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Corvallis EPA office opens its doors
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Corvallis EPA office opens its doors

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Jana Compton’s work for the Environmental Protection Agency’s Corvallis office involves tracking the amount of nitrate leached into drinking water by fertilizers on farm fields.

By following this data over time, Compton said, the agency has been able to identify when the amount of nitrate leaching spikes. That has helped Oregon State University develop farming techniques that both reduced the amount of nitrate leaching for certain crops, and the human and environmental effects of that leaching, while helping farmers avoid wasting fertilizer.

“Less of that nitrate is going down the drain. For the farms this is good economically,” she said.

Compton was one of five researchers to present her work to the more than 50 people who toured the EPA office in Corvallis on Thursday. Employees of the agency said it was the first open house the Corvallis office has held in years.

Compton said she liked the opportunity to share her research with the public, so that people better understand the value of the work done by the EPA.

“It’s not something abstract,” she said. "You are taking water out of the tap every day. You assume it’s safe.” 

Compton said nitrate leaching can cause algal blooms. If it gets into drinking water, it can cause blue baby syndrome in bottle-fed infants.

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Alan Thornhill, who started as director of the EPA’s Western Ecology Division about nine months ago, said the office will be doing open houses around Earth Day annually as a way to show the community what it does.

“We’re part of the community, and no one really knows what we do here,” he said. “It’s important taxpayers and voters understand what they get for their dollar.”

Thornhill said the office has more than 60 researchers, so there is plenty of other research that can be featured in future years.

The event also gave the office a chance to show off some renovations: The office has a new roughly $10 million annex that will open at the end of the summer, and in early 2018 the main building will begin a roughly $20 million renovation. Thornhill said some of the 200 employees at the office, which is located at Southwest 35th Street, will move to an EPA building near Crystal Lake Drive during the renovation. After the renovations are complete, the EPA will shut down the building on Crystal Lake.

Coral Tily, information services specialist with the office, said the renovations were funded in budgets for previous years, so current federal budget discussions won’t affect the EPA's Corvallis plans. She added that employees at the office couldn’t speculate about the possibility of the office being shuttered because of possible federal cuts; a budget proposal from President Donald Trump calls for big cuts in the EPA.

“The federal budget process is lengthy and goes through several iterations before it becomes law," Tily said. "We won’t know anything for certain until the final budget is passed. Until then, we’re happy to continue with our valuable work on protecting the health of ecological systems and humans."

Marcia Synder, a postdoctoral fellow at the office who guided tours, said the Corvallis office is a research station, and doesn’t deal with enforcing regulations.

“Everything we do is used to make decisions,” she said.

Anthony Rimel covers education and can be reached at anthony.rimel@lee.net, 541-758-9526, or via Twitter @anthonyrimel.

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