Department of Ecology News Release - March 22, 2016

Study will probe old contamination plumes beneath UW Tacoma's current campus

TACOMA – A legacy of industrial use left several plumes of groundwater contamination under what is now the University of Washington Tacoma campus. A proposed investigation and study will focus on what's needed to clean up that contamination.

The Washington Department of Ecology is proposing a legal agreement with the University of Washington that will lead to determining the extent of contamination and developing a cleanup plan. The public is encouraged to review documents and offer comment through May 4. A public meeting is scheduled April 6.

The agreed order allows UW to use approved interim remedial actions – limited, focused cleanup of portions of the site – rather than wait for a single mass cleanup. Any proposed interim actions would go out for separate public comment.

An industrial history

The UW Tacoma campus boundaries cover about 46 acres between South 21st Street and South 17th Street, and between Pacific Avenue and Tacoma Avenue. The area is part of the Union Depot Historic Warehouse District, which served rail commerce at the terminus of the transcontinental railroad beginning more than 100 years before the university arrived. It was also home to commercial and industrial uses such as dry cleaning, auto repair operations and various manufacturing.

Contamination was found as UW Tacoma was being built and as the campus expanded. Studies found groundwater polluted with petroleum hydrocarbons, benzene, trichloroethene (TCE), and perchloroethene (PCE). Although the risk to human health from this underground contamination is considered to be low, at high enough levels PCE, TCE, and petroleum hydrocarbons could harm people and the environment.

The investigation will help determine the extent of contamination in the area of the UW Tacoma campus. Also, the groundwater is near the Thea Foss Waterway, part of the Commencement Bay federal Superfund site. Cleanup will help protect people and the bay, plus support UW Tacoma's potential growth.

In 2013, a limited cleanup action began on the Howe Parcel portion of the UW Tacoma cleanup site. Groundwater contaminated with PCE is being treated and monitored.

Public comments wanted

The legal agreement (called an agreed order) requires UW to:

Ecology also encourages comments on a draft public participation plan. It details how people can be informed about and involved with the site's cleanup.

Learn more on April 6

Ecology staff will be available to talk with interested people and answer questions April 6 in the First United Methodist Church meeting room at 621 Tacoma Ave. S in Tacoma. An open house starts at 5:30 p.m., followed by a 6 p.m. presentation and a question-and-answer session. The open house will resume from 7:30 to 8 p.m.

Review documents

View documents at:

Submit comments


Seth Preston, Ecology communications, 360-407-6848, @ecologyWA

Michael Wark, Director of External Relations, UW Tacoma, 253-692-5771