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No Agent Orange found in drums discovered by divers in Wallowa Lake

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Sam Genco, at age 19, narrowly survived one of the United States’ worst military aircraft carrier fires in history, but now – fifty years later – it’s the drinking water from the USS Forrestal he says could be killing him.

Federal and state investigators have concluded the mysterious barrels found at the bottom of Wallowa Lake do not contain the dangerous herbicide Agent Orange.

Last month, the Environmental Protection Agency and Oregon’s Department of Environmental Quality responded to reports of some recently discovered drums suspected of being dumped in the lake years ago.

Wallowa Lake is the main drinking water source for the city of Joseph, about 150 miles southeast of the Tri-Cities, and a popular regional recreational area.

Investigators sent divers and cameras into the lake to examine the drums.

Contrary to previous reports by recreational divers, they found just one drum with the “2,4-D or 2,4,5-T” herbicide label, said a news release.

That 55-gallon drum was rusted out with holes and contained lake water, said DEQ officials.

“Over the years, many 55-gallon drums have been filled with rocks and concrete to be used as anchors for floating docks or used as floats — and EPA and DEQ believe the drums they’ve found are part of that history,” said the release.

The joint investigation found 74 drums on the south side of Wallowa Lake. And all of the barrels had holes and contained lake water.

The EPA hired contractors to remove five drums that appeared to be intact or had a label indicating it may have previously contained hazardous chemicals, said the release.

Once the drums were out of the water, EPA officials concluded the drums were not intact and were full of lake water, not posing “an imminent risk” to people or wildlife.

Still, the agencies took many samples of the water and lake sediment to test before deciding if other steps are needed.

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