Washington State Department of Ecology - January 15, 2014


Tacoma Asarco yard cleanup project reaches milestone, transfers to state and local oversight

OLYMPIA – After 20 years of sampling and cleaning up Ruston and north Tacoma residential yards contaminated by the Asarco smelter, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) is officially handing over the next phase of work to state and local agencies.  

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.

EPA has sampled 3,570 properties and cleaned up 2,436 with the worst contamination within a one square mile area of Ruston and north Tacoma around the former smelter.

Over the next eight years, the Washington Department of Ecology (Ecology) will offer cleanup to the 700 next-most-contaminated yards within a larger study area that includes southern Vashon-Maury Island and other areas of Tacoma. That work is part of an expanded, voluntary yard cleanup program funded from the state’s bankruptcy court settlement with Asarco.

Ecology partners with the Tacoma-Pierce County Health Department (Health Department) to offer community outreach through the Dirt Alert Program. As of Jan. 1, the Health Department took over the duties of the Asarco Information Center, which served the community around the former smelter. Using funding from EPA, the Dirt Alert Program will provide educational materials and help residents find and understand soil sampling and cleanup records for their properties.

“Residents may notice the Dirt Alert van in their neighborhoods as Tacoma-Pierce County Health Department begins spreading the word that they may be eligible for soil replacement services,” said John Sherman, program manager for the Health Department’s Dirt Alert Program.

“Also, we will mail every resident in the affected area an annual update that reminds them of the potential hazards of their soil and safety steps they should take,” Sherman said.

EPA cleaned up soils with the highest arsenic level, which posed the highest risk to human health. 

“First and foremost, we’d like to thank the Ruston Community and Tacoma for their patience and cooperation as the cleanup has moved ahead,” said Rick Albright, EPA’s Superfund Program Director in Seattle. “It hasn’t always been easy, but we’re proud of what we’ve accomplished and the progress that’s been made with our partners at Ecology and the county. This is good news for local families and the greater Tacoma community.”

Ecology’s voluntary program seeks to reduce human health risk at properties within a larger area outside of EPA’s work boundaries.

Homeowners do not need to sign up for cleanup. Ecology will send letters to homeowners in the study area explaining details of the program and whether they qualify. It may take up to a decade to complete cleanup of those residential yards that qualify, officials say.

EPA still plays a major role in the Asarco cleanup, overseeing cleanup of the smelter property – being conducted as part of a large redevelopment project by Point Ruston LLC – and funding Ecology’s cleanup of eight remaining yards with arsenic over 230 ppm.

Residents of the one square mile area around the smelter can find soil sampling data and whether their yard was already cleaned up online.

For more information about the Tacoma Smelter Plume, soil sampling results, and yard cleanups, the public can contact the Health Department’s Dirt Alert Program at 253-798-3503 or DirtAlert@tpchd.org

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Media Contacts:

Hannah Aoyagi, Toxics Cleanup Program, 360-407-6790, Hannah.Aoyagi@ecy.wa.gov 

For more information:

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

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

Tacoma-Pierce County Health Department (www.tpchd.org/dirtalert)

Environmental Protection Agency (http://yosemite.epa.gov/R10/CLEANUP.NSF/sites/asarco)

Ecology’s social media (www.ecy.wa.gov/about/socialmedia.html)