Dept. of Ecology: Study will probe old contamination plumes beneath UW Tacoma campus

Washington State Department of Ecology officials announced this week a proposed investigative study that aims to focus on what is...

Washington State Department of Ecology officials announced this week a proposed investigative study that aims to focus on what is needed to clean up groundwater contamination under what is now the University of Washington Tacoma campus due to a legacy of industrial use.

The University of Washington Tacoma campus – which covers about 46 acres between South 21st Street and South 17th Street, and between Pacific Avenue and Tacoma Avenue South — is part of the Union Depot Historic Warehouse District, which served rail commerce at the terminus of the transcontinental railroad beginning more than 100 years before the university arrived. It was also home to commercial and industrial uses such as dry cleaning, auto repair operations, and various manufacturing.

According to Washington State Department of Ecology officials, contamination was found as the University of Washington Tacoma campus was being built and later expanded. Studies found groundwater polluted with petroleum hydrocarbons, benzene, trichloroethene (TCE), and perchloroethene (PCE), according to Washington State Department of Ecology officials. Although the risk to human health from this underground contamination is considered to be low, Washington State Department of Ecology officials note high enough levels PCE, TCE, and petroleum hydrocarbons could harm people and the environment. Three years ago, a limited cleanup action began on the Howe Parcel portion of the University of Washington Tacoma cleanup site, and groundwater contaminated with PCE is being treated and monitored.

The Washington State Department of Ecology is proposing a legal agreement that requires the University of Washington to investigate contamination and study cleanup options, choose cleanup methods through a draft cleanup action plan, and describe how cleanup will continue on the Howe Parcel through an interim action work plan. The agreed order allows the University of Washington to use approved interim remedial actions – limited, focused cleanup of portions of the site – rather than wait for a single mass cleanup. Washington State Department of Ecology officials note the groundwater is near Thea Foss Waterway, part of the Commencement Bay federal Superfund site, and cleanup will help protect people and the bay, plus support the University of Washington Tacoma’s potential growth.

The Washington State Department of Ecology is inviting the public to comment on a draft public participation plan, which details how people can be informed about and involved with the site’s cleanup. In addition, Washington State Department of Ecology staff will host an open house on Weds., April 6, at the First United Methodist Church meeting room, located at 621 Tacoma Ave. S., in Tacoma, to talk with interested people and answer questions. The open house begins at 5:30 p.m., followed by a 6 p.m. presentation and a question-and-answer session. The open house will resume from 7:30 to 8 p.m.

More information is available online here and here.

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