Monday, April 18, 2016

Do the Earth a favor – clean up and prevent pollution

By Seth Preston, communications manager, Toxics Cleanup Program

Earth Day is fast approaching, so let’s talk about Washington‘s dirty little secret.

Well, maybe it’s not exactly a “secret.” And it sure isn’t “little.” But chances are most of the state’s residents don’t realize Washington is literally littered with polluted properties.

Specifically, 12,359 toxic sites. And those are just the ones we know about right now. More are reported to us each year, even as others are cleaned up. So far, just over half of them are considered to be “cleaned up.” But there is still a long way to go.

Environment, Economy, Community

The state’s basic stance is “the polluter pays.” But that’s not always possible – the current landowner may not have caused the pollution and doesn’t have the money to pay for cleanup.

The bottom line is that someone has to clean up the pollution. Allowing it to languish poses risks to people who could be exposed to it, impacts the environment and wildlife, and stalls potential redevelopment that could benefit local communities.
This old polluted site in Tacoma ...

Cleanup is all about “environment, economy, community” – cleaning up contamination provides short-term and potential long-term economic benefits while protecting the health of people and the environment. That all adds up to an improved quality of life for communities.

A healthy economy also can contribute to cleanup – developers or local governments see a potential return on a piece of property they own or buy, so cleaning it up pencils out for them in the long run.
... is now home to the famed Museum of Glass.

Cleanup, prevention go hand in hand

But cleanup isn’t cheap, and it doesn’t happen quickly. Cleanup isn’t simply a matter of digging up contaminated dirt on land or dredging contaminated muck out of the water. A lot of engineering, science and legal steps are needed to get to the actual cleanup work, and those steps can take years. Total cleanup costs could add up to tens of millions of dollars for just one site.

Cleanup is worth the investment. But so is prevention – and prevention is generally cheaper and simpler than cleanup.

Prevention means reducing the toxics used in manufacturing, finding safer substitutes for chemicals in products, and stopping toxics before they escape into the environment.

For example, Ecology is working with brake manufacturers to phase out the use of copper in the brake pads used on cars and trucks. Cutting copper won’t affect the brakes’ cost or performance. But it will reduce the amount of copper pollution reaching our rivers, lakes and Puget Sound, where it is toxic to salmon and other species.

Cleanup and prevention go hand in hand – cleanup without prevention means sites will face recontamination issues, and maybe repeated, expensive cleanups. And prevention without cleanup means that decades-old pollution remains in place, threatening the health of Washington’s people and environment.

How you can help

Here are a few ideas for how you can get involved in cleanup and prevention issues:
And watch this blog for news about a new tool that will help you track contaminated sites in your neighborhood.

For more information

Want more details? Check Ecology’s websites for our Toxics Cleanup and Hazardous Waste & Toxics Reduction programs.

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