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Toxics Cleanup Program

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   School play yard after cleanup

Soil Safety Program En Espanol icon

Arsenic and lead in play area soils can pose a risk to children.  The Soil Safety Program provides free soil sampling and cleanup for play areas within the program’s service area.  The program covers public and private schools, licensed childcares, public parks, camps, and multi-family public housing.

Soil Sampling and Cleanup Progress

  • Soil sampling: Ecology and local health departments in King and Pierce counties sampled over 1,000 existing play areas.  Free soil sampling is still available for new childcares (see below).
  • Cleanup: We found over 100 play areas with elevated arsenic or lead and cleaned up most of them. We expect to finish park cleanups by 2015, but will continue to clean up new childcares.   For cleanup updates and photos of our work, visit the Soil Safety Program blog.

Information for New Childcares
Sampling and Cleanup Records
Soil Safety Program Publications
Arsenic and Lead Levels Triggering Soil Cleanup
Soil Safety Program History and Accomplishments

Park Cleanup Projects

Information for New Childcares – Please contact Ecology!

In order to become licensed by the Department of Early Learning, childcares in the program service area must sign up for soil sampling.  Search to see if you are in this service area and contact Amy Hargrove at 360-407-6262 or    Frequently Asked Questions for Schools and Childcares provides more background on the program.

Where can I find play area sampling results and cleanup records?

We hope to have these records available online soon.  If you have questions about a play area in your neighborhood, please contact Amy Hargrove at 360-407-6262 or

Soil Safety Program Publications

Fact sheets Soil Safety Program Frequently Asked Questions – Park, Camps, and Public Housing
Frequently Asked Questions for Schools and Childcares
Spanish:  Pregunta Frecuentes sobre Los Penachos del la Fundición Tacoma
Russian:  Вопросы, которые обычно задают про выбросы медеплавильного завода
Program design Soil Safety Program Design (2006)
Soil Safety Program Design Addendum (2010)
Updates and legislative reports Soil Safety Program Update
2009 Legislative Report – June  
2007 Legislative Report
Soil Safety Program Update – August

Arsenic and Lead Levels Triggering Cleanup

When sampling play areas, we take eight samples from each play area.  We look at both the average of all the samples and the maximum—the highest arsenic and lead levels from each play area.  If any sampling results are at or over the numbers given in the table below, we will do cleanup.  Read about how we set these levels and what they mean in terms of health risk.

The table shows levels in parts per million (ppm).  One part per million is about equal to a half of a drop of water in a full bathtub.

  Average Maximum
Arsenic  20 ppm  40 ppm
Lead 250 ppm 500 ppm

Soil Safety Program History and Accomplishments

Studies in the early 2000’s find arsenic and lead in play areas.

In 2000, Ecology began a series of studies to find the full extent of smelter contamination.  Some of these studies focused on schools, childcares, and parks to see if children might be at risk.  The studies found that many play areas had arsenic and lead contamination.

The state legislature takes action in 2005.

In 2005, the Legislature passed a law (Ch. 70.140 RCW) to keep children safe from polluted soil.  The “Area-Wide Soil Contamination” law requires Ecology to:

  1. Identify schools and childcares within the smelter plume.
  2. Look at whether kids could be exposed to soils in the play areas.
  3. Sample the soils in those play areas for arsenic and lead.
  4. Remove or cover soils with arsenic or lead contamination (see Arsenic and Lead Levels Triggering Cleanup).

The Soil Safety Program begins in 2006 with schools and childcares.

In 2006, Ecology began working with the Office of the Superintendent of Public Instruction and the Department of Early Learning to identify schools and childcares.  The Tacoma-Pierce County Health Department and Public Health—Seattle & King County then checked for exposed soils and set up soil sampling visits, if needed.

In the spring of 2007, Ecology breaks ground on its first soil cleanups.

Ecology manages the cleanup part of the Soil Safety Program.  As soon as the first school sampling results were in, we began meeting with school districts to schedule cleanup work.  In April of 2007, we cleaned up play areas at 10 schools during spring breaks.  That summer we worked on five childcares in Tacoma.

Education and outreach further protects children.

Even though we are cleaning up play areas, kids can still be exposed to arsenic and lead at home or other places they might play.  We partner with local health departments in King, Pierce, and Thurston counties to offer outreach to kids, parents, teachers, and caretakers.  Simple healthy actions like washing hands after playing outside can reduce exposure.

A 2009 settlement from Asarco expands the program to include parks, camps, and public housing.

In December of 2009, the State of Washington received a settlement from Asarco, including $94 million to pay for cleanup of the Tacoma Smelter Plume. We used some of the funding to expand the Soil Safety Program to include public park, camp, and public multi-family housing play areas.  Soil Safety Program Frequently Asked Questions – Park, Camps, and Public Housing provides more detail about sampling and cleanup.

By 2011, all soil sampling at existing play areas is complete.

The program has provided free soil sampling for over 1,000 play areas.  We continue to sample new childcares that go through Department of Early Learning’s licensing process.  We have also sampled a few private schools missed earlier in the program.

Soil Safety Program Work 2006 through Sept. 30, 2012

 From the Tacoma Smelter Plume 2012 Annual Report

Play area type



Action needed

Action taken





















Multi-family public housing





Park cleanups will continue through 2014.

Ecology has cleaned up over 100 play areas, but a few large park projects remain in Tacoma.  In the summer of 2012, we cleaned up seven parks in Pierce and King counties Summer of 2013 projects are mostly in Pierce County.  Check our blog for Soil Safety Program news.