EVERETT — Cleanup is about to begin on the last vestiges of pollution left behind more than a century ago by a smelter in north Everett.
Excavation of arsenic-contaminated soil on 40 pieces of property in the north end of the city — most of them front and back yards of single-family homes — is scheduled to start July 11 and take until early fall.
The state Department of Ecology plans to clean up as many as 71 more parcels next year. About 480 more parcels, most of them containing single-family homes with lower levels of contamination, are scheduled for cleanup between 2013 and 2019.
Pollution from the smelter in an industrial area along the Snohomish River is still being evaluated and it’s hoped that section can be cleaned up in three to five years, said David South, a senior engineer in the toxics cleanup program for the ecology department.
The state is paying for the work with $34 million received in a 2009 settlement from Grupo Mexico, a mining company based in Mexico City. The company had acquired Asarco, which operated the Everett smelter from 1894 to 1912 at what is now the intersection of E. Marine View Drive and Highway 529.
The money is part of a larger $188 million settlement to repair environmental damage here and in other parts of the state.
Dangerously high levels of arsenic, along with lead and cadmium, weren’t discovered at the Everett site until 1990. The worst pollution was found at the site of the smelter and in the immediate vicinity. About 100 parcels were cleaned up between 1999 and 2007 by the state, the Everett Housing Authority and the city of Everett.
An area larger than a square mile, however, was contaminated by arsenic that fell from smoke emitted from the smelter’s stacks. Officials knew more properties still needed to be cleaned up, but there was no money to do it until now, they said. The plan is to clean the more contaminated properties first, the least polluted ones last.
Health risks are considered low, though long-term direct exposure to contaminated soil or ingestion of arsenic could cause several types of cancer, cardiovascular disease, diabetes or nerve damage, according to the state Department of Health.
Residents are advised to minimize their contact with the soil. Anyone with food gardens should wash the vegetables and use gloves when working in the dirt. The biggest concern is children playing in the soil and ingesting it, according to South. More safety tips may be found at http://tinyurl.com/4xeo5kr.
Samples were taken last year from the 40 properties to be cleaned up this summer to determine a plan for each parcel. Testing has already begun on the parcels to be cleaned up next year.
In most cases the digging won’t be more than a couple of feet deep, said Frank Reinart, a manager on the project for the ecology department.
Afterward, each yard will be restored with new dirt and landscaping.
“It’s very much a full construction project, it’s not just excavation,” Reinart said.
The program is voluntary for property owners. Most have agreed to participate.
“Generally speaking, we have received a very positive reception from the public,” Reinart said.
The ecology department plans to begin holding open office hours from 9 a.m. to noon Tuesdays and 1 to 4 p.m. Thursdays beginning June 28 at the Baker Heights Community Center, 14th and Poplar streets, Everett. The office hours will run into November, or until this year’s cleanup work is done. People may drop in and ask questions about the cleanup project.
Bill Sheets: 425-339-3439; firstname.lastname@example.org.