EPA Urges Duwamish Cleanup to Be Done Right

Nine months after issuing its Duwamish Waterway cleanup plan, the United States Environmental Protection Agency is sending a message to a company responsible for cleaning up its portion of the waterway’s pollution: make sure the work is done right or pay the price.

As they removed and transported creosote pilings and PCB-laden sediments from the Jorgensen Forge site, the Earle M. Jorgensen Company (EMJ) and its contractors repeatedly failed to meet necessary and agreed-upon cleanup requirements and presented unnecessary risks to human health and the environment during the cleanup.

The EPA is proposing penalties of $367,500 for seven separate violations of the cleanup agreement between EPA and EMJ that occurred between July 2014 and July 2015.

Sediment cleanup work in a working river is complicated, so the EPA builds Best Management Practices (BMPs) into the workplans that are developed for each cleanup site to prevent release of contaminated material during cleanup work. Following these BMPs helps companies and their contractors get the job done correctly and safely.

Conversely, failure to do the work as required by the cleanup agreement and the BMPs detailed in the agreement, can lead to release of contaminants during cleanup activities which may have adverse impacts to human health and the environment.

Throughout the construction activities, the EPA and the Army Corps of Engineers observed and documented multiple violations of the cleanup agreement between the company and the EPA. Many of the violations were discovered by the EPA and the Corps, despite EMJ representatives being on-site at that time ostensibly to ensure that the work was being performed consistent with the cleanup agreement. For example, last year EMJ’s contractors repeatedly failed to use BMPs for pilings removal and sediment management and failed to take samples of sediments, as required, to determine if they’d actually cleaned up the site.

The EPA project manager called attention to the workplans – and BMPs that should have guided the work – but was typically ignored at each misstep.

According to Sheila Fleming, associate director of the EPA’s regional Superfund office, EMJ committed repeated serious violations: “We understand that occasionally mistakes are made. But when warnings are ignored week after week, month after month, it seems that the company and its contractors just didn’t care about the law.