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The Bonneville Power Administration (BPA) Ross Complex in Vancouver, Washington, is anactive power distribution facility that coordinates the distribution of hydroelectric power to areasthroughout the Pacific Northwest. During the course of past operations, various heavy metals, aswell as organic and inorganic compounds, were used and improperly disposed of into trenchesand storm drains. Contamination of soils, water, and air resulted.

The site was placed on the National Priorities List (NPL) in November 1989 because volatileorganic compounds (VOCs) were detected in groundwater beneath the site and the site was closeto the city of Vancouver's drinking water supply. The site was characterized to determine theamount and extent of contamination. During the characterization process, the site was dividedinto Operable Unit A (OUA) for surface contamination and Operable Unit B (OUB) forsubsurface contamination.

The investigation of OUA revealed that surface soils were contaminated with heavy metals,volatile and semivolatile organic compounds, and chlorinated solvents at concentrations ofpublic health concern. In the past, the site represented a health hazard because of the exposures that on-siteworkers encountered. ATSDR believes that these workers came in contact with surface soilsdermally and throughincidental ingestion orinhalation of dusts. Current and future exposure tosurface contamination is limited to the Ross Substation & Capacitor Yard, the CapacitorTestingLaboratory, and Wood Pole Storage East areas, which have not yet been cleaned up. Contaminants inthese areas include polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs), polycyclic aromatichydrocarbons (PAHs), and pentachlorophenol (PCP). Short-term inhalation exposure to thesechemicals could result in irritation to the eyes, nose, or skin. Remedial actions in the CapacitorYard and the Wood Pole Storage East areas are scheduled for cleanup in September 1994. Thecontamination in the Ross Substation and the Capacitor Testing Laboratory is scheduled forcleanup in 1995 thereby eliminating the exposure potential.

The investigation of OUB identified groundwater contaminated with heavy metals andvolatileorganic compounds (VOCs) in a shallow perched water table and a deep aquifer on site. Thedeep aquifer is the main source of drinking water for the city of Vancouver as well as for thecomplex itself. Contamination detected at the city's groundwater well station, southwest of thecomplex, was attributed to a source other than the Ross Complex. A number of private wells inthe site vicinity are being used as sources of water; however, they are not expected to be affectedby contamination from the Ross Complex because of the direction of groundwater flow. Therefore, ATSDR believes that the site poses noapparent public health hazard.

Members of the community have expressed concerns regarding the safety of the site, effects ofoperations and remedial activities on air quality off site, and the impact the site has had ondrinking water in the vicinity of the complex. There are no community-specific health outcomedata to indicate that the site has had an adverse impact on human health.

Follow-up health actions are not indicated at this time; however, if additional informationbecomes available, ATSDR will evaluate the data and determine whether any actions are needed.


A. Site Description and History

Environmental Setting

The Bonneville Power Administration's (BPA) Ross Complex is in the northernmost part ofthecity of Vancouver, Clark County, Washington. The Ross Complex comprises 235 acres and lieson a terrace east of U.S. Highway 99 and north of State Highway 500. The complex isapproximately 3 miles north of the Columbia River and 2 miles east of Vancouver Lake. Figure1 in Appendix A shows the site's location in relation to the surrounding communities.

Two streams lie adjacent to the site, Cold Creek on the north and Burnt Bridge Creek to thesouthwest and west. Both streams receive surface runoff from the site. Cold Creek has arelatively steep gradient along the northern edge of the site, dropping 150 feet in elevation in lessthan a mile (1). The creek flows approximately 1,700 feet along the siteboundary before itenters a culvert that runs below the Cold Creek Landfill. Upstream from the landfill, numerousseeps occur along the length of the creek bank, within the site boundary. Cold Creek flows intoBurnt Bridge Creek approximately one-half mile west of the site. Burnt Bridge Creek continuesto flow into Vancouver Lake, which discharges into the Columbia River. Regional and sitegeologic information indicate that Cold Creek is fed by perched groundwater, which supplementsthe baseflow of the creek (2). The perched water zones are formed bylayers of sediment abovethe aquifer, which trap the flow of rain and irrigation water. Burnt Bridge Creek recharges thegroundwater in the vicinity of the site during the summer months (1).

