EPA may lower the cleanup standards for Seattle’s only river


It is not easy to eliminate industrial pollution that has existed for a century-it is not even easy to reach agreement on how to do this.

Efforts to clean up the Lower Duwamish Waterway have been going on for decades. After nearly 100 years of industrial activities, such as the manufacture of aircraft parts and the production of asphalt, Seattle’s only 5-mile-long river was declared a super fund base in 2001. In 2014, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) issued A comprehensive cleanup plan For the waterway. According to a plan developed by residents of the Dewarmish Valley for many years with community participation, the city of Seattle, the Port of Seattle, King County, and the aircraft manufacturer Boeing will assume the economic responsibility for reducing the concentration of pollutants in the lower reaches of the Dewarmish River. Waterway will be monitored by the EPA. project.

Since then, clean-up work has proceeded slowly and steadily. However, the EPA made a series of proposed changes to the site cleanup plan in the past few months, and problems arose in the process.Community groups stated that they were blinded by the EPA’s proposal, which they believed would Expose vulnerable communities to unacceptable levels of toxic pollution.

“We feel that they have failed to uphold any environmental justice principles,” said Paulina López, the organization’s executive director. Duwamish River Community AllianceOr DRCC, this organization was established in 2001 to express opinions on the Duwamish River on behalf of the community.

There are three issues at work, including EPA analysis This will allow higher levels of pollution to remain in the adjacent super fund site, and proposal Allow a former metal company to leave contaminants on the muddy bottom of the Lower Duwamish Channel. However, environmental health experts specifically questioned the Environmental Protection Agency’s proposal to increase the acceptable levels of benzo(a)pyrene or BaP and similar compounds in the Superfund sediments.

BaP, which causes cancer in humans, is part of a group of compounds called Carcinogenic polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons, Or cPAHs. These compounds are produced by the burning of coal, oil, natural gas, wood, garbage, and tobacco, or by cooking meat and other foods at high temperatures. Once released into the environment, cPAHs can bind to small particles that enter the human lung, or they can enter the human body when people eat meat from exposed animals. They can also pass through the skin, posing a risk of contact with contaminated materials such as sand.

As a result of nearly a century of industrial activity on this river, Boeing is one of four entities responsible for clearing the site of the Lower Duwamish Waterway Super Fund.
David Ryder/Getty Images

The proposal to increase the acceptable concentration of BaP and other cPAH in the Lower Dewarmish Waterway reflects the results of the latest BaP toxicity assessment issued by the EPA in 2017. After considering all available studies on BaP, the agency focused on two rodent studies that are over 20 years old, which shows that the risk of BaP is far less than it had previously imagined. In January 2021, the EPA included this analysis in its cleanup plan for the Lower Duwamish Channel and now recommends Seven times BaP It should be allowed to stay in river sediments more than previously authorized.

However, independent researchers from the University of Washington Superfund Research Project questioned the weight of evidence behind the EPA’s reassessment. In public comments to the EPA, Tom Burbacher, a professor of environmental and occupational health at the University of Washington, argued that the agency’s findings were not supported by additional research over the past two decades. In addition, he writes, they are inconsistent with previous studies on BaP-also in rodents-indicating that the toxicity level is approximately 7 times the toxicity level recommended by the two newer studies.

“The weight of the whole evidence is very weak,” Berbach told Grist in an interview. “If you look at the past 20 years [the studies] Has been released, there is nothing to convince you that these new numbers are accurate, and they are good for public health and safety.

“If I’m on that committee,” he added, “my suggestion is that the EPA should get more data.”

Burbacher also expressed concern about the EPA’s use of BaP to set relative toxicity levels for many other cPAHs, saying this was based on a “problematic” assumption.In fact, Oregon State University’s research-scientists have been studying the EPA’s new BaP standard Portland Superfund Website -Once suggested cPAHs should be studied separately, And the carcinogenicity of cPAHs mixture Unable to predict reliably From the study of one of the compounds.

Bill Dunbar, spokesperson for the US Environmental Protection Agency’s Pacific Northwest Regional Office, told Grist that the agency was unaware of the BaP assessments and concerns of the University of Washington’s Superfund Research Program. According to Dunbar, a separate review by the EPA Chemical Evaluation Advisory Committee found that the new BaP estimates use “appropriate research and models” and will not reduce the protection of the cleanup plan.

For the Lower Dewamish Channel, the changes proposed by the EPA will increase the acceptable concentration of BaP and other cPAH in 10 cm of sediment at the bottom of the river. 380 to 2,800 parts per billionThis approximately seven-fold increase also applies to sand in beach play areas and areas that can be used for fishing. According to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, the new standard will reduce the amount of land to be cleared by 5 acres and reduce the cost by approximately US$1 million—0.33% less than the entire project’s price of US$342 million.

“The saving of $1 million is not worth putting all these people at risk of these pollutants,” said López, who believes that the EPA should hold the responsible party accountable for the initial cleanup plan, which was created through years of contact with residents. Duwamish Valley. López said that any changes should be reviewed by these community stakeholders: “We require full participation and full consultation on everything related to the Superfund website.”

The local fishermen fished out a salmon from the Duwamish River.
The local fishermen fished out a salmon from the Duwamish River. Due to the high concentration of pollutants, the EPA recommends that people limit the consumption of seafood from 5 miles downstream of the river.
AP Photo/Elaine Thompson

According to Dunbar, EPA remains committed to keeping community members informed of its decisions and processes. “We recognize concerns about environmental justice and the importance of protecting the communities affected by the site,” he told Grist via email. Representatives of the EPA and DRCC meet regularly, and Dunbar wrote that the EPA has focused its outreach work on communities that eat fish and shellfish from the Superfund website. In addition, Dunbar wrote that since at least 2019, the DRCC has “obtained scientific and site-specific information about the allowable BaP concentration changes”.

However, Linn Gould, founder of the non-profit organization Just Health Action and technical adviser to DRCC, insisted that the residents of the Duwamish Valley were not fully included in the EPA’s proposal to change Superfund’s decision to clean up the site. She said the lack of community consultation “seriously violated the New York City, Port, and King County commitments to fairness.”

Gould said: “Obviously, this has no coherence in its impact on environmental justice and fairness.”

According to a 2013 report According to Gould’s help writing for DRCC, EPA and other groups, 52% to 71% of Duwamish Valley residents are non-white, and as many as 39.5% live below the poverty line. Due to the large number of industrial facilities in the area, these residents have been exposed to the highest level of particulate matter and the second highest level of benzene in Seattle. They are more likely to be hospitalized for asthma than other Seattleites, and life expectancy in the area is more than eight years lower than the city average.

Given these pre-existing inequalities, community advocates now feel betrayed by the EPA’s proposal to leave more pollution in the Lower Dewamish Waterway—especially when the EPA, the City of Seattle, and King County in recent years promise arrive Prioritize racial and environmental justice In the Duwamish Valley.

“They want to keep their promises,” said Michelle Carranza, a rising high school student and DRCC intern. She grew up by the river, but was never allowed to swim in the river. Now, as she and other advocates wait for the EPA to make a final decision on its BaP proposal, she is worried that Duwamish will never be suitable for fishing or entertainment. “Knowing that this might happen in the future, children will not be able to enjoy the river near their home,” she said. “It’s heartbreaking.”


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