Dept. of Ecology seeks public input on Asarco smelter cleanup plan

The Washington Department of Ecology has released a draft plan for cleaning up residential yards polluted by the former Asarco smelter in Tacoma. The public is invited to review and comment on the plan through April 29.

Starting this year, the Residential Yard Sampling and Cleanup Program will provide soil sampling within the service area, and clean up homeowners’ yards that have levels of arsenic at or more than 100 parts per million (ppm) or lead at or more than 500 ppm.

The Yard Program service area covers three regions:

  • The one-square-mile Ruston/North Tacoma Study Area (Superfund site);
  • About 3,900 homes in west Tacoma outside the Superfund site;
  • More than 700 homes on southern Vashon-Maury Island.

The Department of Ecology is using funding from a $94.6 million bankruptcy settlement with Asarco to sample 4,600 yards and clean up the 1,200 that may qualify for cleanup. This is a voluntary program, so some homeowners may choose not to participate.

More than half of the cleanups will happen inside the Superfund site. Over the past 20 years, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) oversaw the Superfund cleanup of yards with 230 ppm arsenic or higher. The Department of Ecology will now offer cleanup for about 700 yards that did not qualify for EPA’s program.

“Our first cleanups will happen inside the Superfund site because we already have EPA’s soil sampling data for those yards,” said Department of Ecology cleanup manager Amy Hargrove. “This area still has some of the highest arsenic levels we know of, making cleanup a high priority.”

Later this year, the Department of Ecology will begin soil sampling on southern Vashon-Maury Island and possibly in west Tacoma. Cleanup will follow at least a year behind sampling and will likely take until 2021 to complete.

“Over the next few years, we will go neighborhood by neighborhood to contact homeowners eligible for soil sampling or cleanup. However, we encourage people to contact us and sign up now,” noted Hargrove.

The former Asarco copper smelter sat on the border of Ruston and north Tacoma. Emissions from the facility contaminated a 1,000-square-mile area of surface soils with arsenic and lead. Arsenic and lead are toxic metals and can pose a health risk, especially to children.

Cleanup will mostly involve removing contaminated soils to a depth of 12 to 18 inches and replacing it with clean fill and new landscaping. Where soil cannot be removed, the Department of Ecology may provide a protective covering of soil or landscaping material.

The Department of Ecology is also promoting environmentally friendly landscaping options that reduce water, pesticide, and fertilizer use.

For more information about the Yard Program, a service area map and public comment period documents, click here. Comments can be sent to Amy Hargrove, Toxics Cleanup Program, Department of Ecology, P.O. Box 47775, Olympia, WA 98504-7775 or

Residents of the Ruston/North Tacoma Superfund area can find soil sampling data and whether their yard was already cleaned online here.