We can't guess how the legal battle between Entek International in Lebanon and the state of Oregon will play out.
But we can say what we think should happen next: Entek and the state should reach an agreement to place air monitors near the company's manufacturing plant in Lebanon, so we can get some hard data.
Here's the weird thing about this: We don't sense a fundamental disagreement on this point between Entek and the state. Instead, one of the key sticking points in this controversy hinges on the question of how exactly people in the Lebanon area should be told about why the monitors are being placed.
Even though this is a complex matter, the fundamentals are reasonably easy to grasp. Here are the keys:
• At issue is the amount of trichloroethylene used at Entek's Lebanon plant, which employs 500 or so people. The company uses the substance in its manufacturing process. It's a carcinogen.
• By every account, Entek currently is compliant with all its permits and applicable regulatory standards for TCE.
• State officials, however, note that there are nonregulatory standards and federal health-based thresholds for TCE. Those standards do not have the force of law, but the officials say they can be used to identify potential health threats. (The state's nascent Cleaner Air Oregon initiative is among the efforts aiming to set health-based allowable risk levels for air toxics, including TCE.)
• Recent computer modeling by the federal Environmental Protection Agency and other agencies suggests that the levels of TCE in the air outside the Entek plant, while still well below the legal and permitted levels, might be higher than some of these nonregulatory standards.
• But the computer modeling does not translate to actual ambient air data, and in some cases might be based on relatively old data: That's why the state was proposing to place the air monitors on private property near the plant. As far as we can tell, Entek (which is working with a consultant, CH2M Hill, on more detailed modeling) has no objection to the air monitors.
• Entek's worries are focused more on the draft communications plan that state officials were proposing to implement a day or two after a meeting last week with the company — a meeting that company officials characterized as an "ambush." The company fears that releasing information about a possible carcinogen could stoke unnecessary fears and harm the company, especially in the absence of the hard data that would be provided by the air monitors. So it got a temporary injunction blocking the state from rolling out the communications plan.
The legal battle triggered by Entek's motion prompted the state to essentially detail, in a legal document, most of the information that it would have used in its communications plan. So the only Lebanon residents who don't know about this are people who don't work for Entek or who don't have the time to go through dozens of pages of court filings.
All the more reason for the state and Entek to sit back down and reach an agreement on these fundamentals: CH2M Hill will have data from its most recent modeling ready by April 24, but we're at the point where all the parties need to see the hard data from the air monitors. So let's get those placed.
In the meantime, surely the state and Entek can reach agreement on how to get the word out about the monitoring to interested citizens in a factual, noninflammatory way.
And there's a lesson here for the state: A different approach toward the company might have prevented the court fight in the first place and led to a calmer dissemination of information of importance to our residents