Dept. of Ecology plan aims to clean up Tacoma Smelter Plume properties

The public is encouraged to review and comment on a draft cleanup plan for the 1,000-square-mile Tacoma Smelter Plume, the geographically largest contaminated site in Washington. The Washington Department of Ecology will accept comments through Dec. 20, 2011, on the draft plan. The Dept. of Ecology also will hold public meetings on the plan.

For nearly 100 years, Asarco operated a copper smelter in the Ruston-Tacoma area. Winds carried the smelter’s air emissions, which deposited arsenic and lead on soils in parts of King, Pierce, Thurston, and Kitsap counties. This area is now known as the Tacoma Smelter Plume. Toxic arsenic and lead pose health risks to people, especially children. Arsenic can contribute to heart disease, diabetes and certain cancers. Lead can cause behavioral problems and developmental delays in children. The Dept. of Ecology began working on the Tacoma Smelter Plume more than 10 years ago, starting with education and outreach. The plume is too large to clean up all soils, so the Dept. of Ecology plans to focus cleanup work on play areas and yards in the most contaminated areas.

In 2006, the Dept. of Ecology started its Soil Safety Program to carry out this work. To date, soil samples have been taken at more than 1,000 play areas at schools, public parks and child-care facilities; more than 100 play areas have been cleaned up. In December 2009, the state of Washington obtained a $188 million bankruptcy settlement from Asarco. About $94 million is slated for the Tacoma Smelter Plume, including continuing outreach, play area cleanups, and a yard sampling and cleanup program for the most contaminated parts of the plume.

The comment period and public meetings offer opportunities for area residents to help shape how the Dept. of Ecology prioritizes its resources and plans its work. The Dept. of Ecology needs public input before making final decisions on which programs to fund, where cleanup begins and how risk is managed. The highlight of the draft cleanup plan is a new yard sampling and cleanup program for Ruston, southern Vashon-Maury Island, and parts of north and west Tacoma and University Place. The plan also aims to reduce risk in other areas by educating people about the contamination and by encouraging cleanup work during property development.

The Dept. of Ecology has scheduled public meetings:

– 6:30 to 8:30 p.m. on Nov. 2 in Tacoma at the Point Defiance Elementary School cafeteria;

– 6:30 to 8:30 p.m. on Nov. 9 on Vashon Island at the McMurray Middle School cafeteria;

– 6:30 to 8:30 p.m. on Nov. 16 in University Place at the Curtis High School cafeteria;

– 6:30 to 8:30 p.m. on Dec. 6 at the Des Moines Activity Center in Des Moines.

You can view copies of the draft cleanup plan online here:

– The Dept. of Ecology’s Tacoma Smelter Plume Web page – http://www.tinyurl.com/tacoma-smelter ;

– By appointment at The Dept. of Ecology’s headquarters, 300 Desmond Drive SE, Lacey. Contact Debbie Nelson at 360-407-6365 or Debbie.Nelson@ecy.wa.gov ;

– Vashon Library;

– University Place Library;

– Tacoma Public Library’s Main, Swasey and Wheelock branches;

You can send comments to The Dept. of Ecology on the draft documents through Dec. 20. Here’s how you can submit comments:

– Mail them to Cynthia Walker, Washington Department of Ecology, Toxics Cleanup Program, P.O. Box 47775, Olympia, WA 98504-7600;

– Email them to Cynthia.Walker@ecy.wa.gov ;

The Dept. of Ecology will consider all received comments and may modify the draft plan as a result.