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EPA Offers Duwamish River Cleanup Options

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Years after gaining Superfund status for the Duwamish River, advocates including members of the Duwamish Tribe have been handed a plan by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) that outlines 11 options for cleaning up the industrial pollution that is causing public health problems and contaminating fish.

Among the methods being considered are dredging—it’s the riverbed mud that is most polluted, the EPA says on its cleanup site; to remove 300 acres of toxic sediments—capping pollutants with rock, or letting nature take care of it, the Seattle Timesreports.

Depending on which option or combination (since some solutions mix variations on the three methods mentioned above) is chosen, it would cost from $220 million to $1.3 billion, the Times said Dec. 28, with the bill to be footed by taxpayers, some South Seattle businesses and Boeing, whose manufacturing has contributed the bulk of the pollution. The work could take anywhere from four to 43 years.

The EPA posted its plans and is accepting comments until Jan. 14, the Times reported, though a final decision won’t be made until 2012.

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An unused Boeing plant is already being torn down at a cost of $66 million, which may reduce river contamination by nearly half, the Times said. The EPA estimates that each subsequent cleanup option could reduce contamination by about 90 percent.

Meanwhile new contamination continues to dribble in from the existing sources, the Times article points out.

“Two things in those alternatives are troublesome,” said B.J. Cummings, who recently stepped down after several years as director of the Duwamish River Cleanup Coalition. “It simply does not call for a clean enough level. They are saying the best we can do is to clean up forty to fifty parts per billion PCBs. Now it is in in the hundreds to the thousands of parts per billion, which is absurd. They are saying it will be ninety percent cleaner, which is true, but [that ’s] not clean enough.”

The 600-member Duwamish Tribe is not federally recognized, though its individual members are registered as Native American.

The river is closely linked to Native American traditions. In fact a leader of the Duwamish Tribe, jazz musician James Rasmussen, took Cummings’s place as Cleanup Coalition director on Jan. 1. He has worked to get the river cleaned up since 1980 and played a role in getting a 5.5-mile stretch of the lower Duwamish recognized as a federal Superfund Site in 2001, according to the West Seattle Herald and the Coalition’s website.