In mid-July, Eugene resident David Nickles was at the canoe landing below the River House on the Willamette River, a stretch of water he visits with his son two or three times a week, when he alleges he saw the city essentially “dumping trash into the river.”
On the normally rocky bank of the Willamette, Nickles witnessed a “pretty bizarre” sight. He says dump trucks were depositing small dunes of sand littered with trash just a few feet away from the water. A friend talked to one of the drivers, who said that the truck was commissioned by the city of Eugene and that the sand was from a fireworks display. Nickles registered a complaint with Oregon’s Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ) on July 21, and after a clean-up and short period of discussion, the city is now determined not to make the mistake again.
Richard Zucker, maintenance supervisor with the Park Operations section of the city’s Parks and Open Space Division, says that the incident, while not fully thought through, was backed by good intentions. The sand had been used by the Active 20-30 Club as fire suppressant for their fireworks display at Alton Baker Park on the Fourth of July.
“In our effort to recycle, we’ve agreed to take that sand and reuse it,” Zucker says. “This year we thought we could use some of that sand on the canoe landing, because over the years, especially during high water periods, a lot of material is washed away.” He says this was the first time the city had done this.
Nickles says that the sand contained small bits of foil, chunks of fuse, plastics and other shrapnel from the fireworks. He points out that fireworks often contain perchlorate, a chemical that, according to the EPA, “can disrupt the thyroid’s ability to produce hormones needed for normal growth and development.”
The city’s plan, Zucker says, was to later spread out the mounds of sand and then pick out any waste. But when Nickles reported the dumping to the DEQ, a representative from the DEQ contacted Zucker’s division and said, though the waste in the sand was not hazardous, it would need to be tested and proved to be “perfectly clean” before it could be dumped next to or in a natural waterway. Rather than go through the process of testing the sand, Zucker’s division decided to gather all the sand back up and dispose of it at a solid waste facility.
Though Nickles was frustrated by having to deal with both the DEQ and the city to handle the situation, he says that he approved of the cleanup: “There was hardly a trace of it left.”
Zucker says that this scenario will not be repeated. “We thought we were doing something that was environmentally responsible, but not according to state regulations,” Zucker says. “So now we’ve changed our practices.”