Colin Green: Portland Copywriter, Publisher

Public Relations Journalism: State Dept. of Transportation



To get word out in short order inform­ing the pub­lic about heath con­di­tions in the wake of severe flooding.



Environmental Impacts of Flooding on State Highways


The Dec. 3 storm scattered all manner of debris in its wake. Hazardous materials among the flotsam and waste are causing or threatening environmental damage. It's a devastating mess in need of clean up.


WSDOT maintenance crews are responsible for clearing the highways and associated rights of way. Crew members have been working extended hours and days off in order to clear these areas. In Lewis County, WSDOT recruited assistance from as far as Morton and Kelso.



Hazardous Landscape

As a result of up to eight feet of floodwater in Lewis County, the landscape is plagued with cargo bins, mud, barrels, trash, animal carcasses, and even parts of buildings. An entire porch dislodged from a house rests on the I-5 shoulder. As dramatic as this scene is, environmental concerns tend to lie inconspicuously amongst the disaster.


Industrial-grade toxic substances in oil barrels, hazardous material drums, and plastic containers are strewn about the area. Many of these materials originated from local industry. Some of them have come to rest in drainage ditches, where they leak chemicals. These containers may no longer display labels.


Household items, such as cleaners and fix-it materials, can also cause environmental damage, and pose a danger to the unsuspecting. Environmental concerns are not limited to chemicals. Sewage treatment in the area was compromised. Manure and other waste from livestock was dispersed by flood water. Dead animals, both domestic and wild, are putrefying.


Cleanup Efforts

WSDOT maintenance have a complicated job. Clean up requires workers to identify, sort, recover and dispose of waste materials. Clearly marked objects are being returned to their owners. Orphaned items are being taken in dump trucks to the landfill. Unidentified substances are transported to WSDOT maintenance centers, where the content is analyzed for toxicity and danger. Hazardous materials are either being taken to the HazMat facility, or are temporarily stored until appropriate disposal can be arranged.


Clean up crew members are at risk of contamination, making protective gear a necessity. Heavy machinery, such as excavation equipment, is used when protective gear isn't sufficient. For instance, excavators are used to remove trapped objects from ditches.


The severity of the Dec. 3 storm flooding has ramifications for the health of humans, plants and animals. Environmental agencies are addressing these issues. Meanwhile, WSDOT maintenance crews are doing their best to clear and make safe those areas under WSDOT jurisdiction, and expect to complete the clean up by the end of January, 2008.