Friday, March 25, 2016

Tacoma Smelter Plume: 10 years of protecting kids from arsenic and lead in soil

By Jill Reitz and Stacy Galleher, Toxics Cleanup Program

This year marks the ten-year anniversary of Soil Safety Program. The effort provides free soil sampling and cleanup for play areas within the Service Area, an approximately 200-square-mile area within the Tacoma Smelter Plume. The plume is a 1,000-square-mile-area of arsenic and lead contamination from the former Asarco smelter in Ruston/north Tacoma.

Ten years at work!

Since 2006, we have sampled more than 1,000 child play areas including schools, parks, childcares, camps, and multi-family housing. We replaced soil or posted signage at 86 childcares, 25 schools, and 24 parks.

If a play area had an average for arsenic or lead above the state cleanup levels, we offered to replace soil. Some play areas were not accessible for cleanup, such as in forested areas or on steep slopes. In these areas, we instead posted signs to inform visitors.

In the past year we replaced a total of 6,130 tons of soil – the weight of about 13 Boeing 747 airplanes.

Contractors use an excavator to start scraping away soil.
In 2015, we replaced soil at two parks:

  • Baltimore Park – Ecology replaced the top 12 inches of soil in the play area (see map on blog)
  • Optimist Park – Ecology replaced the top six inches of soil in the play area (see map on blog)

We used a total of 980 pounds of grass seed and some sod to cover all that soil with grass. Fences still remain up around the new grass at Baltimore and Optimist parks until later this summer to allow the roots to establish.

New soil is delivered to the site to
back fill the excavated areas.
Also, early in 2016 we replaced soil in Fort Nisqually at Point Defiance Park – we replaced soil both inside the fort and in the nearby meadow (see map on blog.)

This work was a great opportunity to create new pathways for visitors within the Fort’s palisades. Ecology also added new mulch to the picnic area near the parking lot.

Follow our work…

The first sprouts of grass shoot up after lawn restoration.
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Please call the project line at (360) 407-7688 and press 2 for Tacoma Smelter Plume or email For advice on how to protect yourself and your family, visit

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