North Bay Fires: Arsenic In Soil

Arsenic in the soil will lead to increased rebuilding costs

North Bay Fires: Arsenic In Soil Adds Another Cost To Rebuilding

In yet another example of how costs of rebuilding following the catastrophic North Bay fires can expand in unforeseen ways, The Press Democrat reports that at least one homeowner has incurred tens of thousands of dollars in additional expenses and weeks of delays due to arsenic found in his soil after his home was destroyed by the fires. In addition to health and cost concerns, rebuilding homeowners and business owners also must navigate a shifting landscape of rules and regulations as state and local authorities scramble to decide how “clean” is clean enough in the wake of such widespread devastation.

A Shifting Landscape: Literally and Figuratively

Being a contractor by trade, one might expect that Jim Roach would have an advantage over other North Bay residents in rebuilding the $1.2 million house he lost to the devastating October 2017 fires. He might have a better handle on the ins and outs of the regulatory process, of what permits were required, about how to get his home rebuilt as swiftly and of as high a quality as possible. Well, if Jim Roach’s experience gave him any advantage, it certainly didn’t show, because the regulatory groundwork changed right under his feet.

Following the North Bay fires, Mr. Roach not only had to remove the ash and debris from his property, but prior to receiving the permits to rebuild, he also had to demonstrate that the soil had been restored to its pre-fire condition. Tests were run, and they showed that the soil at Mr. Roach’s property exceeded the then-prevailing standard, which was 7.2 parts per million.

In an effort to meet the city- and county-imposed standard, Mr. Roach had workers dig up and haul away a full 11 inches of top soil from his land, which he says took weeks of work and cost tens of thousands of dollars. Thankfully, a new round of soil tests came back in Mr. Roach’s favor, and his building permit finally was approved on February 22.

However, in a cruel twist of bureaucratic fate, on February 23—the day following Mr. Roach’s permit approval—the Sonoma County Health Department in conjunction with the Army Corps of Engineers announced a new, less stringent standard of 22 parts per million, which Mr. Roach’s original soil tests would have passed.

The situation of Jim Roach raises many broader questions surrounding the North Bay fires, not the least of which is how homeowners and business owners are expected to rebuild efficiently and quickly when the regulatory system often seems to be acting against them rather than helping them. Further, perhaps relaxing the arsenic standards will allow property owners to rebuild more quickly, but what are the long-term health implications of this decision? Just how much arsenic has been added to the soil as a result of the fires? Will this arsenic make its way into the public water supply and drinking-water wells? If so, will those responsible for the fire be held accountable for these tangential effects?

The more the costs of cleanup and rebuilding mount—both in dollars and in human health—the more important it is to seek out the true causes of the North Bay fires and to hold those responsible to account. The experienced team of attorneys at is committed to fighting for the rights of North Bay residents as they remain #SonomaStrong in their efforts to rebuild not just their homes but their lives. If you or a loved one has suffered property damage, bodily harm, or even loss of life as a result of this terrible disaster, contact now for a free consultation.

We are Sonoma County strong.

The Press Democrat “Arsenic levels in soil complicate Fountaingrove cleanup”

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