State plans to clean up land polluted by Asarco smelter

Source: The News Tribune, Tacoma, WA, March 26, 2013
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The state Department of Ecology has released plans for a $62 million cleanup of some 1,200 residential yards polluted by the old Asarco smelter in Ruston.

The voluntary program will cover homes not only within the one-square-mile Asarco Superfund site but also some 3,900 homes outside the Superfund boundaries in West Tacoma. It also includes an estimated 700 properties on southern Vashon and Maury islands.

Technicians will begin taking soil samples within the old smelter’s extensive fallout zone later this year.

Yards contaminated with more than 100 parts per million of arsenic or more than 500 parts per million of lead will qualify for cleanup.

That’s a higher standard for arsenic than the one used in the Superfund cleanup of the Asarco site. In that 20-year cleanup, managed by the federal Environmental Protection Agency, residential property contaminated with at least 230 p.p.m. of arsenic and 500 p.p.m of lead qualified for remediation.

The new state program is voluntary, meaning property owners can opt out if they choose.

The program is being paid for by a bankruptcy settlement with Asarco. The state’s total settlement with Asarco was $188 million, which also covers the Everett Smelter cleanup and four mines.

About $95 million is allocated for all the future costs of cleaning up the Tacoma Smelter fallout, including the yard cleanup program, outreach, cleanup of schools, child-care facilities and parks.

More than half of the yard cleanups are expected to take place inside the Superfund site, Ecology Department officials say, even though most residential yards there already were cleaned as part of the Superfund cleanup.

The EPA initiated its Superfund yard cleanup program in 1993. During the cleanup, as little as 1 inch to as much as 2 feet of soil was removed from 4,000 public and private properties in Ruston, north Tacoma and Point Defiance Park. In all, 250,000 cubic yards of arsenic- and lead-contaminated soil were hauled to toxic storage.

The Ecology Department now is offering cleanup for about 700 yards that did not qualify for EPA’s program.

“Our first cleanups will happen inside the Superfund site because we already have EPA’s soil sampling data for those yards,” said Ecology Department cleanup manager Amy Hargrove. “This area still has some of the highest arsenic levels we know of, making cleanup a high priority.”

Soil sampling and cleanups on Vashon and Maury islands and in West Tacoma will follow work within the Superfund site.

Cleanup will lag at least a year behind sampling and most likely will not be completed until 2021, according to the Ecology Department plan.

“Over the next few years, we will go neighborhood by neighborhood to contact homeowners eligible for soil sampling or cleanup,” Hargrove said. “However, we encourage people to contact us and sign up now.”

The former Asarco copper smelter sat on the border of Ruston and North Tacoma. Emissions from the plant contaminated a 1,000-square-mile area of surface soils with arsenic and lead, both of which now are recognized as toxics that pose serious health risks, especially to children.

Cleanup will mostly involve removing contaminated soil to a depth of 12 inches to 18 inches and replacing it with clean fill and new landscaping. Where soil cannot be removed, the Ecology Department might provide a protective covering of soil or landscaping material.

The department also is using the cleanup to promote environmentally friendly landscaping options that reduce water, pesticide and fertilizer use.


The public is invited to review and comment on the state Department of Ecology’s Asarco smelter cleanup plan through April 29.

For more information about the program, a service area map and public comment period documents, go to

Comments can be sent to Amy Hargrove, Toxics Cleanup Program, Department of Ecology, P.O. Box 47775, Olympia, WA 98504-7775 or

Residents of the Ruston and North Tacoma Superfund area can find soil sampling data and check to see if their yard was already cleaned up at

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