Monday, March 11, 2019

Cleaning up: Washington’s environmental cleanup law turns 30

We're celebrating 30 years of cleaning up Washington under our environmental cleanup law – the Model Toxics Control Act. This innovative law powers our work to investigate, clean up, and prevent hazardous waste. Thanks to our cleanup law, more than 7,000 sites in Washington are cleaned up.

Cleanups protect people’s health by removing toxic chemicals from the environment, like arsenic from playground soil or methane gas from a solid waste landfill. Cleanups also preserve wildlife habitat for future generations, spur new economic developments, put abandoned properties back into use, and transform communities.

Our cleanup law evolved from citizens’ Initiative 97 in 1988 and became law in 1989. Its key principles are:
  • The polluter pays.
  • Cleanups should be as permanent as possible.
  • Public participation is crucial.
  • Processes should demonstrate a bias toward action, permanence, and innovation.
While thousands of sites are already cleaned up, there are more than 6,000 known or suspected contaminated sites in Washington that still need to be addressed — and the list keeps growing. We discover about 200-300 new sites a year (find out if there are sites in your neighborhood).

Over the next several months, we’re going to be talking more about our cleanup law and what it means in our state. To get us started, here are a few examples of how cleanups can transform communities and protect the environment.

Protecting the environment

Port Gamble Bay, on scenic Hood Canal, is a vibrant place for tribal and community members and tourists who come to see the picturesque historic mill town. The Port Gamble cleanup is a great example of how cleanups can stimulate habitat restoration and preservation efforts.

This cleanup was one of the largest creosote-treated piling removal projects in Puget Sound. Creosote leaches from treated pilings and structures to surrounding sediment and water. Shellfish – such as mussels and clams that are consumed by fish and humans – accumulate this leached contamination. Removal of pilings and contaminated sediment improves conditions for wildlife.

Thanks to funding from the Washington State Legislature, Ecology was able to purchase land for conservation and recreation, and complete restoration and pollution control projects in the bay. We also studied contamination in fish and shellfish. The projects completed with this funding have improved and protected habitat in and around the bay, created jobs in the area, and improved recreational opportunities.

Investing in communities

Ecology works for you. That’s why about 70 cents of every dollar that comes to Ecology is passed through to local communities. Several years ago we took an in-depth look at the return on investment for cleanups that received state funding.

Environmental cleanups along Tacoma's Thea Foss Waterway
helped turn blighted properties into viable investments. 
A powerful impact of environmental cleanups is economic development – cleanups create strategic opportunities to turn blighted properties into economically-viable developments that can significantly increase local and state tax revenues. For example, successful cleanups helped property values on Tacoma’s Thea Foss Waterway to increase from $11 per square foot to $39 per square feet over a ten-year period.

But the benefits of investing in communities aren’t just economic. These investments improve our quality of life, protect human health and the environment, and allow for redevelopment opportunities that transform communities. 

Supporting community vision

The City of Wenatchee had a vision for a revived Columbia River waterfront. Thanks in part to a $150,000 integrated planning grant from Ecology, the city was able to develop a plan for reuse of an old landfill along the river. Doing so helped the city move ahead with its broader waterfront redevelopment in keeping with the community’s vision, including the vibrant Pybus Public Market. Once home to a metal fabrication business, this property is now a town hub for shopping, great food, and music. The market’s development is included in this video about what’s happening along Wenatchee’s waterfront.

To learn about projects already funded by Ecology, check out our interactive grants map.

Keep an eye on our blog and social media for more stories on how we use Washington’s cleanup law to protect the environment, invest in communities, and stimulate economic development.

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