Department of Ecology News Release - October 30, 2012

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Ecology moves closer to cleaning up Walla Walla chrome plating site

SPOKANE – The Washington Department of Ecology (Ecology) is accepting comments on a plan for cleaning up a contaminated site in a rural farming area east of Walla Walla. Schwerin Concaves, a former chromium electroplating operation on the north bank of Dry Creek, released wastewater containing hexavalent chromium to the soil and groundwater.

In addition to the hexavalent chromium, the groundwater at the site contains elevated levels of arsenic, cadmium, iron, lead, zinc, nitrate and sulfate. Hexavalent chromium is a toxic metal that can cause health problems and may contribute to certain types of cancer.

Schwerin Concaves, Inc., – no longer in business - used chromium for years in its electroplating operation on Sapolil Road.  Concaves are pieces of equipment in grain combines that are used to separate the wheat from the chaff.  Schwerin Concaves plated the equipment with chrome to limit wear. 

The plating operation was located mainly in one large building known as the plating shop. The contamination came from a tank that stored wastewater from the electroplating process, just north of the plating shop.

Dry Creek was not affected by the pollutants, and groundwater in the area that is used for irrigation, drinking water and recreation comes from deeper, non-contaminated wells.

The Draft Cleanup Action Plan provides details about a specific plan of action that has been selected from a number of options as the best alternative for cleaning up the site. However, it is not final until the public has a chance to weigh in. The deadline for comments is Nov. 30, 2012.

Schwerin Concaves is considered an “orphan” site, meaning that the people responsible for the pollution are unavailable or financially unable to conduct an adequate cleanup operation themselves under the state’s cleanup laws. Because of this, Ecology will pay for the cleanup using money from the state’s toxics account.

Ecology has already taken action to protect the public by removing nearly 3,000 tons of contaminated soil from the plating shop and nearby areas, improving the condition of the groundwater.

Ecology selected a combination of five cleanup alternatives. The plating shop would be decontaminated and torn down. Materials would be disposed in an appropriate facility. A treatment system that was successful in a pilot study at the site will be used to convert hexavalent chromium to a less harmful form of chromium.

Some contaminated soil and groundwater will remain in certain locations at the site.

Restrictions will be placed on the property to prohibit or limit how groundwater and land may be used.

Another document available for public review is the State Environmental Policy Act Checklist and the Determination of Non-Significance, which says that the remaining work to be done at the site will not itself harm the environment.

Find the documents at The Department of Ecology’s Spokane office by emailing Kari Johnson for an appointment at kari.johnson@ecy.wa.gov. They also are available at the Walla Walla Public Library on East Alder Street.

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Media Contact: Jani Gilbert, Communications, 509-329-3495; cell, 509-990-9177; e-mail jani.gilbert@ecy.wa.gov

For more information: https://fortress.wa.gov/ecy/gsp/Sitepage.aspx?csid=3956

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