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Arsenic and lead awareness reignited in Federal Way area
When lead and arsenic soil contamination from the now-closed Asarco copper smelter in Tacoma was found in King County over a decade ago, health agencies knew it would take ongoing education and outreach to assure that everyone in the contaminated zone was aware of the issue and knew how to minimize risk.
To that end, a new effort is underway to educate a new generation of southwest King County residents about the issue.
With funds from a $94.6 million bankruptcy settlement with Asarco, Ecology and Public Health – Seattle & King County are relaunching an outreach program in the King County region hardest hit by the windblown contamination – Federal Way north to Burien and Vashon-Maury Island.
“While the risk of harm appears relatively low, simple steps like hand-washing and taking off shoes at the door helps people from breathing in or swallowing contaminated dirt and dust” said Dr. David Fleming, director and health officer for Public Health.
“We are very happy to see the Dirt Alert program up and running again in King County,” said Marian Abbett, Ecology’s Tacoma Smelter Plume project manager. “Outreach and education are the key to protecting public health and giving families the information they need to prevent exposure.”
Components of the new program:
• Grants for improving outreach to ethnic and non-English speaking populations in south King County. In December, Public Health awarded $25,000 each to Latino Community Fund and Child Care Resources. Latino Community Fund plans to do Dirt Alert outreach through its health care coverage counseling program and youth social media project. Child Care Resources will provide outreach to child care providers, especially those in the Spanish and Somali community.
• Educational visits from Public Health to raise awareness and encourage residents to take healthy actions, including hand washing and tips to keep dirt out of the home. Staff visits schools, community groups, events and fairs.
• Recruitment for free soil testing. Any property owner in the soil safety service area, which includes Federal Way north to SeaTac and Tukwila and from I-5 west, including Vashon-Maury Island, is eligible to have Ecology contractors take soil samples from their yards to check for arsenic and lead.
Information about grant opportunities, home soil testing and healthy actions may be found at www.kingcounty.gov/health/tsp
Ecology and local health departments have sampled more than 1,000 play areas as part of the Soil Safety Program, mandated by a 2005 state law. In King County, Ecology has cleaned up around 40 schools, childcare centers, and parks. Past outreach efforts have reached tens of thousands of families through community events, childcare visits, school programs and mailings.
The former Asarco copper smelter sat on the border of Ruston and north Tacoma. Emissions from the facility contaminated a 1,000-square-mile area of surface soils with arsenic and lead. Arsenic and lead are toxic metals and can pose a health risk, especially to children.
Providing effective and innovative health and disease prevention services for more than two million residents and visitors, King County, Public Health – Seattle & King County works for safer and healthier communities for everyone, every day. Learn more at www.kingcounty.gov/health.