State, federal and local officials delve into mystery of missing chemical containers at Ontario Municipal Airport

Officials are still trying to figure out what happened to containers containing hazardous chemicals that vanished from the Ontario Municipal Airport in December. (The Enterprise/PAT CALDWELL).

ONTARIO – City, state and federal officials are trying to untangle a mystery involving 24 containers of hazardous chemicals that disappeared from a work site at the Ontario Municipal Airport sometime between September and December.

The plastic jugs were discovered at the former operation site of Beck’s Spray Services Inc. at the airport in the wake of a city investigation last spring.

City officials said an investigation last year triggered by complaints regarding air safety aimed at Clyde Esplin, a pilot of Beck’s Spray Services Inc., found “difficulties with compliance” regarding airport rules and federal standards for aerial applicators, said Adam Brown, Ontario city manager.

Records obtained by the Enterprise through a public records request show that city officials also discovered evidence of pesticide contamination in the soil at the Beck’s site.

The city last June terminated its lease with Beck’s and reported the contamination to the state Department of Environmental Quality not long after, according to Brown

The city then found containers – some of which officials believed contained hazardous chemicals – at the former Beck’s site after the lease termination.

In early August, the state asked the EPA for help to remove the pesticides, said Laura Gleim, a DEQ public affairs specialist.

Officials with the EPA arrived in September to inspect the site and discovered 40 containers and three barrels.

Of the containers – essentially jugs containing pesticides – 24 contained hazardous pesticides, said Bill Dunbar, public affairs specialist for the EPA’s Region 10.

Dunbar said the EPA also found two 55-gallon drums and a 30-gallon drum.

During the September visit, EPA and DEQ inspectors catalogued and segregated the 40 containers and drums and then placed them in a containment structure – essentially a rectangular concrete tub protected by a 24-inch wall – at the airport.

The plan was for the EPA to return to cart the containers and drums away for disposal.When an EPA crew arrived Dec. 13, they discovered all 40 containers had vanished. Neither Esplin, who is in the process of purchasing Beck’s Spray Service, nor Greg Beck, the owner of Beck’s Spray Service, said they know anything about jugs of pesticides.

“I haven’t seen them in Ontario. We were long gone,” said Esplin.

Brown said officials are looking through its surveillance camera system to find clues.

“But we haven’t found anything,” said Brown.

The EPA removed the three drums and transported them to Portland. Later, said Dunbar, the drums were sent to Utah to be incinerated.

“I am aware that the EPA was there, digging around. But I don’t know what they were looking for or what they lost,” said Esplin.

Greg Beck said he “doesn’t know anything about barrels of pesticides.”

“The only barrels that were left were oil barrels and I have no idea where they came from,” said Beck.

Esplin said he didn’t know “what was left there or what was there.”

“For all we know, someone planted them after we were gone. It is another example of how the city behaves. That’s an airport security issue and an airport mismanagement issue,” said Esplin.

The DEQ is “assessing the next steps for the missing containers,” said Gleim.

“We are working in partnership with EPA and will use any information they provide but DEQ is leading this work,” said Gleim.

Gleim said the state knows “that Beck’s Spray Service abandoned the pesticides at the airport. We don’t know who removed them from the site.”

Brown said the city is not planning any further action on the issue.

“We are just being cooperative if the EPA asks for stuff. We just don’t have any interest in doing anything with it. We are putting it behind us and looking forward,” said Brown.

News tip? Contact reporter Pat Caldwell at [email protected].

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