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EPA's Final Plan Just A Start For Seattle Groups Watchdogging Duwamish Cleanup

Bellamy Pailthorp
Duwamish Cleanup Coalition Coordinator, James Rasmussen, says the EPA's plan for restoring ecological health to the 32 square miles of Seattle's Superfund site should include the goal of allowing this generation to eat a fish out of the river.

A long-awaited roadmap is in place for the cleanup of Seattle’s only river.

The Lower Duwamish Waterway was listed as a Superfund site in 2001. Now, after extensive public feedback, a final cleanup plan has been approved by the Environmental Protection Agency.

The plan will remove 90 percent of pollution in the river through a combination of dredging, capping and letting sediment from upriver naturally bury the toxic material.

The agency says the efforts will reduce risks from long-lasting PCBs and other toxins that have polluted the river for the past century. It will take 17 years and cost nearly $350 million dollars to implement. But some groups still see the EPA’s requirements as a bare minimum. 

The final plan includes consideration of some 2,300 public comments. The EPA’s local administrator, Dennis McLerran, says public involvement led the agency to add 21 additional acres of dredging to remove more toxins from the polluted waterway.  

“And that dredging will also ensure that the navigation channel in the river is maintained, which is very important to the businesses and the folks that use the river on an everyday basis,” McLerran said.

He says while they can’t restore the river to its natural condition, the plan will result in a healthier waterway for the long term.

“We think this plan gets it right," McLerran said. "This cleanup plan keeps the Duwamish River open for business. And our approach will reduce risks to people who eat resident fish, reduce risks to people who come in direct contact with contaminated sediments, and reduce risks to the fish, wildlife, and other aquatic life.”

That’s not enough for members of the Duwamish River Cleanup Coalition. They want near term cleanup, to make the river safe for people who eat fish from it now, not a generation from now. So they’re asking responsible parties to consider actions that go beyond the EPA’s requirements.

The Cleanup Coalition’s policy advisor BJ Cummings says, for example, dredging 24 additional acres of highly toxic soil that the plan says can be capped.

“We do know that that was the choice that Boeing made, when they were permitted to use a cap at Boeing plant 2, they elected to remove everything instead, specifically to save money in the long run,” she said.

Cummings says caps are costly to monitor and they expose responsible parties to liability if they fail, such as might happen in an earthquake.

Bellamy Pailthorp covers the environment for KNKX with an emphasis on climate justice, human health and food sovereignty. She enjoys reporting about how we will power our future while maintaining healthy cultures and livable cities. Story tips can be sent to