OSO, Snohomish County — Environmental, medical and public-safety experts working at the site of the deadly mudslide said this morning the threat of chemical and biological contamination is minimal.
The amount of hazardous material from the shattered residential neighborhood — such as pesticides, bleach, sewage and propane — has been diluted in the 1 million cubic yards of displaced dirt, the experts said.
The biggest immediate danger is to local residents who get their water from wells, who have been notified their water source must be treated before it can be used, said Dr. Gary Goldbaum of the Snohomish Health District.
Dick Walker, a spill responder from the state Department of Ecology, said tests downriver show that there has been “very, very minimal” chemical or biological contamination of the North Fork of the Stillaguamish River.
He said the slide’s movement actually pushed much of the residential debris away from the riverbank.
The larger danger to the river will be posed by the dirt and mud that have altered the river’s course and will affect salmon fisheries, Walker said. The long-term effect on the ecosystem will not be known for some time, he said.
“We have people watching, and we’re not finding chemicals getting into the river,” Walker said.
Dr. Richard Bradley, FEMA incident support physician, said there have been no health incidents among those working in the debris field other than the usual “pains, sprains, cuts and lacerations.”
All three who spoke at a news conference on the west side of the slide said many of the safety measures and warnings have been the result of an abundance of caution. Walker said their jobs call for them to expect and prepare for the worst.