Groundwater is present beneath the site in two shallow perched water tables and a deepaquifer. The depth to the shallow perched groundwater varies across the site from 10 feet or less at theeastern side of the site to greater than 70 feet in the central portion of the site (3). The perchedwater tables are absent west of the Capacitor Testing Laboratory (6). The perched water is notused as a source of potable water. Groundwater flow in the perched water table is northwesttowards Cold Creek.

The deep aquifer, known as the Troutdale aquifer, is approximately 150 feet below thegroundsurface and is the primary supply of public and private drinking water for the Vancouver area. Groundwater flowin the deep aquifer is toward the southwest. The permeability of the upper Troutdale aquiferformation beyond the site ranges from 15 to 200 feet/day (4).

Site Operations

The BPA has owned and operated the active facility since 1939. As one of the U.S.Departmentof Energy's five power marketing agencies, BPA is responsible for transmitting hydroelectricpower, generated from the Columbia River, throughout the Pacific Northwest and selling powerto agencies in California and Canada. The Ross Complex is also a major research facility fortesting and evaluating electrical transmission equipment.

Laboratory research and testing at the Ross Complex focuses on the durability of electricalsubstation and transmission equipment under variable conditions. Another activity at thecomplex is the training of crews to assemble and repair high-voltage transmission lines, whichare essential for BPA's transmission network to be functional. Laboratory research and testinginvolve the use of hazardous materials, which have included heavy metals, transformer oilscontaining polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs), pentachlorophenol, and polycyclic aromatichydrocarbons (PAHs).

Maintenance activities involve repairing transformers, bushings, and other transmissiondevicesand storing treated wooden transmission poles and transformer oils containing PCBs. Theseactivities require handling organic compounds, paints, solvents, and oils. PCB mixtures, alsoknown by their industrial trade name Aroclor, have been used as coolants and lubricants intransformers, capacitors, and other electrical equipment (4). Thecomplex has an on-site PCBstorage facility that houses transformers, capacitors, and tanks containing PCB-laden oils atconcentrations greater than 50 parts per million (ppm). Used oils from these devices are sold toout-of-state firms, and those that contain PCB concentrations greater than 500 ppm areincinerated at licensed facilities out of state. No rewinding of motors or rebuilding oftransformers is performed on site.

Site History

Past disposal practices consisted of burying metal materials in trenches without liners anddumping solvents into storm drains. Past aerial photographs and site records confirm that an areaknown as the Fog Chamber Dump was used to dispose of used capacitors, solvent canisters, glassinsulators, and wooden pallets (6). A trench near thesouthwestern edge of the site was used during the testing of an undersea cable project and mighthold a pipe containing lead cable and highly refined oils.

A former employee stated that, from 1970 to 1972, he was instructed to dump approximately10gallons per week of 1,1,1-trichloroethane (TCA), a volatile organic compound (VOC), into stormdrains (5).

In January 1985, the Washington State Department of Ecology sent BPA a notice of violationforan October 1984 discharge of 100 gallons of non-PCB transformer oil into Cold Creek, the creekthat borders the northern section of the complex.

In March 1988, the City of Vancouver Public Works Department identified VOCs ingroundwater from wells in three Municipal Water Stations, Nos. 1, 3, and 4. VOCs were alsodetected in groundwater beneath the Ross Complex during the same time period. As a result, theRoss Complex was proposed for listing on the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA)National Priorities List (NPL) in July 1989 and was placed on the list in November of the sameyear because of the presence of VOCs in groundwater and the site's proximity to the City ofVancouver's Water Station No. 3. Water Station No. 3 is located approximately three-fourths ofa mile to 1 mile southwest of the Ross Complex.

(Water Station No. 4 was proposed for the EPA NPL in July 1991 [CERCLIS No.WAD9888475159] and listed during October 1992. In March 1993, the Washington StateDepartment of Health, under a cooperative agreement with ATSDR, prepared a public healthassessment for Water Station No. 4.)

