Occidental Chemical Cleanup Site

The Occidental Chemical cleanup site is a federally-listed contaminated site, also known as a Superfund site. It has been on the federal Superfund list since the early 1980s – some work has been done to make sure there is no immediate threat to human health and the environment – but there is still a huge amount of contamination left on the site that is spreading to neighboring parcels and toward Commencement Bay. The Department of Ecology is scheduled to release their draft Cleanup Action Plan this year, which will describe the final stages of the cleanup including how the site will be cleaned up, how much pollution will be removed, and how much pollution will be left in the ground.

As Ecology decides on a cleanup plan, the company responsible for the contamination – Occidental Chemical Corporation (formerly known as Hooker Chemical) is pushing for a cleanup option that will leave over half of the total contamination in the ground. We can’t let that happen.

For nearly 80 years, Occidental manufactured chlorine, sodium hydroxide, and ammonia at their facility on the Hylebos Waterway in Tacoma. Decades of poor housekeeping practices and improperly disposing of waste has resulted in the groundwater and soil being contaminated by many hazardous materials, like bleach, heavy metals and cancer-causing compounds.

This pollution poses a threat to both people and the environment. The contamination has actually already seeped to the surface in the Hylebos Waterway, and an earthquake or underwater landslide could result in a release of toxins into the water. Liquefaction has also affected the water-saturated Tideflats area during past earthquakes, creating another pathway for the toxic-rich sediment and groundwater to enter into our environment.

As some of the chemicals break down over time, they can change form into the toxic, cancer-causing gas vinyl chloride. This toxic gas can be released by “vapor intrusion” meaning the gas itself seeps up through the flooring of buildings and can spread through the air.

In some areas, the pH of the contamination is as high as 14 – the same as drain cleaner.

Hylebos Waterway

The severity of Occidental Chemical Corporation’s pollution landed the site on the federal list of Superfund cleanups in the early 1980s. Decades later, we are finally nearing the final stages of the cleanup, which will take decades and continuous monitoring. The Washington Department of Ecology, which has the authority to control cleanup actions, is currently deciding on a Cleanup Action Plan. This will determine how much pollution gets removed, and how much stays in the environment forever.

However, the company responsible is setting the stage to walk away from this mess without a comprehensive cleanup. The 2017 Feasibility Study showed that Occidental Chemical Corporation is pushing for a cleanup that would remove only 41% of the toxic pollution. Cleaning up less than half of this dangerous contamination is unacceptable. Despite the fact that Occidental brought in a whopping $580 million in pre-tax earnings during the third quarter of 2022 alone, the company is advocating for a cheap option instead of an effective one. Occidental is responsible for leaving dangerous levels of pollution in dozens of cities across the country. Most notably, Occidental is responsible for the cleanup of the infamous Love Canal disaster, where 22,000 tons of toxic waste was left underground and started bubbling up in backyards and playgrounds, and is still making people sick today.

In 2018, Ecology released their Responsiveness Summary to comments from the public on the Feasibility Study. In their response, Ecology acknowledged they needed to add a cleanup alternative that would address removing the most amount of toxic waste as possible. While we commend Ecology for making this acknowledgment, that does not ensure they will choose this alternative in their Cleanup Action Plan. We cannot afford to let polluters walk away from their mess. That’s why we need you to push for the strongest and quickest cleanup possible.

Check back soon for ways you can get involved!

Communities for a Healthy Bay has been involved in the Occidental cleanup process for over three decades. We are committed to providing the community with reliable and accurate information. We will continue to work with the Puyallup Tribe, stakeholders and the community to ensure a healthy future for Tacoma and our waters – this means holding Occidental accountable for a stringent and thorough cleanup.

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More Information

Check out our 2018 OxyChem Fact Sheet: 2018 OxyChem Fact Sheet 

Read the 2017 Feasibility Study: 2017 Feasibility Study 

Read our Feasibility Study Comment Letter: CHB Comment Letter 

Want to know more? Check out this article by Sightline Institute’s Eric de Place. 

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