Patrick Robinson
The Environmental Protection Agency is proposing a clean up of the Lower Duwamish River Waterway which has been a heavily contaminated Superfund Site for decades. They are seeking public comment on the plan. However, the Duwamish River Cleanup Coalition says the plan falls short.

UPDATE 2: EPA proposes massive cleanup of Duwamish Waterway; Plan not equitable or sustainable says environmental group

EPA claims work will remove nearly 800,000 cubic yards of contaminated sediment

Second UPDATE, March 2:

Following the below press release issued by the EPA, Duwamish River Cleanup Coalition Policy Advisor Bj Cummings responded with her organization's own press release on the plan. She then shared her organization's positions on the plan with the West Seattle Herald:

"There is a lot to like in this plan," Cummings said. "It has gotten stronger through the last drafts I have seen. It is going in the right direction and has a lot of potential. But the problem all along has been that it does not provide adequate health protection for some of our most resource-dependent, vulnerable communities, particularly those who have any kind of cultural or subsistence relationship to the river. Fishermen and Tribes are not going to be adequately protected by the current plan.

"This doesn't necessarily mean do more and spend more," she said. "It means really look at who's benefitting and who's not. We're looking at this from an equity perspective, from a social justice perspective, and from an environmental perspective.

"There are two necessary things," she said. "One, we need to focus on how controlling ongoing sources of pollution (entering the Duwamish River) can be an integrated and enforceable part of this plan because the reason they say they cannot protect fishermen's health is because pollution is still coming into the river. We need to do everything to control ongoing pollution or this cleanup will not be successful.

"Number two, we want this cleanup to work, and we want it to last," she said. "That is almost certainly going to mean we will need to remove more and cover up less. There is a lot of reliance (in the EPA plan) on letting the (up-river) silt cover up the pollution in place. We don't know what is going to work. The plan acknowledges it is based on highly uncertain modeling. If it doesn't work and we have to come back and do this again later, it's going to cost us more later."

The "removing" refers to scooping out 790,000 cubic yards of contaminated soil from the river's bottom, about 6,200 semi-trucks worth, to go into an Oregon landfill.

Cummings explains the "covering up" methods.

"There are two ways they propose to cover up pollution in place," she said. "One is to cap some of it, to place a three to six foot sand layer over it. In some places that's appropriate. The second way is to just leave the upper river alone and let it become covered naturally (with clean sediment). But this plan has increased that area, and we don't know if that is going to work at all. We need to remember the entire river is over the fault line. We don't need something that can come back and bite us in the butt later. If they just cover it up and there is any kind of disturbance like an earthquake we'll have too start all over again."

While the cleanup area is often referred to as a "Superfund Site", the funds will actually be coming from the responsible parties. The biggest contributors are expected to be Boeing, the Port of Seattle, the City of Seattle, and King County, with some smaller contributions made from other businesses up and down the Duwamish that have been polluting the river.

So will they make good on their financial promise, and commitment?

"They've known it was coming for years now," Cummings said. "I hope they were thinking ahead and putting some funds aside."

The public comment period is open now. The EPA is hosting public meetings in April and May. The DRCC has a calendar with those meetings. They also will hold public meetings, and are finalizing one intriguing attention-getter.

Cummings explained, "We're doing one at the indoor Sandbox in Georgetown (Sandbox Sports Seattle) where we will build a huge model of the river and the cleanup plan in the sand. It will be the Duwamish River in 3-D, contaminant layers and all."

EPA press release

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency released a proposed ($305 million) plan to clean up the Lower Duwamish Waterway Superfund Site, the city’s chief industrial waterway located on the south end of Elliott Bay. The release of the sediment cleanup plan marks the beginning of a public comment period.

“The Duwamish is Seattle’s river. This plan is the product of our close coordination among the governments and businesses responsible for cleanup, and the communities and tribes who use the river for their food and livelihood,” said Dennis McLerran, Regional Administrator for EPA Region 10. “This cleanup will ensure that the Duwamish will be healthier and safer for the people and communities who rely on it, while also keeping the river open for business.”

The proposed plan calls for cleanup of the most contaminated sediment and would reduce PCB contamination in the Duwamish River by at least 90 percent in conjunction with cleanups already underway at early action sites. The plan also includes an environmental justice analysis that examines the impacts of contamination on minority and low-income populations around the Superfund site. In addition, the plan has a source control strategy to minimize the release of pollutants that could re-contaminate waterway sediments.