As a result of the NPL listing, BPA officials were required by the ComprehensiveEnvironmental Response, Compensation, and Liability Act (CERCLA) to perform aRemedial Investigation (RI)and a Feasibility Study (FS) of the site to characterize the site contamination and evaluateremedial action alternatives. The investigations were conducted for the Ross Complex and theDepartment of Energy by Dames & Moore, Seattle, Washington. To facilitate the process,thesite was divided into operable units A and B. Operable Unit A (OUA) addresses surfacecontamination, which includes surface soils, sediments, surface water, and air. Operable Unit B(OUB) addresses contamination of subsurface soils, groundwater, and additional surface waterand sediment not covered in the OUA investigation.

The RI for OUA was initiated in May 1991 and was finished in May 1992. It identified 21on-site areas with potential contamination of surface soils. The 21 areas were grouped into sevenwaste units. A brief description of each waste unit is in Appendix B. Figure 2 inAppendix A indicates the location of each waste unit.

The FS for OUA was completed in July 1992. During the summer of 1992, all but three ofthecontaminated areas in OUA were remediated. Approximately 2,200 tons of soil were removedand disposed of at two out-of-state landfills that are licensed to accept hazardous waste. Thethreeareas that have yet to be remediated in OUA are the Ross Substation & Capacitor Yard(RS&CY), the Capacitor Testing Laboratory (CTL), and the Wood Pole Storage East(WPSE)area. A Record of Decision (ROD) for OUA, which presents the selected remedial actions forthe three areas, was signed on May 6, 1993. The WPSE is scheduled to begin enhancedbioremediation in September 1994. Bioremediation involves adding specific types of bacteria(naturally occurring in the soil) to the soil; the bacteria break down the hazardous chemicals inthe soils. The process is enhanced through the use of ultraviolet light. The RS&CY isscheduledfor complete removal of equipment and contaminated soil in fiscal year 1995. Also in 1995, theCTL contamination will be excavated and removed.

The RI for OUB began in May 1991 and was completed in March 1993. The FS for OUBwasfinished in July 1993. The ROD for OUB was signed on September 29, 1993. The WashingtonState Department of Ecology identified the Washington State Department of Transportationmotor pool, which is directly adjacent to Water Station No. 3, as the source of the groundwatercontamination (6).

Table 1 lists the previous investigations that were performed todetermine the types of waste present and the extent of contamination.

Table 1.

Previous Investigations
4/86 Preliminary Assessment
7/88 Site Investigation by Battelle
5/89 Soil-Gas Survey and Groundwater Quality Assessment by Weston
11/89 Preliminary Hydrogeologic Investigation by Dames & Moore
4/90 Vancouver Well Field Special Study by Ecology & Environment
5/92 Remedial Investigation Report, Operable Unit A, by Dames & Moore
8/92 Removal Action Closure Report by Dames & Moore
3/93 Remedial Investigation Report, Operable Unit B, by Dames &Moore

B. Site Visit

ATSDR representatives visited the Ross Complex on March 31 and April 1, 1992. Ameetingwas held on March 31, 1992, with representatives from the Ross Complex, the Washington StateDepartment of Ecology, and Dames & Moore, the firm contracted to do the remedialactions. Topics discussed included the activities that have resulted in on-site contamination, scheduledremedial actions, and any known community health concerns.

During the site visit, ATSDR personnel also met with officials from the SouthwestWashingtonHealth District and the City of Vancouver Public Works Department to gather any relevant healthor environmental data. Site-specific health outcomedata were not available, but environmentalsampling data were available for ATSDR staff members to review.

While touring the site, ATSDR personnel observed that a public road, NE Ross Street, whichconnects Highway 99 and a residential neighborhood, runs through the site. A proposal has beendrawn up to reroute NE Ross Street, which will allow for additional site security and improvetraffic circulation. The proposal is subject to review and approval by the city of Vancouver andClark County and must include an Environmental Impact Statement as required by theWashington State Environmental Policy Act.

The site is fenced around the perimeter except for the area where NE Ross Street and NE15th Avenue enter the site. The grounds are monitored by security guards. The Ellen Davis trailruns through and adjacent to the site. Drums of waste were stored outside the herbicide andhazardous waste storage area near the Ellen Davis trail, which runs directly above and behind thestorage area. The hazardous waste storage area was used for storing degreasing solvents,pentachlorophenol, and inorganic acids (4). Wastes areno longer stored outside the herbicide and hazardous waste storage area.

