Efforts continue on soil cleanup

Photo courtesy of Department of Ecology

Some of Tacoma’s oldest and youngest residents will benefit this year from efforts to clean up the toxic legacy of the Asarco copper smelter. The industrial facility operated in Ruston from 1891 to 1986. The smelting process generated contaminants, which were dispersed widely from the smokestack. Among the materials was arsenic and lead, which can cause a host of health problems. The state Department of Ecology is spending the majority of a $96 million settlement from Asarco to clean up residential yards in Pierce and King counties. Tacoma City Council received an update on June 19.

Amy Hargrove, remediation manager with the Department of Ecology, said the agency encountered a problem in 2017 because the Legislature had not approved the capital budget. As a result, it was only able to clean up 17 properties. With passage of the budget, full funding has been restored. “It is still a slow process to get back to full speed,” she remarked.

The copper smelter that operated for almost a century along Commencement Bay before closing in 1986 continues to impact the communities around Puget Sound. photo courtesy of Department of Ecology

Ecology partners with Tacoma/Pierce County Health Department to sample yards in Tacoma. Since 2013, 3,019 yards have been sampled and 417 qualified for cleanup.

In 2018 the agencies plan for 39 yard cleanups in the city. The Environmental Protection Agency is funding some of this. Three active cleanups are at Narrows Ridge, a housing development, and at the Narrows Glen and Franke Tobey Jones senior living complexes. Legislation passed in 2005 funds testing and cleanup of soil in areas where children play. This year soil will be replaced at three daycare centers in the Tacoma area.

Property development presents an opportunity to clean up soil contamination. Ecology works with city planners to inform permit applicants about this. Last year a developer cleaned two acres for a project on Orchard Street. Another five acres was cleaned at the site of the Kindred/CHI Rehabilitation Hospital. South Puget Sound Salmon Enhancement Group also cleaned up an acre in Titlow Park as part of a habitat restoration project.

Councilmember Lillian Hunter recalled when she lived near the intersection of North 46th and Pearl streets and nothing would grow in her garden because of the contaminated soil. She commended the agencies for their efforts.

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