Department of Ecology News Release - February 19, 2013

13-048

Crews gear up to remove mercury contamination from Bellingham waterfront property

BELLINGHAM – Contractor crews are moving into position this month and are preparing to dig out pockets of mercury contamination on Bellingham’s waterfront starting in March.

The Port of Bellingham hired contractor Strider Construction of Bellingham, Wash., and is working with the Washington Department of Ecology under the laws of the Model Toxic Control Act to clean up a small portion of the Georgia-Pacific West site.

Crews have set up construction offices and are bringing construction equipment to the former Georgia-Pacific property near the Bellingham Shipping Terminal at the end of Cornwall Ave.

“We’re getting ready to go after mercury,” said Brian Sato, Ecology’s site manager. “You can actually see BBs of mercury in the dirt samples we’ve taken. This is the most highly concentrated contamination on the entire site.”

Mercury is a concern because it is toxic and gets into the food chain.

Crews will dig out approximately 500 tons of soil contaminated with elemental mercury. The soil will be mixed with sulfur and cement and turned into concrete blocks. Then the blocks will be transferred to a permitted hazardous waste landfill.

 Much of the work will be completed within an enclosed building to ensure mercury vapors are contained and treated.

“We’ll have all kinds of air monitoring equipment and safety precautions in place to protect our workers and people while we’re out there.” said Brian Gouran, Port of Bellingham site manager.

The contamination was left behind by Georgia-Pacific, a former pulp mill on the Bellingham waterfront that used mercury as part of its pulping process to create chlorine and sodium-hydroxide.

Crews will also demolish Georgia-Pacific’s old mercury cell building.

All work is expected to be completed in May.

The port acquired the property in 2005. Investigations by the port in 2010 found elemental mercury in the soil, which led to this $1.8 million interim cleanup work. This interim work has to be completed before a larger site-wide cleanup can start.

Ecology will reimburse half of port’s cleanup costs through the state’s Remedial Action Grant program. The program helps pay to clean up publicly owned sites and is funded with revenue from a voter-approved tax on hazardous substances.

# # #

Media Contacts:

Dustin Terpening, Ecology media relations, 360-715-5205 or dustin.terpening@ecy.wa.gov

Carolyn Casey, Port of Bellingham media relations, 360-676-2500 or carolync@portofbellingham.com

For more information:

Georgia-Pacific west cleanup site (https://fortress.wa.gov/ecy/gsp/Sitepage.aspx?csid=2279)

Pictures (www.flickr.com/photos/ecologywa/sets/72157632770752507/detail/) 

Harmful effects of chemicals (www.ecy.wa.gov/puget_sound/toxicchemicals/effects.html)

Ecology's social media (www.ecy.wa.gov/about/newmedia.html)