Thursday, July 21, 2016

Large-scale cleanup brings sizeable environmental benefit to Bellingham Bay

We did it! We've completed the first phase of a major cleanup for the Whatcom Waterway site in Bellingham Bay. One year ago we launched the cleanup with a special kick-off event, and now we get to celebrate a significant achievement in our goal of a cleaner Puget Sound.

Since summer 2015, contractors have been working to remove or isolate contaminated sediment from a portion of Bellingham Bay. In fact, over 111,000 cubic yards of sediment — contaminated from the operations at the former Georgia-Pacific (G-P) pulp and paper mill — was shipped out of the bay to an approved off-site landfill.  Remaining contaminated sediment was isolated with over 103,000 cubic yards of clean material.

This work is part of an ongoing, coordinated effort to clean up a legacy of contamination in Bellingham Bay.

A history of industrial contamination

G-P used mercury in its chlor-alkali plant to produce chlorine and sodium hydroxide for bleaching and pulping wood fiber. Wastewater containing mercury was discharged directly into Bellingham Bay from 1965 to 1971, before G-P installed treatment measures to reduce mercury releases. In 1979, the company constructed an industrial waste treatment lagoon (sometimes referred to as an aerated stabilization basin, or ASB), which stopped the discharge of untreated wastewater to the bay.

In 2005, the Port of Bellingham purchased 137 acres of waterfront property from G-P, including property within the Whatcom Waterway site. The port accepted lead responsibility for cleaning up the site with Ecology direction under the state’s Model Toxics Control Act (MTCA).

A clean slate for a revitalized waterfront

The $30.5 million cleanup primarily addressed contaminated sediment underwater, but shoreline areas were also cleaned up. Creosote-treated timber was removed from the waterway, asphalt and rubble were removed from beach areas, and sheet pile walls were installed to prevent contaminated groundwater from entering the water.

All of this work lays a foundation for a revitalized Bellingham waterfront, including a new city park.

Ensuring a clean, healthy future

To ensure the long-term success of the cleanup project, scientists will conduct regular testing of sediment, crabs and clams for contaminants for up to 30 years.

There's a lot to celebrate. And stay tuned for more Bellingham Bay cleanup updates!

By Krista Kenner, Communications Manager, NWRO-Bellingham Field Office

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