Arsenic found in West Hill watershed

The state Department of Ecology has notified Auburn city officials that moderately elevated levels of arsenic and lead, probably a result of the Asarco Mill smoke plume, have been found in forested soils in the West Hill Springs watershed on the bluff above downtown Auburn.

The Tacoma smelter was closed in 1985 after nearly 100 years of operation. Since then, high levels of arsenic and lead contamination have been identified in soils on Vashon and Maury islands.

DOE has recently begun testing on the mainland in Auburn, Federal Way, SeaTac, Renton, Burien, Newcastle, and Tukwila.

In Auburn, test results show twice the state cleanup level for arsenic and half the state cleanup level for lead within the West Hill Springs watershed property. While testing in Auburn was done in the watershed, the city’s water is safe to drink, said Auburn Mayor Pete Lewis.

DOE officials indicated that arsenic and lead are typically contained in the top 12 to 18 inches of soil, and do not tend to move readily through the soil.

Auburn Public Works director Christine Engler said the state findings don’t indicate a concern for the quality of Auburn’s drinking water.

“0ur tests, including very recent ones, show that arsenic and lead are not getting into our drinking water,” Engler said.

DOE’s Northwest regional representative, Norm Peck, said officials don’t believe “that drinking water sources will be affected.”

DOE testing was done in the West Hill Springs Watershed because forested areas like those found in the watershed provide a better soils history than areas that have been disturbed by development or other activity, officials said.

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