Clearing of hazardous waste from nearly 7,000 properties in Sonoma and Napa counties is nearing completion and should be finished by the end of the month, according to an Environmental Protection Agency official.
Steve Calanog, an EPA incident commander, said he was “quite confident” the job was 90 percent complete.
The numbers cited Friday — 6,048 properties cleaned out of 6,920 total — comes to 87 percent, but Calanog and Joe Hubbard, an EPA spokesman, said the tally changes as the fieldwork by about 300 EPA employees progresses.
Workers continue to find properties that were not on the original list, Calanog said, while it also turns out some properties had been counted more than once.
The EPA website, updated Wednesday, said 5,440 out of 6,153 Sonoma County sites had been cleaned, along with 661 out of 767 Napa properties.
“This has been the largest urban fire response we’ve been involved in,” Calanog said.
State Sen. Mike McGuire, D-Healdsburg, called it “the largest cleanup in Golden State history” when the household hazardous waste removal started three weeks ago.
Working in pairs and wearing white Tyvek suits and other protective gear from head to toe, EPA crews began the cleanup in demolished Coffey Park on Oct. 25.
EPA’s program is the first phase of the post-fire government cleanup, followed by the heavy lifting managed by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, clearing ash, debris and concrete foundations from burned home sites, a job that is also underway. Army Corps contractors had scraped clean about 120 sites in Sonoma County as of Friday, according to county Supervisor David Rabbitt.
Hazardous waste removal includes paints, solvents, automotive oil and batteries, pesticides, fertilizers, pool chemicals and ammunition.
At an EPA waste collection depot in a Windsor industrial park recently, hundreds of fire-scorched 5-gallon propane tanks dominated the recovered materials.
Hubbard said Friday the EPA has not tallied the tonnage of waste collected.
Work went fast in areas like Coffey Park, a Santa Rosa neighborhood with closely spaced homes on flat land, but Calanog said other properties have presented “different challenges.”
On Friday, EPA workers tackled a large Napa estate with multiple old structures containing a lot of asbestos, a highly toxic substance. Calanog said it would take two teams a couple of days to clean that property.
“We do come across cases that will take more time to clear,” he said.
EPA is currently assessing the extent of asbestos-contaminated debris at properties in Lake and Mendocino counties, Hubbard said. Removal operations will likely begin by the end of the month, he said.
You can reach Staff Writer Guy Kovner at 707-521-5457 or firstname.lastname@example.org. On Twitter @guykovner.