Monday, November 29, 2010

Asarco Cleanup Settlement: Hitting the ground running in the Tacoma Smelter Plume

By Amy Hargrove, Soil Safety Program Coordinator

In late 2009, the state received a $94 million settlement from Asarco for the future costs of cleaning up the Tacoma Smelter Plume — a 1,000 square mile area with arsenic and lead contamination from the former Asarco smelter in Ruston.

This spring we got the news that we’d have $3.9 million to jumpstart our work over the next year, starting July 1, 2010. Luckily, we had soil cleanup and outreach programs already up and running, so we were ready with a plan for what to do next!

Off to a sprint

We started by expanding the popular Soil Safety Program. This program provides free soil sampling and cleanup for school and childcare play areas. Now we can do the same for public parks, camps, and public multifamily housing.

Dirt AlertWith new funding, we can continue outreach and education about plume contamination without taking away scarce tax dollars from other cleanup work. Tacoma-Pierce County Health Department and Public Health—Seattle & King County run great “Dirt Alert” programs targeting children and adults, and providing many services to their communities.

As the Soil Safety Program coordinator, I’ve had a busy fall! I have been working with our sampling contractor to line up access to parks, camps, and public housing in King County. The Tacoma-Pierce County Health Department is already doing sampling at Tacoma and University Place parks. Results coming back from the lab will then help us plan cleanups where they are needed.

The marathon ahead

Though we’re focused on sampling right now, there is an important long term goal—to protect all communities from this widespread Tacoma Smelter Plume contamination. To do that, we’ll have to spend every dollar wisely. We expect to physically clean up the most highly contaminated areas, but also educate every resident about what they can do to protect themselves.

As this project moves forward, we’ll share more details about our long-term plans, while keeping you up to date with our current work!


KWentz said...

We live in an area in Federal Way that appears to have little or no soil contamination but to my knowledge our neighborhood has never been tested. How can we, parents of five children, feel confident the soil our children play in is safe? What can we do to have our soil tested?

Hannah Aoyagi said...

Thank you for your comment! This is a great topic for a future blog. For now, here is the quick answer to your question:

We would first check if your property is in the Tacoma Smelter Plume. Our map has an address search tool or we can look it up for you. If you are within the plume, we first recommend using Healthy Actions like hand-washing, which help reduce exposure to most kinds of soil contamination.

We do not currently have a soil sampling program for King County residences, but we do have a brochure to help you sample your own property. We can also help explain how to sample your property and how to interpret your results.

Members of the public should feel free to contact either of us for more information about their soils:

• Amy Hargrove 360-407-6262
• Hannah Aoyagi 360-407-6790