Toxic Smoke and Ash from Scrap Yard Fire

Asked March 15, 2018, 5:14 PM EDT

I hope you can help my neighbors and me. Cully neighborhood recently had a large scrapyard fire, you may have seen it in the news. For 12 hours the neighborhood was covered in black smoke and ash from burning cars. Asbestos from brakes and clutches, tires, burning fuel, plastics, oil, radiator fluid... Everyone is asking what to do before planting our vegetables. There are multiple community gardens, and everyone has a large yard. Some people have 1/4 acre gardens. What do we need to do before planting?

Multnomah County Oregon

1 Response

Thank you for your timely question to Ask an Expert.

I would contact the EPA office in Portland to get any guidance: (503) 326-3250. They performed air quality testing for the incident.

You also could reach out the the Oregon Health Authority to see if they have any guidance:

Also, you might contact the City of Portland Community Gardens program to see what their response is going to be to ensure safety of their gardeners.

For any overwintering crops like kale, the safest approach is to dispose of the plants and do not eat if there is debris on the leaves. Thorough washing of produce could be another option for some.

Before planting, soil testing could include:

  • EPA 503 Metals (As, Cd, Cr, Cu, Ni, Pb, Se, Zn, Hg, Mo;) Cost about $180
  • Hydrocarbons? Call laboratories to determine which ones and cost.
  • Asbestos? Call laboratories to determine which ones and cost.
  • Other? Call laboratories to determine which ones and cost.
Here are resources on soil testing from OSU:
A Guide to Collecting Soil Samples for Farms and Gardens - This publication is a simple guide on “how to take a soil sample”. Remember, the results of the soil test will only be as good as the soil sample taken. Be thorough, collecting a representative sample of the complete area to be tested. Check with the local Extension Service office to see if there is a soil probe available for loan.

A List of Analytical Labs Serving Oregon - This list of labs is updated every few years. Before choosing a lab, call for current prices and procedures for mailing the sample. Labs will often have packages of several analyses for a lower cost than individual tests.

Soil Test Interpretation Guide - Soil tests results may look a little foreign! This guide will help sort out the key points. For further information about specific soil results, contact the local Extension Service office or a private consultant.

This publication on reducing lead hazards might help too

If you and other gardeners can not pay out-of-pocket for soil testing, you could contact East Multnomah Soil and Water Conservation District to see if they might be able to provide emergency funding for a neighborhood-wide approach to soil testing. I would call their Executive Director, Jay Udelhoven.

I hope that this information helps. Please let me know if you have further questions.

Also, please follow up with me to let me know what your neighborhood decides to do and the results of any testing that you do.

Good luck on this important research!