JOSEPH, Ore. — Is Agent Orange at the bottom of Wallowa Lake in Eastern Oregon? The Environmental Protection Agency says no.
Last summer, the diving group Blue Mountain Divers were swimming along the lake's bottom when they came across a barrel with the label for weed killer on it. The group contacted the Department of Environmental Quality, who then turned it over to the EPA due to a lack of funding and resources to remove them.
When divers uncovered the label, which was covered in sediment, they noticed it said "Contains 2-4 D or 2, 4, 5-T Weed Killer," the two ingredients used to make the Agent Orange herbicide.
Agent Orange was a tactical herbicide manufactured for the military during the Vietnam War. It uses an equal mixture of both 2-4 D and 2, 4, 5-T at a high concentration. The EPA and Oregon's DEQ notes that the label says "or," meaning the barrel divers found does not contain both chemicals, if at all.
The two agencies also said Agent Orange was never produced commercially.
In total, Blue Mountain Divers located 37 barrels. It's unknown what's inside any of the barrels, including the one with the weed killer label. That is making it difficult to remove them.
"We still don't have enough information to know what condition they're in. Whether they contain herbicides or not, it's a fairly challenging thing to do at depth in cold water," said EPA spokesman Bill Dunbar. "They have to be very, very careful in the off chance they do have herbicide and we have to be very careful as well. It's not a matter of just wrapping a chain around them and yanking them up. You have to be very cautious."
So far, the EPA has located 18 barrels near the marina of Wallowa Lake using a remote.
Wallowa Lake is the main water source for the city of Joseph, a town of over 1,000 people in Northeast Oregon. The last test done in June of 2018 showed no signs of the chemical 2-4 D, but did not test 2, 4, 5 D. The EPA said samples taken this past week will test for both chemicals and those results should be available next week.
There is a meeting to update the community scheduled for June 25 in Joseph.