EPA manages the cleanup of contaminated sediment and the Washington State Department of Ecology oversees pollution source control under a 2002 agreement to share management of the five-mile site.

“Source control targets pollutants both past and present, and represents a continuing commitment to protect against re-contamination of Duwamish sediments after the EPA cleanup,” said Jim Pendowski, Ecology’s toxics cleanup program manager. “It takes broad involvement – including public agencies, businesses, and local residents – to sustain this effort. We’re all responsible for the health of the Duwamish.”

Industry, storm drains, and combined sewer overflows have polluted the Lower Duwamish Waterway surface water and sediments over the past 100 years. Over 40 hazardous substances were found in sediments at concentrations that pose a risk to people and marine life. Resident Duwamish fish and shellfish, which are consumed by local communities, accumulate contaminants that are harmful to human health.

The primary contaminants of concern are PCBs, dioxins, arsenic and carcinogenic polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons. EPA used scientific studies completed by the City of Seattle, King County, the Port of Seattle and Boeing to determine the extent of contamination and evaluate cleanup options. These parties recognized the need for cleanup measures and stepped up to do the work in areas of the river that contained the most contamination. The early action areas for cleanup are Slip 4, Terminal 117, Boeing Plant 2, Jorgensen Forge, Duwamish Diagonal and the Norfolk combined sewer overflow.

The proposed cleanup would address 156 acres of contaminated sediments through dredging, capping or enhanced natural recovery, including removal of nearly 800,000 cubic yards of contaminated sediments from the waterway. Enhanced natural recovery refers to the application of a thin layer of clean sand that would reduce contaminant levels more quickly than natural recovery, where natural sedimentation from the river creates a cleaner surface over time. An additional 256 acres with lower levels of contamination would benefit from monitored natural recovery.
Duwamish River Cleanup Coalition responds

EPA's proposed Duwamish River Cleanup Plan needs work to deliver equity, sustainability

EPA has released its Proposed Cleanup Plan for the Lower Duwamish River Superfund Site. However, the agency's Community Advisory Group for the project says the Plan needs work to protect some whose health will still be threatened by pollutants in the river.

"The EPA's proposed plan is a step forward," says BJ Cummings, Policy Advisor, Duwamish River Cleanup Coalition (DRCC). "But it still fails to protect the health of fishermen and Tribes, and there are even questions whether the beaches will be safe enough for local residents and families to use regularly."

EPA's draft Plan acknowledges these risks, and argues that they are too difficult or costly to correct. "Frankly, that's an unacceptable answer," says Cummings. "This is everyone's river – we cant just protect kayakers, but leave fishermen behind. The cleanup needs to result in a river for all."

DRCC is working with the UW School of Public Health, non-profit group Just Health Action, and others to assess the health implications of the river cleanup and make recommendations for improvements that address environmental justice and health equity concerns, as well as whether the proposed plan will be cost-effective and sustainable over the long term.

DRCC is EPA's Community Advisory Group for the site, representing the interests of affected residents, tribal members, small businesses, and environmental stakeholders. DRCC is currently reviewing the cleanup plan and will issue public fact sheets, recommendations, and health impact studies about EPA's proposed plan in the coming weeks.

EPA and DRCC will hold a series of public hearings and community meetings during the public review period, which will close on June 13, 2013. Visit for more information.

Since 2002, Ecology, the City of Seattle and King County have worked to investigate and reduce pollution sources in the waterway’s 32-square-mile drainage area with a series of targeted initiatives:

  • Conducted 3,100 inspections at over 1,300 businesses
  • Performed 421 combined hazardous waste and water quality inspections under the state’s Urban Waters Initiative
  • Collected over 800 samples to track and identify sources
  • Cleaned over 30,000 feet of storm drain lines
  • Ecology has overseen cleanups or investigations at 22 contaminated industrial sites along or near the Duwamish under the state’s cleanup law. EPA has managed the federal cleanup process at eight sites. Ecology’s proposed source control strategy will carry these efforts into the future, including monitoring to track the strategy’s effectiveness.

The proposed cleanup would take approximately seven years to implement, with an additional ten years to reduce contaminant concentrations to the lowest predicted concentrations through natural recovery. The estimated cost of the proposed cleanup is $305 million.

The release of the proposed plan marks the beginning of a 105-day public comment period. The public can submit comments through the EPA website and at three public meetings scheduled for April and May.

For more information on the proposed cleanup plan for the Lower Duwamish Waterway Superfund Site or to submit comments online, please visit:

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