EPA removes toxic chemicals, debris in CZU fire zone

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SANTA CRUZ COUNTY, Calif. (KRON) – Phase one of a 2-step fire debris removal program is underway in Boulder Creek, among the hardest-hit areas of the 86-thousand acre CZU Lighting Complex Fire Zone.

Equipped with extreme PPE, a team from the Environmental Protection Agency is combing through the rubble at what’s left of a home in search of residue from household chemicals and other potentially hazardous materials, says the EPA’s Jeremy Johnstone.

“Cleaning chemicals under the sink, things in the garage, paints, thinners, fuels, propane bottles, fertilizers, pesticides, batteries,” Johnstone listed.

The crew has a device to detect radiation, carbon monoxide, and other gases. Most of the potentially hazardous materials were incinerated by the fire. But easily moved items are immediately removed while other potentially hazardous items are marked with paint for later disposal by other crews the second phase of the operation.

“We’re not digging around for stuff. This is things that can be grabbed without the use of heavy equipment or moving obstacles out of our way,” Johnstone explained.

In some cases, authorities may require that contaminated soil beneath all that rubble be removed. Still, other crews are assessing the potential for toxics fouling the surrounding watershed ahead of winter rains.

“Toxic metals in particular can leak into the soils. So typically phase two will include removal of some soil,” Johnstone said.

The EPA plans to inspect around 900 properties in San Cruz and San Mateo counties over the next two months.

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