Washington State Department of Ecology - October 1, 2013

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Vashon-Maury Island, Tacoma arsenic and lead soil sampling underway

OLYMPIA – This week, the Washington State Department of Ecology (Ecology) begins a large-scale soil sampling effort on southern Vashon-Maury Island to test 700 residential yards for arsenic and lead contamination from the former Tacoma Asarco smelter.

Sampling efforts already are underway for 3,900 yards in north and west Tacoma, managed by the Tacoma-Pierce County Health Department (TPCHD).

Ecology’s Residential Yard Sampling and Cleanup Program (Yard Program) targets the 23-square-mile area most impacted by the former smelter. The program provides soil sampling and soil removal for yards over a certain threshold for arsenic or lead.

"This is a great opportunity to find out what’s in your soil, learn how to protect your family, and possibly qualify for cleanup," said Amy Hargrove, Ecology’s cleanup manager. "I would encourage homeowners to talk with us about any concerns or questions they have before responding."

Soil sampling is voluntary and free, but homeowners cannot opt back in once they have declined the program.

Eligible property owners will receive a letter offering the free sampling, along with a form to sign that allows soil samplers access to the yard. When an owner does not respond, two more attempts will be made to contact the owner before a final letter will be sent to confirm the owner is opting out of the program.

On Vashon-Maury Island, Ecology anticipates sending letters throughout the end of the year and into 2014.

In Tacoma, because of the large number of properties affected, TPCHD is working neighborhood by neighborhood, and it may take several years to contact all 3,900 homes. Of those who have been contacted, Ecology and TPCHD are still waiting to hear back from a few hundred property owners who’ve received letters in recent months.

The time it takes for soil sampling varies, from less than an hour to two hours for larger yards. Homeowners can choose whether they want to be present during sampling. The sampler will pull small core samples from the top 6 inches of soil, then refill the hole and replace any sod or ground covering. Smaller properties will need up to 16 core samples and larger properties may need up to 32.

Ecology is using funding from a $94.6 million bankruptcy settlement with Asarco to run the Yard Program. The program service area also covers the 1-square-mile Asarco Smelter Superfund site in Ruston and north Tacoma.

This summer, Ecology contacted its first group of homeowners eligible for cleanup inside the Superfund area. During the past 20 years, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) oversaw Superfund cleanup of highly contaminated yards close to the former smelter. Ecology is now offering cleanup for about 700 yards that did not qualify for EPA’s program but still have high levels of arsenic or lead.

The former Asarco copper smelter sat on the border of Ruston and north Tacoma. Emissions from the facility contaminated a 1,000-square-mile area of surface soils with arsenic and lead. Arsenic and lead are toxic metals and can pose a health risk, especially to children.

For more information about the Yard Program and a service area map, visit http://www.ecy.wa.gov/programs/tcp/sites_brochure/tacoma_smelter/2011/ts-hp.htm.

In Tacoma, contact Glenn Rollins, Tacoma-Pierce County Health Department, 253-798-3503, Grollins@tpchd.org.

On Vashon-Maury Island, contact Jill Jacobson, Washington Department of Ecology, 360-407-6245, Jill.Jacobson@ecy.wa.gov.

Residents of the Ruston/North Tacoma Superfund area can find soil sampling data and whether their yard was already cleaned up at https://fortress.wa.gov/ecy/areispublic/.

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Media Contacts:
 Hannah Aoyagi, Toxics Cleanup Program, 360-407-6790, Hannah.Aoyagi@ecy.wa.gov
 Linda Kent, media relations, 360-791-9830, linda.kent@ecy.wa.gov

More information:

Tacoma Smelter Plume:  (www.ecy.wa.gov/programs/tcp/sites_brochure/tacoma_smelter/2011/ts-hp.htm)

Toxics Cleanup Program (www.ecy.wa.gov/programs/cleanup.html)

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