Tuesday, July 6, 2010

Asarco Cleanup Settlement: A new chapter of the Tacoma Smelter Plume story

by Hannah Aoyagi, Public Involvement Coordinator, Toxics Cleanup Program

For years, Ecology has been shelling out millions of tax dollars to deal with the mess left by Asarco’s old copper smelter in North Tacoma. A recent bankruptcy settlement with Asarco now pays back the State of Washington and provides $94 million for future cleanup.

For almost 100 years, the 571 foot tall smelter stack spewed out toxic metals such as arsenic and lead. Winds deposited contamination onto surface soils across a 1,000 square mile area known as the Tacoma Smelter Plume. It is, unfortunately, the state’s largest cleanup site.

The former smelter and in the surrounding community of Ruston is being cleaned up under the federal Superfund program. Ecology is responsible for the remaining contamination, which can be found as far north as Seattle and as far south as north Thurston County.

What have we accomplished?

Over the past decade, Ecology and local health departments have put a massive amount of work into understanding and addressing the problem:
  • Thousands of soil samples from around King, Pierce, Thurston, and Kitsap counties helped us figure out the extent of the plume.
  • The Dirt Alert outreach program now educates children, parents, and teachers, and its ads reach hundreds of thousands of viewers.
  • The Soil Safety Program has tested soil at over 800 schools and childcares, and cleaned up all 101 contaminated play areas with high arsenic and lead.

What’s next?

We are opening a new chapter in the cleanup with a $3.9 million in new funds from the Legislature for 2010-2011. These funds will jump start cleanup by allowing us to expand the Soil Safety Program to include other places where children play—public parks, camps, and public housing. Funds will also help keep the Dirt Alert program going, and wrap up a long-term cleanup plan.

Stay tuned for more information! To join the Tacoma Smelter Plume mailing list, please contact Hannah Aoyagi, Public Involvement Coordinator at hannah.aoyagi@ecy.wa.gov or 360-407-6790.

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