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Work begins on Slip 4 'hotspot' in Duwamish River

Bellamy Pailthorp
U.S. Environmental Protection Agency Regional Administrator Dennis McLerran celebrates the start of dredging on Slip 4, a hot spot in the Superfund cleanup plan for the Lower Duwamish Waterway.

It’s one of the most polluted waterways in all of the Pacific Northwest. The lower five miles of Seattle’s Duwamish River were listed as a Superfund site a decade ago. This week, cleanup work has begun on one of its most toxic sections. 

An excavator aboard a huge dredging barge has started scooping contaminated sediments out of an area known as Slip 4. Ultimately about 10,000 cubic yards of contaminated sediments and 800 tons of debris will be removed from the area.

The six and a half acre site near the heart of the Georgetown community was used for a century as an industrial berth and dumping site, infusing river banks that were once salmon habitat with toxins such as PCBS.

“This cleanup, along with other early actions that are going to go on along the river, is going to reduce contamination in the river by about half,” says U.S. Environmental Protection Agency regional administrator Dennis McClaren, speaking at ceremony marking the milestone.

He  says the work on Slip 4 jump starts work on the rest of the river’s clean up. It’s one of five so-called “hot spots” that the EPA has identified for early cleanup, before it proceeds with a larger plan for the entire 32-square miles of the Lower Duwamish Superfund site.

“Getting it done early really gives us an advantage in being able to complete the total project more quickly than we would otherwise. So this is a really good example of how to do it right.”

Work on Slip 4 is expected to wrap up early next year. In March, the EPA will release its clean-up plan for the entire area, which could take anywhere from four years to four decades and will cost hundreds of millions of dollars. A final decision on its scope is expected in 2013. 

Bellamy Pailthorp covers the environment beat for KNKX, where she has worked since 1999. From 2000-2012, she covered the business and labor beat. Bellamy has a deep interest in Indigenous affairs and the Salish Sea. She has a masters in journalism from Columbia University.