Editorial: Cleanup hits the brakes

Further delay in cleaning up the former railroad yard across the tracks from A Street is frustrating for everyone concerned, but it needn’t be the end of the line for plans to develop the property.
Union Pacific, which acquired the property in the 1990s, wants to divide and sell it for development. The former rail yard closed in 1986 after 100 years of operation.
At issue in the latest delay is benzo(a)pyrene, a polynuclear aromatic hydrocarbon. The chemical, one of the most common industrial contaminants, is produced by the combustion of wood, coal, oil, diesel and other fuels.
The Environmental Protection Agency considers benzo(a)pyrene a human carcinogen, but in new studies completed last year, the agency pronounced it less potent than previously thought, and revised the allowable levels in soil upward.
Cynics should not jump to the conclusion that this was a Trump administration effort to ease restrictions. The research was underway for years, and the EPA’s final assessment was issued last January, as the new administration was taking office.
Because benzo(a)pyrene is often the highest-risk contaminant at industrial sites, looser restrictions should allow projects such as this one to proceed. Union Pacific has asked the Oregon Department of Environmental Quality to declare that no cleanup is needed.
DEQ wants the company to analyze soil at the site for other contaminants first. That’s prudent, although it means more delay.
As long as public health is protected, railroad and DEQ officials should work together to move the project forward.

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