Sound Status Update — July 2018

Hey everyone,

July has been full of updates and some really important victories, both big and small. A polluter in the Port of Tacoma has settled a lawsuit, resulting in hundreds of thousands of dollars being dedicated to restoration activities in Commencement Bay. The process for the Occidental Chemical cleanup site, the most toxic site left in Commencement Bay, has started to move forward. After a public outcry over the lack of effective cleanup plans, the Washington Department of Ecology added another plan that will remove as much pollution as possible.

We also touch upon why Commencement Bay has been changing colors so much recently, and don’t forget to check out our summer fund drive, where every dollar you donate will be matched!

Stopping stormwater pollution in Commencement Bay

Good news! The Port of Tacoma is installing technology to address a major stormwater discharge issue in Commencement Bay.

For years, APM Terminals, a container port operator, illegally discharged extremely high levels of copper and zinc, which are extremely harmful to salmon. We confronted APM Terminals about the impacts their pollution was having on salmon and Commencement Bay, and were disappointed in APM’s lackluster plan to address their pollution.

Shortly after that meeting, Puget Soundkeeper sued APM Terminals for Clean Water Act violations citing long-term permit violations and extremely high levels of pollution, including a recent sample of their pollution that was 18 times the permitted amount of copper. We coordinated with Puget Sounkeeper to support their lawsuit against these serious polluters by providing them with valuable information for the case.

Shortly after Puget Soundkeeper filed the case, APM Terminals decided they would cease operations at the site. They left the site without installing pollution controls and have proposed settlement with Puget Soundkeeper to put $368,000 towards restoration activities in Commencement Bay.

The Port of Tacoma, from whom APM leased their site, and SSA Terminals, the new tenant taking over the site, are now responsible for the site and are taking their pollution prevention obligations seriously. They are installing over $11.8 million in pollution controls onsite and have been taking action to reduce runoff pollution, like frequent sweeping, which has effectively reduced copper and zinc runoff. Further, the Port is working to improve accountability across the tide flats and is updating their lease protocols so Port lessees meet environmental permit requirements.

Occidental Chemical Cleanup Update

During the first half of 2017, the Washington Department of Ecology (Ecology) accepted public comments on their draft Feasibility Study which examined different levels of possible cleanup remedies for the Occidental Chemical Corporation’s Superfund site (OxyChem). For those of you who may not be familiar with it, OxyChem is the last remaining Superfund site in the Tacoma Tideflats to be cleaned up and has been on the docket for cleanup since the early 1980s. (If you aren’t familiar with the OxyChem cleanup, click here to catch up!)

157 separate comments on the draft Feasibility Study were received, many of which criticized Ecology for overlooking cleanup remedies that would remove the most amount of contamination possible as required by the Washington State Code. In response, Ecology has added a cleanup option that will eliminate as much of the pollution plume from groundwater and soil as possible.

This is an important victory for our community and is a direct result of yourengagement! Many of you spoke up for the health of your community and environment, and because of you, the OxyChem cleanup site, the most toxic site remaining in Commencement Bay, now has a real chance to be properly cleaned up.

In the next few months, Ecology will select cleanup options and release a draft Cleanup Action Plan for public comment. This will be your next chance to speak up and make your voice heard to ensure that the Occidental Chemical Cooperation is held accountable for contaminating our soil and groundwater as a direct result of their irresponsible manufacturing practices.

Thank you to all who participated in this important public process by attending hearings and submitting comments!

Sediment Sampling in Hylebos Shows Improvements

The Hylebos Waterway, like much of Commencement Bay, has been polluted with many contaminants from current and historical industrial practices. One part of the cleanup for the Hylebos is treating the contaminated sediment that sits at the bottom of the waterway. The Port of Tacoma, along with other partners, have been testing the sediment for certain contaminants to see if conditions have improved since cleanup began.

A recent report on the sediment sampling from the Winter of 2017 at the head of the Hylebos (where Wapato Creek meets the Hylebos) show that concentrations for most contaminants were well below sediment quality standards (which is good). However, total counts of PCBs (polychlorinated biphenyls) exceeded sediment quality standards (which is bad). PCBs were historically used in electrical wiring, motor oil and insulation materials, and have been shown to cause cancer and have harmful impacts on the human immune, reproductive, nervous, and endocrine systems.

We thank the Port of Tacoma for their investment in cleaning up Commencement Bay and look forward to seeing continued cleanup of lingering sediment contamination in the Hylebos Waterway.

What’s that in the Bay?

You may have noticed that our lovely Commencement Bay hasn’t been its normal deep blue color lately. That’s because of a phenomenon known as glacial silt runoff (also referred to as glacial milk or glacial melt). In Commencement Bay, glacial silt runoff occurs when the melted fresh water from Mt. Rainier carries silt along with it as it flows. When this silt-laden fresh water meets the salt water of Commencement Bay, the freshwater glides over the heavier salt water, creating that striking separation between the two types of water we’ve been seeing a lot of recently.

We Need Your Support to Succeed

As you may know, we are currently in the middle of our summer fundraising campaign, where every dollar you donate, up to $5,000, will be matched. We need your support to continue our crucial advocacy work, long-term solutions, and on-the-water pollution prevention that will make our communities a healthier place to live. Please pitch in whatever you can, because whether you give a little or a lot, every contribution helps our environment. Remember, anything you give today will be doubled!

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