Power-washing residue alarms Lake Oswego neighbors, officials
Lake Oswego police issued a citation to a painting company last week after officials discovered that the company had allowed contaminated residue to drain into the city's stormwater system.
The company hadn't employed proper containment measures when using an acidic cleaning agent to power wash varnish off a condo complex on Second Street, City officials said.
The City learned of the problem from Janet Nilsson, a nearby resident, who said the power washing had been going on for one or two weeks when she began to notice small globs of some sort of plastic residue accumulating on her car.
"When I got in my car, I said, 'What are these plastic resin raindrops all over my car?'" she told The Review. "I thought maybe I got behind a construction vehicle and it blew stuff on my car."
But then she noticed the same plastic drops on several other nearby cars, she said, and saw what appeared to be a greasy residue washing into storm drains near the cleaning site, so she called the City.
According to LOPD Lt. Darryl Wrisley, an officer visited the scene with an official from the City's engineering department, who determined that the painters were using a stain remover called Superdeck, which uses oxalic acid as a bleaching agent.
The painters were told to stop the work immediately, and the company, a Portland-area branch of CertaPro Painters, was issued a citation with a presumptive $545 fine.
"It's not that they're not allowed to use that chemical," Wrisley told The Review. "It's that they have to protect the storm drains to keep any of it from washing down."
Lake Oswego Stormwater Quality Specialist Sonja Johnson told The Review that the power washing violated Lake Oswego's illicit discharge ordinance. Some cities have stormwater systems that drain into water treatment plants, she said, but Lake Oswego's storm and sewer systems are separate.
"Nothing but stormwater or rainwater can go down into our system," she said. "We have a separated system — it doesn't go into our treatment plant. It goes straight into the nearest stream, lake or river."
That can sometimes lead to misunderstandings, she said, where residents or contractors allow chemicals to drain into nearby municipal stormwater catch basins because they assume the water will be treated. The painting crew didn't appear to realize they were violating a City ordinance, she said.
"People assume everything gets treated if it's a City asset," Johnson said. "If it's not your focus, you're not going to know."
In Lake Oswego, runoff from any kind of washing with chemicals needs to be contained at the site and then mopped up and disposed of, Johnson said.
"Normally if we have someone doing pressure washing, we'd like them to use what's called absorbent socks," she said. "People see booms for an oil spill — it's the same deal, but it's used on land. So normally we'd say protect any kind of catch basins and stormwater manholes, and don't let anything go in there."
Once the City explained the situation, Johnson said the CertaPro staff understood the problem and quickly worked to clean up the street.
"They got somebody out the next day, I believe, and they had the street cleaned and had the structures cleaned out," she said. "They sucked up all the debris that was there, whether it was theirs or not, and disposed of it. They were very quick to take care of whatever mess they had made."
On the other hand, she said, the residue that landed on nearby cars would be a private issue between the company and the vehicle owners, and Nilsson said she hasn't seen an easy resolution yet.
Nilsson said she first took her car to a car wash, but that didn't remove the residue, so she began contacting auto detailing shops. According to an evaluation from one local shop, the cleanup would cost an estimated $1,175.
Nilsson and two other nearby residents both told The Review that they were reaching out to CertaPro's insurance company, American Family Insurance, to file claims for cleaning the cars.
CertaPro did not return The Review's calls for comment, but a representative for American Family Insurance said that one complaint relating to the car damage had been filed as of Friday. At the time, the company had not yet sent an agent to evaluate the claim.
Nilsson said she's also concerned about the amount of residue that could have escaped into the surrounding area, and was surprised to learn that the City doesn't have a permitting system in place for chemical use in order to protect the stormwater system.
"They don't have that set up at the City, and they need that," she said.
Johnson said residents need to be mindful of any contamination they produce, and recognize that anything other than rainwater is considered an illicit discharge into the system, whether or not it's toxic — even something as simple as dumping a cup of coffee in the gutter is technically an illicit discharge.
"One way to think about it is that all of our streets are the beginnings of a bigger stream," she said. "The water that falls on your roof and then goes into the street, you could call that the headwaters."