Ortega Highway to Undergo Multi-Agency Sweep for Toxins

Federal, state and county authorities will begin an extensive sweep of Ortega Highway on Thursday to determine if there are any more toxic chemicals near the roadway that was closed twice last week when highly volatile chemical mixtures were found.

Authorities checked obvious dumping locations Saturday during a driving tour of the 32-mile highway and found no hazardous materials, said Lt. Mike Bair of the California Highway Patrol .

But officials from the agencies involved met Tuesday and decided a more extensive search was warranted.

The CHP and California Department of Transportation will inspect the primary roadway with the Orange County Fire Department, state Department of Fish and Game and county park service scouring the right of way, an area extending from 30 to 60 feet on either side of the highway, Bair said. The U.S. Forest Service will inspect federal land next to the highway.

Most of the inspection will be done on foot and is expected to last about four days, Bair said.

A long-term plan for controlling toxic dumping will be discussed at a future meeting, Bair said. A task force is expected to be formed to explore the problem.

Meanwhile, authorities are testing a white, powdery substance found in the back of a rented van to determine if the vehicle was used to dump some of the toxic material. The vehicle was rented from Tice's Rental Center in Laguna Beach by an individual who used a fictitious name and address.

CHP Officer Ken Daily said the only white powder found along the roadway was a barrel of Vitamin C that had not been broken open.

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