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ODA discovers contaminated soil and compost after receiving complaints

The Oregon Department of Agriculture (ODA) received the first complaint regarding concerns around a purchased soil and compost on May 16, 2020. The gardener called 211 and reported growth deformities in plants that came into contact with soil/compost purchased from Dean Innovations, a landscape products distributor in Portland. Over the next several days, similar calls were received from additional Dean Innovations customers. McFarlane’s, a landscape distributor in the Portland metro area, was also identified by complainants.

ODA gathered samples and lab results detected clopyralid, an herbicide in the soil and compost. Clopyralid can cause symptoms in plants at very low levels and only affects certain groups of plants, including legumes (peas, beans, lupine), composites (sunflowers, marigolds, lettuce), nightshades (tomatoes, potatoes, peppers), and buckwheat. Clopyralid does not affect grasses, corn, berries, cole crops (includes cauliflower, brussels sprouts, and kale), tree fruit, or the vast majority of woody and perennial ornamental plants. It is considered very low toxicity if ingested and very low toxicity via skin exposure.

Clopyralid in compost has been an issue in the past—in 2003, ODA issued rules prohibiting clopyralid use outside of a few specific types of sites. On sites where clopyralid use is still allowed, grass clippings or other material from a treated site are prohibited for use in compost.

ODA gathered additional plant samples from a couple of affected gardens to confirm that clopyralid caused their plants’ symptoms. ODA is working with both Dean Innovations and McFarlane’s to identify the source of the contamination.

  • Community members can contact the business where the soil was purchased to find out what options may be available.
  • Those affected may submit a Report of Loss (ROL) form to ODA. The submission of the ROL reserves the citizen’s right to pursue civil action if they wish to do so. Filing the ROL report does not mean that one has filed a claim, as that would need to be done in a civil suit, but it is a step that must be done if a party chooses to pursue civil action.
  • One option for gardeners is to avoid using the soil for several months to allow the clopyralid to break down. Then, before using the soil, gardeners can test it by planting susceptible plants and watch for effects.
  • If the soil is removed and in order to avoid further contamination, soils that are believed to be contaminated should NOT be taken to your local compost or yard debris facility. These soils can be disposed of at the locations below. Please inform the facility that this soil is thought to be contaminated.
  1. Metro South in Oregon City, 503-234-3000 for hours, pricing, and additional information
  2. Hillsboro Landfill, 503-640-9427 extension 0, for hours, pricing, and additional information.

Unfortunately, there is not any financial assistance available from ODA to help pay for the removal of the contaminated soil. However, ongoing discussions with partner agencies on financial assistance options are currently being discussed and will be shared if they become available.