The P-I’s front page story about PCB contamination in the South Park neighborhood is assuredly not the sort of fornt-page news one wants to see about an area in which one has just put an offer on a house. The good news is that the contamination is in the river-bottom area of the neighborhood, on the other side of the freeway. The bad news is, well, I know a little bit about PCBs, heath risks, and the related spectacular collisions of industry, local politics, class, and bureaucracy.
One item that really gave me the willies in the article is the offhanded note that the PCBs came from “the waste oil that Malarkey Asphalt bought from City Light as a cheap energy source in the 1970s.” Apparently, the company was burning the oil as fuel. But not in a high-temperature incinerator. Presumably, the oil was burned in convential ways, which would have had the effect of creating multiple airborne plumes of presumably-intact PCBs. It’s interesting that this use occurred here, as in Bloomington, the primary issue was dumped transformers form the plant that built them. I can’t recall any anecdotal information about people using the oil as fuel.
I guess the next thing for me to do is learn about the prevailing winds and to what extent the City or EPA has done soil sampling up-slope, near our potential house.
Here’s the City’s research and activity report, and here is the site of the Duwamish Cleanup Commission. This PDF is the city map that was the basis for the P-I’s graphic embedded in the story linked at the start of this entry.
Mother Earth News hosts a fascinating narrative from Bloomington in 1976 concerning a family that inadvertently fertilized their farm with sludge contaminated to the order of 300 ppm (parts per million), resulting in soil contamination levels of 50 ppm. By comparison, the Washington state cleanup level is 1 ppm, and some of the sites sampled along the Duwamish exhibit levels greater than 50 ppm.