Alcoa Dredges Contaminated
VANCOUVER, Wash. - Alcoa Inc. has removed more than 5,000 cubic yards of PCB-tainted sediment from the Columbia River and its shoreline at an old smelter site in Vancouver.
Alcoa built the aluminum smelter about 3 miles northwest of Vancouver in 1940 and operated the plant until its closure in 1985. State officials have been working with the company since 1990 to characterize the extent of the contamination there.
Cleanup had been stalled for a decade, until Gov. Chris Gregoire ordered the state Department of Ecology to speed up negotiations with the company.
To date, Alcoa has spent about $42 million cleaning up the site, including $34 million to clean up PCBs. Some $3 million has been spent this year alone.
The area is a large, complicated industrial site with different kinds of environmental contamination that required different approaches, Ecology Director Jay Manning said Tuesday.
"Over a decade, we picked those off one by one, but one of the big and most complicated and most technically challenging parts was what to do in the river," he said.
The two sides identified about 45,000 cubic yards of sediment that needed to be removed from the river and shoreline because it was contaminated with PCBs, which collect in the human body and can cause liver damage or cancer.
Authorities gave Alcoa a window to complete the work, Nov. 1 through Feb. 28, without hurting fish runs in the river. But a permit for the work was delayed several weeks, forcing Alcoa to hold off on the dredging until Dec. 1.
The 5,000 cubic yards of sediment removed from the river so far this month contained the highest concentration of PCB material, or about 90 percent of the PCBs in the river and shoreline overall, said Mark Stiffler, Alcoa's director of asset management.
The project covers some 3,500 feet of Columbia River shoreline.
Community concerns about the contamination prompted Alcoa and Ecology to push forward on the cleanup, which could have taken as long as two years, he said.
"We worked very hard to accelerate that process so that we complete it in about a year," Stiffler said. "We're well on our way, and things are progressing as planned."
The project is expected to be completed by the end of February.
Still to be determined is a plan for cleaning up contaminated groundwater at the site. Groundwater cleanup represents that last major hurdle to restoring the site.
Manning and Stiffler said the company and the state expect to reach agreement on the technical approach to that cleanup in mid-January.
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