America Speak Out

Josephine County Arsenic Eco-Scare

A number of persons, including Joseph Rice of Oath Keepers, have frightened many residents of Josephine County by alleging extreme levels of arsenic in the waterways threatening their drinking and irrigation water. The removal of the Fielder Dam on Evans Creek drained a long-standing pond behind it, leaving behind the sediment deposits. Rice's alarming call for a "toxic spill response team" was accompanied by pictures of dead fish and brown stains on the surface of a puddle, none of which were a result of toxins. (Oath Keepers Josephine County News Page archived 2015-11-24 *) These 'trash' fish, an invasive species who lived their entire lives among the supposedly toxic sediments, died from a simple lack of water when the dam was removed. The brown stain is the result of a common iron-eating bacterium.

The Alleged Threat

Arsenic and other toxins were alleged to be a danger to the water downstream. Joseph Rice and associates claimed that tests indicated toxic levels thousands of times higher than the EPA safety limit. A politically well-connected company secured a multi-year contract to perform environmental studies in the area. The first year of the contract would cost the taxpayers of Josephine County, Oregon over $135,000 for testing of locations only twice a year, with a total contract value of over $600,000.

Citizens noticing the extreme claims became concerned about the validity of the test results. Their own testing of the water, including at the alleged source of contamination, has revealed a level of arsenic classed as "Non Detectable", or less than 1 part per billion. This is well below EPA safety limits. These follow-up tests were performed through the most accredited lab in Southern Oregon, Neilson Research Corporation. Further testing by the Grants Pass water treatment facility confirmed the absence of an arsenic threat.

This page is dedicated to providing you with information on the sampling, lab analyses, and the events surrounding the awarding of the testing contract. The Commissioners have since rescinded the contract, in light of the results of this citizen performed testing and verification by other agencies that the claimed toxins simply are not there.

Video: Testing the Waters

Prior Testing

In November, 2014, about 8 months prior to removal of the Fielder Dam, extensive testing created a baseline of data for the dam site and sediments. The results were reviewed by the Army Corps of Engineers, confirming that the sediments would pose no danger upon dam removal.

Sediment Sampling and Analysis Report for Fielder & Wimer Dam Removals, Evans Creek, Oregon
(Adobe PDF 6.5Mb)

The Big Scare

Citizens of Josephine County and County officials were subjected to rumors of an alleged health threat via a focused propaganda campaign through Facebook and the website of Josephine County chapter of Oath Keepers*. County officials were not informed of the prior testing that showed no danger.

Arsenic Eco Scare
(Adobe PDF 206kb)
Detailed Report Of Wrongdoing
(Adobe PDF 252kb)
Summarized Timeline
(Adobe PDF 8kb)

Eric Schaafsma and the County Commissioners

On August 27, 2015, Eric Schaafsma presented his alarming report to County Commissioners Keith Heck and Cherryl Walker in order to obtain a five year, loosely defined environmental studies contract for over $600,000 from the tax coffers. Commissioner Simon Hare was absent from this meeting and upon learning of this contract weighed in against it. Noteworthy points:

The scientific validity of Schaafsma's report to the Commissioners is questionable. He spoke to the Commissioners of safety levels for water while stating that he took sediment scrapings to produce those results. He appeared to be relying on the lack of scientific understanding in his audience. His own report uses units of measure for water testing (milligrams per liter):

Units of Measurement for water concentrations
(Schaafsma report, indicating only water testing)

The correct units of measurement for sediment testing are based on concentrations in the dry weight of sediment, such as mg/kg (milligrams per kilogram).

The original, certifiable testing at the dam site prepared for the Army Corps of Engineers documented the chain of custody for samples to verify that they were obtained at the proper locations and were not tampered with. Eric Schaafsma's report lacked this standard measure of sample verifiability.

Documented Findings

Concerned citizens with a scientific background investigated the situation, performing a series of water tests at locations ranging from the Grants Pass water treatment plant intakes right up to the base of the Fielder Dam sediments. All testing, performed through the most accredited lab in southern Oregon, confirmed the absence of the claimed arsenic.

City of Grants Pass Arsenic Study 1 - Neilson Research Corporation (November 12, 2015)
(Adobe PDF 125kb)
City of Grants Pass Arsenic Study 2 - Neilson Research Corporation (November 16, 2015)
(Adobe PDF 190kb)
Neilson Research Corporation - Certification
(Adobe PDF 1144kb)

To verify that test samples were delivered without tampering, further tests were performed with oversight of the chain of custody by local public figures. Many thanks to the following for devoting their time and effort to ensuring the safety of Josephine County residents.

Roy Lindsay - City Councilman

In response to the alarmist rhetoric, Councilman Roy Lindsay visited the Grants Pass water treatment facility to inquire about arsenic levels. He was informed that testing showed only trace amounts, well below safety limits. Roy Lindsay then accompanied our testing crew to escort a sample of raw river water from collection to delivery to the testing lab. Result: no arsenic.

City of Grants Pass Arsenic Study 3 with Roy Lindsay - Neilson Research Corporation (November 23, 2015)
(Adobe PDF 117kb)

Mike Jones - Media Personality

Providing front-line media coverage of this and other hot issues with Dale Matthews at BadCounty.com, Mike Jones doesn't mind getting his hands dirty and his feet wet. Due to the sensitivity of this topic, Mike wanted to ensure he was reporting accurately by personally escorting a test sample from source to lab. He and Laurie chose the morning after a very heavy rainfall, when creeks and rivers were swollen and full of sediment. The cloudiness of the water washing down from the former Fielder Dam site indicated the presence of sediments in the water. Two samples were taken, one to be filtered and one to remain unfiltered to ensure both water and the insoluble sediments in the water would be measured. Result: no detectable arsenic in either water or sediments.

City of Grants Pass Arsenic Study 4 with Mike Jones - Neilson Research Corporation (December 4, 2015)
(Adobe PDF 120kb)

This research has been performed by Josephine County residents concerned about the safety of their water supply as well as the spending of tax revenues on apparently unnecessary and exaggerated causes. This diversion of funds away from vital law enforcement needs may have put the county residents in direct jeopardy and may have resulted in direct harm to residents who could not be protected in a timely manner.

* The footer of the Josephine County Oath Keepers website contains the phrase "Website Donated By Viken Nokhoudian". This was added by Joseph Rice and his webmaster, Bruce McFarland, long after Viken Nokhoudian left the group and after he insisted his company logo be removed. Adding Viken's name against his wishes is an apparent attempt to associate his name, instead of the site's current authors, with the false statements presented on the website. Joseph Rice and Bruce McFarland refused to remove Viken's name despite his written demand they do so.