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Chemical spills baffle treatment plant crews

MEDFORD — Two serious chemical spills in less than a week have officials at the wastewater treatment plant baffled and concerned that more could follow.

The latest toxic spill sent several gallons of solvent into the Regional Water Reclamation Facility on Kirtland Road, prompting workers to divert and dispose of the liquid.

"The solvent was of a nature that it would break down in the pipes on the way to the treatment plant," Medford Public Works Director Cory Crebbin said. "That means it had to come from an area close to the facility."

Tuesday's incident was the second dangerous spill to enter the plant.

On April 28, nearly 1,000 gallons of a mysterious oily liquid came pouring into the plant.

Quick-thinking workers were able to divert the flow and have collected the liquid into 250-gallon containers. The liquid, a combination of diesel fuel, gear oil and solvent used to clean automobile parts, will be disposed of as toxic waste, Crebbin said.

Had that spill reached the Rogue River, it would have been an environment catastrophe because it would have destroyed the bacteria used to break down raw sewage before it enters the river. The damage would have spread for several miles downstream, Crebbin said.

The flow most likely originated from the Jacksonville, west Medford or Central Point area. It did not originate from a residential garage because of the large amount of liquid.

The responsible parties for both spills could pay a fine issued by the Department of Environmental Quality and also might face the cost of cleanup by the wastewater treatment facility, Crebbin said.

It is rare that the facility would handle spills of these sizes once per year, much less twice in less than a week, Crebbin said.

"I can count the number of times we've had these types of spills on one hand, and I've been here 10 years," Crebbin said.

City officials are hoping someone with knowledge of the spill will contact authorities. Anyone who has information is asked to call the water reclamation facility at 774-2750.

Reach reporter Chris Conrad at 776-4471; or e-mail cconrad@mailtribune.com.