BPA has a new on-site hazardous materials storage facility, which will consolidate hazardouswaste and improve the storage and handling of hazardous materials. The facility will be atemporary storage area, and no treatment or disposal will occur on site.

Most of the site is either paved or covered with grass. However, a considerable amount ofdustwas generated because of the barren soil in the sandblasting area. The contaminated soil hassince been removed from this area.

Workers have access to all areas on site with the exception of the Ross Substation andCapacitorYard and the Cold Creek fill, which are fenced and are accessible only through locked gates. ATSDR personnel observed a jogger running within site boundaries near the northeastern portionof the site, but it is not known whether he was a worker or a nearby resident. When ATSDR staffmembers toured the residential neighborhoods, they observed that most of the residents havevegetable gardens.

An ATSDR representative attended a BPA public meeting on September 2, 1992, to gathercommunity concerns and information about remedial actions performed during the previous 2months. These concerns are addressed in the CommunityHealth Concerns Evaluation section of this public health assessment. ATSDRrepresentatives also attended a BPA sponsored publicmeeting on July 8, 1993 to gather concerns, but no health related concerns were voiced.

C. Demographics, Land Use, and Natural Resource Use


The area surrounding the Ross Complex includes the city of Vancouver and the two smallercommunities of Hazel Dell and Minnehaha. Vancouver and Minnehaha are located south of thesite and have a combined population of 44,450; Hazel Dell, to the north, has a population ofapproximately 15,550 (7).

About 22,000 people live within the area surrounding the site. The area coversapproximately 8square miles with an average of 2,733 persons per square mile (7). Theclosest residence isapproximately 100 yards from the southeastern boundary.

Nearly 95 percent of the population are white; Asians or Pacific Islanders account for 2.3percentof the population. Only 2.2 percent of the population are of Hispanic origin (persons of Hispanicorigin may be of any race). Table 2 presents a breakdown of allethnic groups within the sitevicinity. These percentages are nearly identical to the county averages. A higher percentage ofpersons aged 65and older live within an 8-square-mile radius of the site than in the county, which suggests aconsiderable number of retirees in the site area. There are also fewer persons per household inthe site area than in the county, which is typical of places with higher percentages of elderly (i.e.,older couples tend not to have any children living at home and many are widowed). More than61 percent of all households near the site are owner occupied, which suggests a relativelynontransient population (7).

Approximately 900 workers are employed at the Ross Complex. Many of these workers donotwork exclusively at the complex. The various field stations require maintenance periodically,and many of those employed at the complex work in the control center. Only a small percentageof the workers, less than 10 percent, work in areas that contain hazardous materials (27).

Table 2.

Population Data Table
Total persons 22,049
Total area, square miles 8.067
Persons per square mile 2,733
% Male 48.2
% Female 51.8
% White 94.9
% Black 1.0
% American Indian, Eskimo, or Aleut 1.1
% Asian or Pacific Islander 2.3
% Other races 0.7
% Hispanic origin 2.2
% Under age 10 13.5
% Age 65 and older 15.9

Land Use

Within a mile of the Ross Complex, land is used for residential, industrial, commercial, andtransportation purposes. Residential neighborhoods are adjacent to the southern and easternportions of the Ross Complex. Minnehaha Elementary School and two public parks, Leveritchand Arnold, are located in these neighborhoods. A Burlington Northern Railroad right-of-wayand NE Minnehaha Street lie north of the complex. Along NE Minnehaha Street are a fewresidences, landscaping companies, and a commercial development northwest of the site nearInterstate 5 (I-5). One mile northeast of the site is a commercial and industrial area. West of thesite, across I-5, is another residential area, which includes Franklin, St. James, and Lincoln publicschools. Approximately one-half mile southwest of the site is the Washington State Departmentof Transportation motor pool, which is adjacent to the City of Vancouver Public WorksDepartment Municipal Water Station No. 3.

Natural Resource Use

Surface Water

Burnt Bridge Creek is classified as a Class A stream (3). Accordingto this classification, Burnt Bridge Creek is suitable for water supply, stock watering, fish,wildlife habitat, recreation, andcommerce. Burnt Bridge Creek is used for recreational purposes, fishing, and irrigation (1). Cold Creek has not been classified. A site survey of the Cold Creek habitat indicated that it wasuninhabitable for fish and invertebrates during most of the year because of its low flow rate andits limited ability to support a productive invertebrate food supply for fish (1). No evidence offishing or recreation was observed in either creek during the site visit.


