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Mandatory testing of soil in daycares and schools closer

By ERICA HALL

The Mirror

Legislation sponsored by state Rep. Dave Upthegrove of Des Moines, targeting elevated levels of lead and arsenic from the old Asarco copper smelter in Ruston, passed out of the House last week after several refinements he referred to as compromises.

The bill, which he honed this year to focus solely on schools and daycares, requires soil testing in contamination zones in King and Pierce counties.

Similar legislation Upthegrove (D-33rd District) sponsored last year failed because it was too stringent and too broad. This year, he said, he decided to focus on the impact of contaminated soil on children –– who are known for putting toys and dirty hands in their mouths –– where lead or arsenic could be ingested.

After encountering difficulty in the House of Representatives this year, Upthegrove streamlined the bill to emphasize areas west of the Cascades, essentially exempting agricultural land in eastern Washington, he said. The bill was met with enough support to pass out of the House. It must pass the Senate before it could become law.

Under the new bill, schools and licensed daycare operators would be required to allow the state Department of Ecology or the Health Department to conduct soil tests.

If elevated levels of lead and arsenic are found — Upthegrove said only about 10 percent of the sites tested so far have had them — then the Department of Ecology would provide assistance to help the facilities implement ways of protecting kids from the contaminated soil.

In some cases, that could mean something as simple as lying down beauty bark or putting up a fence, Upthegrove said.

If the school or daycare decides not to implement the protective strategies, rather than levying a fine, the state would send a letter home to parents informing them of the contamination, according to the proposed legislation.

“The bottom line is this: When parents in Tacoma, Normandy Park or Vashon Island (areas where contamination is suspected) send their kids off to school or daycare, they have the right to know their kids will be safe,” Upthegrove said in the House floor last week. “We don’t want kids to eat this dirt.”

Suspected contaminants from the former smelter have also reached the south King County area.

Staff writer Erica Hall: 925-5565, ehall@fedwaymirror.com

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