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Local site on state cleanup list

A Federal Way dumping ground for hazardous liquids is among high-priority sites on an expanded statewide list of toxic sites undergoing state-monitored cleanups.

Acting seven years ago on a complaint from a neighboring landowner, King County health officials discovered solvents, including paint thinner, in the soil at undeveloped property at 33305 43rd Ave. SW. Since then, the property’s owner, Victor Herman, has been responsible for removing the hazardous waste, although officials said the dumping may have been done by others without his knowledge.

Vehicle tires and other solid waste also were found at the site. Much of it has been removed, officials reported.

Increasing the cleanup’s importance is the presence of Joe’s Creek on the property. The stream, believed to have once had salmon, may have been polluted by the dumped contaminants, said Yolanda King, who studied the site for the Seattle-King County Health Department’s hazard assessment program.

Nearly 5,000 sites containing hazardous materials are on a state Department of Ecology list of cleanup projects throughout Washington. Thirty-four sites were added to the list recently. Of those, six have a number-one priority. The Federal Way location is one of them.

The state’s Model Toxics Control Act, adopted by voters in November 1989 as Initiative 97-B, imposed limits for toxic substances in soil, air and water. It also established a tax on hazardous substances, such as petroleum products, to help pay for cleanups.

Since then, 9,067 hazardous-waste sites have been identified throughout the state, and 4,775 (about 53 percent) have been cleaned up or ranked as requiring no further action.

Jim Pendowski, an official with the ecology department, which administers the act, said the cleanup program has grown over the years.

“We started with 678 suspect sites in 1990 and have added several hundred a year since then,” he said. “The good news is that the list is growing at a slower rate than the early years, so we hope we’re finally getting ahead of the problem.”

Some lower-priority cleanups are finally being addressed, he said, referring to the five-point ranking system that helps determine which contaminated sites will get cleaned up first.

The scores don’t reflect the severity of the contamination, but are based on site locations and the potential for people and sensitive environments being exposed to hazardous substances. A number-one site may have less contamination or less-hazardous contaminants than lower-ranked sites, but the risk of exposure is higher so the cleanup must happen quicker, officials said.

The 34 new sites on the cleanup list are in 10 counties –– King, Pierce, Benton, Kitsap, Mason, Skagit, Snohomish, Thurston, Whatcom and Whitman. The Federal Way site is the only one in south King County.

For contamination found on private property, the Department of Ecology seeks payment for the cleanups from whoever’s responsible for the messes. The state covers the costs for “orphan” sites where the responsible parties aren’t found or can’t afford to pay, officials said.

The state cleanup fund also provides matching money for cleanups on sites owned by local governments. As of last November, local governments had received more han $141 million since 1990 and had contributed a similar amount from their own budgets.

When property owners voluntarily do cleanups, the state’s only role is to approve the work after it’s done.

Although the state faces substantial cleanups of marine and freshwater sediments, mining wastes and pollution from former smelters, “Washington has probably the most comprehensive and successful toxic-cleanup program in the country,” said Department of Ecology director Tom Fitzsimmons.

He said voter approval has led to the pioneering of new cleanup technologies.

Editor Pat Jenkins can be reached at 925-5565 and editor@fedwaymirror.com.

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