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Occidental Chemical Pollution Cleanup
The cleanup of the worst unaddressed toxic contamination in Commencement Bay is starting to take shape. Occidental Chemical Corp., formerly operating on the Hylebos Waterway in the Port of Tacoma, contaminated the soil and groundwater with a massive plume of dangerous chemicals. As officials decide on a cleanup plan, the company responsible is pushing for a cheap option instead of an effective one. We can’t let that happen.
Worst Pollution in Commencement Bay
For over 75 years, Occidental Chemical manufactured a host of different hazardous chemicals along the Hylebos Waterway in the Tacoma tideflats. Decades of poor housekeeping practices and waste dumping has resulted in groundwater and soil being highly contaminated with harmful, cancer-causing pollutants.
The toxic pollution left by Occidental has no comparison nationally and is by far the worst unaddressed contamination in Commencement Bay. Today, the pollution plume is the size of five CenturyLink Fields, is deeper than the Tacoma Dome is tall, and stretches underneath the Hylebos to Marine View Drive. It includes heavy metals, PCBs and a range of highly dangerous volatile organic chemicals. In some places, the pH is as high as 14, which is stronger than drain cleaner and enough to dissolve the rock into jelly.
This pollution poses an immediate threat to both people and the environment. As it enters the waters of the Hylebos, contaminants are swept out to Commencement Bay where they threaten all wildlife, from oysters to orcas. Humans can also be exposed to toxins by breathing in or swallowing contaminated materials, or by eating contaminated fish and shellfish. The pollution plume can also eventually release the toxic, cancer-causing gas vinyl chloride into our air and water.
Pushing for Effective Cleanup
The severity of Occidental’s pollution landed the site on the federal list of Superfund cleanups in the early 1980s. Decades later, we are finally nearing the start of a cleanup.Photo: Aerial view of massive Occidental pollution plume.; Credit: WA Dept. of Ecology
Occidental Chemical Pollution Cleanup
The current stage in the process is tremendously important, because the WA Department of Ecology is currently deciding on a cleanup plan. This determines how much pollution will be removed, and how much will be left in the ground.
Occidental Chemical Corporation is pushing for a cleanup that would remove only 41% of the toxic pollution. Cleaning less than half of this dangerous contamination is unacceptable. Despite the fact that Occidental brought in a whopping $117 million in pre-tax profits during the last quarter alone, the company is advocating for a cheap option instead of an effective one. Our community needs a cleanup plan that effectively protects people and the environment, not one that puts the profits of polluters above our health and natural resources.
Time is running out to ensure an adequate cleanup. The State Department of Ecology hosted an open house and public hearing on March 8th, at the Center at Norpoint. This was our chance to speak out and demand the strongest cleanup possible. We filled the room with community members to send a strong message that 41% clean is not clean enough.
We also strongly encourage you to submit public comments on the draft Feasibility Study (http://bit.ly/1NYwYMg) until April 27, 2017.
Send your comments to:
Kerry Graber, Site Manager
Washington State Department of Ecology
PO Box 47775, Olympia, WA 98504-7775
Citizens for a Healthy Bay has been involved in the Occidental cleanup process for nearly two decades. As the local clean water leader, we will continue to work with stakeholders and the community to ensure a sustainable future for Tacoma and our waters.
With questions or to receive updates on this issue, email Ryan Cruz at email@example.com
Learn more at www.healthybay.org
Photo: Exposure to Occidental Chemical Pollution Plume; Credit: WA Dept. of Ecology