Dames & Moore performed a well inventory for the site vicinity in 1992 and identifiedthefollowing wells within a radius of approximately 2 miles of the site: 52 private residential wells,18 private and public company wells, 17 City of Vancouver Public Works Department municipalwells, and 23 Clark County Public Utility District wells (6). Largecapacity wells are likely to becompleted within the Troutdale aquifer, particularly those constructed west and southwest of thesite (6). Some of the private wells might be completed in the shallowalluvium aquifer or theunconfined Orchards aquifer (6). According to a survey conducted bythe Clark CountyDepartment of Community Development, there are approximately 1,240 private wells in the cityof Vancouver (29).

The Dittmer well is a water supply well that is located on site in the basement of the Dittmercontrol building. The well was constructed so that in the event of a national emergency the sitewould have its own water supply. To date the well has never been used as a source of potablewater.

D. Health Outcome Data

Health outcome data are health data contained in databases such as state tumor registries,birthdefects databases, and vital statistics records. Other specific records, such as hospital andmedical records and records from site-specific health studies, can also be used to evaluate thehealth of a community near a site. Using health outcome databases, it might be possible todetermine whether the occurrence of certain health outcomes is more frequent than expected inClark County, Washington.

The National Cancer Institute and the EPA have produced the Riggan's Mortality Tapes, adatabase that provides a comparison of the number of deaths resulting from a specific cancer typein a specified county and state with the numbers of deaths from the same type of cancer for theentire United States over a period of 30 years, in 10-year increments (8).

Washington State maintains three cancer registries, the Cancer Surveillance System (CSS), theSpokane Central Registry, and the Washington State Cancer Registry. The CSS for the state ismaintained by the Division of Public Health Sciences of the Fred Hutchinson Cancer ResearchCenter under contract to the Surveillance Epidemiology and EndResult (SEER) program of theNational Cancer Institute. The CSS database is the central repository for information on allnewly diagnosed malignancies occurring in 13 counties of northwest Washington; however, thisdatabase and the Spokane Central Registry do not have cancer health outcome data for ClarkCounty or the city of Vancouver. ATSDR staff members also reviewed the childhood cancerincidence study performed by the Southwest Washington Health District.

Health outcome data is evaluated in the Health Outcome Data Evaluation section of thispublic health assessment.


ATSDR obtained concerns of the community pertaining to the Bonneville PowerAdministration Ross Complex at a public meeting held by BPA officials on September 2, 1992. Approximately 35 members of the community attended the meeting. Community concernsfocused on the proposed remedial actions, plans for a hazardous materialstorage facility, potential impact on property values, and public health issues (9).

When ATSDR representatives met with officials from the Southwest Washington HealthDistrict, they were informed that no concerns had been voiced about adverse health effects thatmight be related to the Ross Complex. An ATSDR representative also met with BPA's publicinvolvement coordinator at BPA's Public Involvement Office in Portland, Oregon, to gatherconcerns that might have been voiced before the public meeting. The public concerns raised atthe public meeting and those obtained from the Public Involvement Office are as follows:

  1. If the Fog Chamber Test Area is a dangerous waste area, why isn't it fenced off?
  2. Does the Ross Complex receive hazardous waste from sources off site, and has Bonneville Power met all handling and storage requirements?
  3. Could the foul air from the Wood Pole Storage East area contain concentrations of chemicals that are hazardous to the public's health?
  4. Are digging up the asphalt and remediating the contaminated soils on site going to cause considerable dust generation, possibly leading to migration of contaminants off site?
  5. If groundwater monitoring does show any contamination in Operable Unit B, will site officials be ready to deal with that problem?
  6. Is the drinking water safe? Should the residents take any precautions?

These concerns are addressed in the Community HealthConcerns Evaluation section of thispublic health assessment.

The Bonneville Power Administration Ross Complex Public Health Assessment wasavailablefor publiccomment April 27 - May 28, 1994. Copies of the assessment were placed in theVancouver Regional Library, the Clark Public Utilities Building, and the Vancouver City HallMayor's Office during the comment period. No comments were received.

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