The most polluted site in Sandpoint and what it’s doing to our water

By Shannon Williamson
Reader Columnist

You know that piece of land on Boyer that sits between the Lake Pend Oreille High School and the railroad tracks? Across from Super One? You probably drive by it all the time and never think twice. That’s the Joslyn Property and it’s super polluted.

The Joslyn Property is the site of “historical wood treating operations”, or in other words, it was a place where telephone poles were preserved with lots of nasty chemicals. Back in 2000, the Idaho Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ) became aware of the presence of pentachlorophenol (PCP), creosote and polyaromatic hydrocarbons (all bad) in the soils and groundwater at the property.

Shannon Williamson.

In 2005, DEQ and Joslyn entered into a Consent Judgement that would set the stage for “clean-up” efforts that continue to this day. I use the term “clean up” loosely. Basically, Joslyn slapped an asphalt cap over the area with the highest level of contamination to prevent physical contact and installed a series of groundwater wells that are monitored on a quarterly basis for chemical contamination.

We at LPOW wondered why surface water (stormwater) monitoring wasn’t part of the “cleanup” plan. After all, the stormwater retention pond on the edge of the property floods over into the street whenever we get a decent rain and makes a beeline for Sand Creek. We were told that according to mathematical models, stormwater runoff wouldn’t make it to Sand Creek. We thought that was ridiculous, so we started our own monitoring efforts.

We’ve been collecting samples from the outfall pipe that collects stormwater from the streets surrounding the Joslyn Property for about a year now and guess what we’ve found! PCP levels as much as 4.5 TIMES the risk-based remedial action target levels (RATLs) for ingestion. By the way, PCP is classified as a probable human carcinogen and is also associated with renal and neurological effects.

This stuff is dumping into Sand Creek where folks are paddle boarding, kayaking and SWIMMING in the summer. And we all know that Sand Creek flows into the lake where we get much of our DRINKING WATER. This is a problem.

We’ve shared the data we’ve collected with DEQ and we will continue to do so. Not surprisingly, they want lots of evidence that their mathematical models *may* have been a little off before taking steps to change the course of the cleanup. The best case scenario would involve digging up all of the contamination and incinerating it. Unfortunately, DEQ can’t make the property owners to do this. It’s complicated.

If it ever rains again, we’ll be back to collecting evidence that runoff from the Joslyn Property is contaminating our water. This is not an inexpensive task, testing for PCP costs $300 a pop. If PCP in your water concerns you, please support our monitoring efforts. You can donate at If you’re not in a position to donate, but like scrambling down steep embankments and arranging yourself in strange positions to collect stormwater, give me a shout!

Shannon Williamson, Ph.D., is the executive director of Lake Pend Oreille Waterkeeper.

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