Barrels marked as containing weed killer to be removed from bottom of pristine Oregon lake

Wallowa Lake, Oregon (Jeff MacDonald/Cox Media Group)
Caption
Wallowa Lake, Oregon (Jeff MacDonald/Cox Media Group)

The slow process of removing 12 100-gallon drums from the bottom of Wallowa Lake has begun in Oregon.

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According to The Oregonian, the barrels were discovered in 2018 by recreational divers. Lisa Anderson found a barrel with "2,4-D or 2,4,5-T Weed Killer" printed on it about 100 feet below the surface. According to the Oregon Department of Environmental Quality, the barrels with that marking mean the barrels could have held either weed killer at one time, not both.

Previous reports had stated that it could have been Agent Orange, a combination of the two herb killers that was used by the military exclusively. The barrels appear to have commercial labels, not military markings, according to the DEQ, in an email to the Cox Media Group National Content Desk.

Ten months later, workers removing the barrels from the lake. The EPA has hired a contractor to first explore the bottom of the lake before removing the barrels, according to The Oregonian.

They are also trying to find out what exactly is contained in the barrels, since similar ones have been filled with rocks and concrete as anchors for floating docks, the DEQ said in a press release.

One of the barrels that was recovered had become rusted and had holes. When it was opened, the drum contained lake water. A second drum was brought to the surface and the EPA is waiting for testing results.

Divers are also testing sediment from the lake bottom, officials said.

The lake's elevation is 4,300 feet and the cold water may affect the recovery of the barrels. Oregon Department of Environmental Quality spokeswoman, Laura Gleim, said that divers may only be able to spend around five minutes in more than 100-foot depth. She also told the Oregonian that divers may not be able to reach the barrels that may be at 140 feet.

Because the lake is the water supply for the nearby city of Joseph, officials announced that the city is using a backup well.

Editor's note: Previous versions of this story had indicated that the barrels held Agent Orange. Officials with the Oregon Department of Environmental Quality said that the barrels may at one time had held one of two components combined to make Agent Orange, but did not contain the controversial military weed killer.