtered with sand and carbon. She shared her knowledge about the water treatment plant at a presentation that was part of the COS Speakers Series on Thursday evening.

Since remediation began at Weed’s JH Baxter & Company Superfund Site in the late 1990s, contaminants have been successfully contained, College of the Siskiyous chemistry instructor Jenny Heath said during COS Speaker Series presentation Thursday night.

Treated water ends up cleaner than what comes out of your tap, Heath told the audience.

She reviewed the history of the site and demonstrated the process by which water is treated. The Environmental Protection Agency plans to continue treatment at the site with the goal of protecting human health and the environment, Heath said.

Prior to cleanup, people faced a health threat if they accidentally ingested, inhaled, or came into direct contact with contaminated groundwater, soil, surface water, sediments or dust.

A Siskiyou County native and Weed High School graduate, Heath analyzed water samples from the site as part of her senior project in 1999. She joined the COS staff in 2008.

The COS speakers series provides a forum for members of the COS faculty and staff to share insights into topics they’re familiar with, said Bill Hirt during his introduction Thursday.

About the Superfund site

About 30 acres in the middle of an approximately 200 acre parcel adjacent to Roseburg Forest Products was heavily contaminated with carcinogenic chemicals once used to treat wood. Contaminants included pentachlorophenol (PCP) and polynuclear aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs) and heavy metals including arsenic, copper, chromium and zinc.

International Paper Company and JH Baxter share most of the remediation burden, with Roseburg and Beazer East Inc. responsible for a small portion of the cleanup costs, which so far totals more than $15 million, said Heath.

Superfund is a program to identify, investigate and clean up uncontrolled or abandoned hazardous waste sites throughout the United States, Heath explained. There are more than 100 such sites in the Pacific Southwest region, which includes California, Nevada, Arizona, Hawaii, and some US territories.

Heath said wood treatment began at the Weed site in 1937, and it wasn’t until 1982 that the North Coast Regional Water Quality Control Board inspected the facility.

She said the EPA proposed the site for inclusion on the National Priorities List in 1984, and it was listed in 1988. In 2002, final construction was complete. JH Baxter still owns the property and leases it to Pacific States Treating. Roseburg still operates a veneer plant adjacent to the Superfund site.


There are several ways remediation is being accomplished, said Heath, including an asphalt cap, storm water ponds, soil excavation, a slurry wall, installation of wells and the treatment plant itself.

Two feet of the most contaminated topsoil was removed and capped with asphalt. The removed soil has been treated, solidified, and double wrapped and is now stored on-site.

As described by Heath:

Surrounding the contamination site an underground slurry wall was constructed to contain groundwater, and more than 20 wells were drilled for sampling.

Storm water ponds capture contaminated water, which is pumped into two storage tanks that are 500,000 gallons each.

From there, the water is pumped to the treatment plant, where sodium hydroxide, aluminum sulfate, sand filters and carbon columns are used to treat and clean the water. It is then analyzed, and if it meets certain standards, the treated water is sprayed into a three-acre field outside the slurry wall.

Water is carefully analyzed prior to its discharge.

Heath demonstrated how the sodium hydroxide and aluminum sulfate are used in a beaker which mimicked the large vats at the treatment plant.

Sodium hydroxide raises the pH of the water, and the aluminum sulfate coagulates particles that can then be filtered out, leaving only clean water.

When it’s done, the water is “cleaner than the water from your tap,” Heath said.

The remaining sludge of contamination is pumped into a filter press, where the water is squeezed out. Dried solids are collected every 90 days and shipped to an EPA certified site for disposal, said Heath.

The dried solids are analyzed, as well as water from wells on site. Arsenic is tested for daily at the plant, and the other contaminants once every other month.

Since 1995, pollutant levels in the incoming water have gone down drastically, Heath said, however, the site will most likely continue to operate indefinitely.

To learn more about the remediation efforts and for documents and reports, go to epa.gov/superfund/ and search JH Baxter.

COS Speaker Series

In the past, Series talks have ranged in topic from alpacas to quantum mechanics, mathematics in elections to the art of taxidermy.

Next month, COS forestry instructor Jim Ostrowski and his wife, Katy, will talk about their recent hike on the John Muir trail.

To learn more about the Series, visit www.siskiyous.edu/speakerseries/ or email speakerseries@siskiyous.edu.