Environmental Groups Target
by Erik Robinson
A heavily polluted stretch of Columbia River shoreline is poised to be scooped clean next month.
Meanwhile, a pair of local environmental groups are also pressing to force the cleanup of an industrial landfill near the river.
Columbia Riverkeeper and the Rosemere Neighborhood Association, a Vancouver nonprofit, on Monday called on the state Department of Ecology to force cleanup of an old landfill on the site of Alcoa's defunct Vancouver aluminum smelter.
Groundwater near the landfill is tainted with high levels of trichloroethylene, or TCE. Polynuclear aromatic hydrocarbons, or PAHs, have also been detected in groundwater near the landfill, though at levels below state cleanup standards.
The landfill, known as the East Landfill, is filled with industrial waste consolidated from the entire 208-acre smelter site.
"It is hard to believe that the state has been overseeing cleanup efforts at this site for 20 years, yet we still have an unlined landfill leaking toxic pollution into the river," RNA's Dvija Michael Bertish said in a prepared statement.
State environmental regulators say they'll get to the landfill, but they want the shoreline cleaned up first.
Alcoa has hired a contractor, which is in place to begin dredging up 56,000 cubic yards of sediment along the heavily polluted shoreline. Dredging is due to begin by the second or third week of December, officials said.
"All the focus is on getting in the water," said Todd Coleman, deputy director of the Port of Vancouver, which has agreed to purchase the Alcoa site for redevelopment. "It's really pulled all the focus away from the East Landfill."
The matter came to a head last year after researchers revealed alarmingly high levels of polychlorinated biphenyls, a suspected carcinogen, in the tissue of clams living in the shoreline. State regulators had been aware of the polluted shoreline since 1997, but had yet to force a cleanup.
Gov. Chris Gregoire ordered the state Department of Ecology to hasten the shoreline cleanup following news coverage.
"We commend Ecology for their effort to do the in-river cleanup work, which is vital for the larger cleanup, but it's vital that cleanup of the entire site happen," said Lauren Goldberg, conservation director for Columbia Riverkeeper in Hood River, Ore.
Seth Preston, a spokesman for the Department of Ecology, said in an e-mail Monday that the state originally wanted to tackle the landfill and the shoreline together, until Gregoire made it clear that the shoreline cleanup was more urgent under the state's Model Toxics Cleanup Act, or MTCA.
"Since sediment dredging can only be done during certain times of the year and because we believe it is very important to remove the PCB-contaminated sediment as soon as possible, we agreed to pursue two MTCA actions," Preston wrote.
The state is working with Alcoa to finalize a separate agreement to address TCE-tainted groundwater below the landfill.
The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, meanwhile, is continuing to look into a petition to put the Alcoa site back on the federal Superfund list.
The upland area of the Alcoa site was placed on the Superfund list in 1988, putting it among the nation's worst environmental messes. The agency deleted the site from the Superfund list in 1996 after deciding the company had adequately removed or contained industrial pollution at the 1940s-era smelter.
The discovery of PCB-tainted sediment and clam tissue near the Vancouver Lake flushing channel prompted the Rosemere Neighborhood Association to petition for EPA Superfund status.
"It's ridiculous to think, when there are PCBs in the river in front of Alcoa, that they stayed right there in front of Alcoa," he said. "The same kind of PCBs in front of Alcoa are also in the (Vancouver Lake) flushing channel downstream."
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