Plan to dump PCB-tainted soil raises concerns

Tuesday, September 11, 2007 – 12:00 AM
By Craig Welch
Seattle Times environment reporter

Environmentalists are questioning plans by the Port of Seattle to dump contaminated sediment into Elliott Bay, saying it would run contrary to state efforts under way to clean up Puget Sound.

As part of a $118 million plan to deepen a docking terminal south of Safeco Field and Qwest Field to make way for more container ships, the Port is planning to dig up 59,000 cubic yards of marine sediment that is slightly polluted with polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs).

The issue is what to do with it all. The Port has received federal approval to put it into Puget Sound, but a dozen environmental groups are pushing for the agency to get rid of the pollution, not just move it around.

“Given that we already have a PCB problem, they should see this as an opportunity to do something different,” said Fred Felleman, a leader of the group Friends of the Earth.

Port Commission President John Creighton now agrees, and said the matter will likely come up at the Port’s meeting today. But taking the dirty mud someplace else will raise the cost of the expansion project and could slow it down.

“Puget Sound is such a crown jewel, I think we need to go the extra mile to protect it,” Creighton said. “We need to leave Elliott Bay better than we found it.”

PCBs were banned in 1977 but remain in the environment, working their way through the marine food chain. A state study in 2000 found PCB levels in Puget Sound chinook, eaten by whales, were three times higher than those in other Pacific Coast salmon.

PCBs are believed to contribute to immune-system and reproductive problems in the Sound’s resident orcas, which are listed for protection under the Endangered Species Act.

The state Department of Health has also warned people not to eat resident fish in the Duwamish River because of PCB contamination.

The Port plans to deepen the Terminal 30 area across from Harbor Island. Since that area, presently used by cruise ships, is part of the Harbor Island Superfund site, the Environmental Protection Agency is investigating the contamination levels of the underwater soil before it proposes a cleanup plan in 2010.

While the agency investigates, PCB levels at Terminal 30 are relatively low compared to other spots in the area, said Ravi Sanga an EPA manager overseeing the cleanup.

Originally, the Port expected some sediment would be disposed of on land, but the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers — which permits navigational digging — determined the soil wasn’t polluted enough for that to be necessary.

But since the expansion is moving ahead before the cleanup, Felleman and other environmentalists think the Port should take the dirty mud to an approved landfill. Port officials estimate that could add up to $2 million to the project.

Craig Welch: 206-464-2093 or

Copyright © 2007 The Seattle Times Company

~ by fredfelleman on September 11, 2007.

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