EPA explains proposed Duwamish River cleanup change, extends comment period

(EPA slide explaining ways in which people come into contact with pollutants)

By Tracy Record
West Seattle Blog editor

The announcement for Wednesday’s online meeting about a possible change in the Environmental Protection Agency‘s Duwamish River cleanup plan declared that no decisions would be made that night.

But one was – EPA reps agreed to a request to extend the public-comment period on the change. So you now have until March 22nd to weigh in.

The proposed change involves a particular pollutant, benzo(a)pyrene (BaP), a “carcinogenic polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbon (cPAH).” Higher levels are now considered safe, the EPA says, so allowing for lower levels could remove about five acres from the cleanup area – the sum total of “scattered” areas – and cut about $1 million from the cleanup’s $340+ million projected cost.

The meeting began with this video presentation explaining it all:

Here’s the slide deck that goes along with it.

A few key points: This isn’t a sudden proposal; the EPA’s been talking about it for two years, and the changed health/safety information goes back two years before that. This sort of change is often finalized without public comment, but the advisory Lower Duwamish Waterway Roundtable thought that in this case, asking for public comment would be important.

In the EPA’s view, it “won’t be a big effect on cleanup areas and cost” and that “the risk goal will still be met by the revised levels.” The major risk focus here is levels in clam meat, and they’re not sure exactly what level of cleaning it takes to cut those levels, so they’re instead cleaning to meet a different standard, safety in “direct contact” with polluted areas, and they’ll keep testing clams to “measure the efficiency of the cleanup.”

The presentation recorded by the EPA’s Elly Hale was available in four languages – English, Spanish, Vietnamese, and Khmer. Once all four groups were done watching and listening, the meeting was opened for Q&A. That’s when the two-week extension for comments was requested, and granted. Another question: Are any other cleanup changes planned? Not so far. We asked about the source of this particular pollution. The reply: PAHs “are from many sources, your tailpipe or a chimney, your grilled hamburger, often coal and oil,” but they didn’t have “a specific answer for a specific site.” Runoff from roads and industrial sources can contribute too.

For those skeptical about why this particular pollutant was re-evaluated now, it was noted that other agencies had re-evaluated it too. “It hasn’t changed, our understanding has changed … based on new science for an old problem.”

If you have something to say, you now have until March 22nd. Comments are requested via email – at Region10@epa.gov. The full document for review is here; an explanatory one-sheet is here. The EPA will take comments into consideration when publishing a final version of the document to be used in the ongoing cleanup design.

5 Replies to "EPA explains proposed Duwamish River cleanup change, extends comment period"

  • bolo February 19, 2021 (12:19 pm)

    The takeaway: No point source for this carcinogenic pollutant, it must have entered the river from general widespread activities (tailpipes, chimmnies, grilled hamburgers, etc.)

    Makes me wonder if all our local rivers must be similarly polluted?

  • j February 19, 2021 (2:03 pm)

    They have done a great job cleaning up the river, but do not eat clams from the river. Salmon are ok

  • anonyme February 20, 2021 (6:13 am)

    Viewing ecosystems only by human metrics is short-sighted and anthropocentric.  Other species have a right to live in an environment unpolluted by humans.  We’ve already done enough damage to this planet to ensure the extinction of many species, including our own.  If anything, cleanup efforts should be expanded and accelerated, not reduced.  The above diagram is a modern relic that would be amusing – were it not so tragically ignorant.

    • for the orcas February 20, 2021 (11:02 am)

      Agree, anonyme. Where are the salmon and orcas in this picture? These endangered species cannot save their home which we humans have been destroying. We urgently need to do more, and are responsible for their survival at this point. More clean up please.

  • DP February 20, 2021 (3:38 pm)

    Keep in mind that EPA cleanup efforts are meant to be protective of human health and the environment.  That they’re discussing potential risks from direct contact or human consumption of clams, likely says that the exposure risk from these sources is higher than those for ecosystem exposures.  That ecosystem risk isn’t mentioned, doesn’t mean that it’s not considered.

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