By Bill Sheets Herald Writer
EVERETT — The popular playground and picnic area at Legion Park in north Everett is scheduled to be shut down from October until spring 2015 for excavation work to remove arsenic-laced soil.
There is no immediate health hazard, officials say. But prolonged ingestion of dirt or dust containing arsenic can increase the risk of some cancers, officials say.
The play area itself will not be excavated because the dirt was replaced when the play equipment was installed several years ago, said Meg Bommarito, who is managing the project for the state Department of Ecology.
Still, with work going on around it, the playground will be closed and fenced off, she said. The Evergreen Arboretum and Gardens also are scheduled for closure and excavation by the Ecology Department.
“We know it’s a significant loss for the community,” Bommarito said. “Our hope is to open it back up by April or May” next year.
The overlook across Alverson Boulevard will remain open. The ballfields will be open to league play only.
The work will involve digging down one or two feet, removing dirt, replacing it with new soil and landscaping. The Ecology Department and the city of Everett are developing a plan for working around valued plants and trees at the arboretum, Bommarito said.
A smelter that operated in the north end of town from 1894 to 1912 sent arsenic-laden smoke particles raining down on a one-square-mile area nearby.
The worst of the contamination was near the site of the former smelter at the current intersection of Highway 529 and Marine View Drive.
The extent of the pollution wasn’t discovered at the smelter site until 1990. The highest levels were found at the site and in the immediate vicinity. About 100 nearby parcels were cleaned up between 1999 and 2007 by the state, the Everett Housing Authority and the city of Everett.
Lower levels of arsenic have been found in residential yards in the northeast end of the city and in Legion Park, Wiggums Hollow Park and the Viola Oursler Overlook on E. Marine View Drive.
The state has cleaned up about 100 more residential yards in the past two years, Bommarito said.
Yards with the higher levels of contamination are being cleaned up first. As many as 400 more could be done by 2022, depending on what is found in further testing, she said.
A sliver of public right-of-way on the southwest corner of the Marine View Drive-Highway 529 interchange also is scheduled for cleanup this summer.
The cleanup threshold is 20 parts per million. Core samples were taken in the parks in the winter of 2011-12. The highest level found at Legion Park was 314 parts per million near the picnic shelter next to the playground, officials said. The highest level found in Wiggums Hollow was 210 parts per million.
“Dirt Alert” signs were placed at both parks to inform the public of the situation.
The pollution at Wiggums Hollow is concentrated in the southern half of the park, most of which is taken up by a little-used ballfield. Work there, along with the Viola Oursler Overlook, is tentatively planned for sometime in 2015, Bommarito said.
At Legion, the grassy area north of the ballfields also will be dug out and replaced, Bommarito said. The dirt on the ballfields was replaced several years ago, she said.
Players using the ballfields in the spring likely will have to park across Alverson Boulevard at the overlook. The public restroom building will be closed, Bommarito said. Portable toilets might be set up for teams using the fields, she said.
Soil testing at the overlook is set to begin next week, Bommarito said. It hasn’t been sampled because it receives lighter use than the picnic shelter area, she said.
Children who play in the dirt and put their hands or toys in their mouths and swallow the dust are at the highest risk, said Jim White, a toxicologist for the Ecology Department. Others who work or play in dusty areas over a long period of time also could be at risk, he said.
“Most dust particles get trapped in the nose and the upper throat and you end up swallowing it,” White said.
Potential long-term risks include cancers of the skin, lung, bladder, kidney and liver.
The state is paying for the cleanup with $34 million received in 2009 in a settlement from Grupo Mexico, a Mexico City mining company that acquired Asarco, which earlier owned the smelter.
The money is part of a larger $188 million settlement to repair environmental damage here and in other parts of the state, including Tacoma.
Bill Sheets: 425-339-3439; email@example.com.
A public meeting on the Asarco smelter cleanup is scheduled for 6:30 to 8:30 p.m. March 11 at the Snohomish County Public Utility District auditorium, 2320 California St. in Everett.
The state Department of Ecology recommends that anyone who visits Legion or Wiggums Hollow parks in north Everett take the following precautions:
*Wash hands and toys with soap and water after playing in the dirt.
*Wash hands before eating or putting anything in your mouth.
*Take off your shoes when you get home.
*Wash your pets’ dirty paws and bathe pets often if they go to one of the parks.
*Wash blackberries or other fruit from these areas before eating.
For more information, go to tinyurl.com/SmelterCleanup.