Comment Period Open For Proposed Superfund Clean Up Plan On Seattle's Duwamish River

May 14, 2013

The proposed clean up plan for the Duwamish River super fund site in Seattle is open for final public comment. The 305 million dollar plan would tackle 100 years of industrial pollution that have lead to high levels of contamination in the river. Ashley Ahearn reports the EPA is asking the public to weigh in.

People in communities along Seattle's Lower Duwamish River, a superfund site, came together to learn about the EPA's proposed clean up plan, open for public comment until June 13.
Credit Ashley Ahearn / EarthFix


  The communities along the Duwamish River are some of the most diverse in the city. They are also the communities that bear the greatest environmental health burden from living near the superfund site.

The Concord International Elementary School sounds like the tower of Babel. You can hear Spanish, Vietnamese and Somali spoken at tables set up around the school gymnasium.

People are here to talk about the proposed clean up plan for the river that flows through their communities.

Peter Quenyen is a community organizer with the Duwamish River Clean Up Coalition, and a long time resident of South Park. That’s one of the neighborhoods along the Duwamish River.

He’s explaining the different aspects of the clean up plan to a table of Vietnamese Americans from nearby neighborhoods.

Quenyen: “The second is capping.. the third is natural recovery… and fourth one natural recovery with monitor.”

The proposed plan is a combination of scooping out 800,000 cubic yards of polluted muck, capping off contaminated sites and monitoring the rivers natural recovery process. The clean up would take about 17 years.

Thai Phan is retired and lives in Burien. She’s here to learn about the clean up.

Phan: “We join in the community activity because this is useful for everyone in this area.”

Everyone will have a chance to comment on the EPA’s plan. Lori Cohen is the associate director of the Superfund program at EPA in Seattle. She says more than 100 comments have come in already.

Cohen: “Public input into this process is critical for EPAs decision-making. So we’re really hoping that people get involved. This is a river right in the middle of Seattle. We know people care about it and we really want to hear their comments.”

The Duwamish is a working industrial waterway but it is also a food source for three tribes and other residents of Seattle.

Cohen: "We believe we have a clean up plan that will reduce risk to those people that are fishing but what we cannot say with certainty is that they will be able to fish an unlimited amount in the river."

There are those who worry that the river won’t get clean enough to protect the people who use it most.

Bill Daniell was at the community gathering in South Park. He’s a professor of public health at the University of Washington and co-author of a new study that assesses the health impacts of the proposed clean up plan.

Daniell: "People eat fish for a variety of reasons and they’re going to keep doing it and you can’t just tell them don’t eat fish because that already doesn’t work. We tell them not to eat fish and when you clean up the river it’s even more likely that they’re going to eat there."

The study raises concerns about the possibility that once the clean up is complete shellfish in the Duwamish still may not be safe to consume and arsenic levels at river beaches could still be high.

Daniell: "This is really the last opportunity for the public to make comments on the plan that will basically commit the near and distant future for the clean up of the river."

The proposed plan also includes a jobs-creation program for people in the surrounding communities to be trained and employed on the clean up.

The public has until June 13th to comment on the proposed plan.

Copyright 2013 Northwest Public Radio