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  • Tacoma Smelter Plume Program—Dirt Alert!

    Protect your family from arsenic and lead in the dirt.

    Your dirt could contain arsenic and lead from past industrial activity. We offer education and soil testing to help you and your family stay healthy. Read our frequently asked questions.

    Is my home in the plume area?

    Enter your address here to find out and learn if you qualify for free soil sampling.

    Contact us or sign up to get your home tested.

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    Frequently Asked Questions for residents in the EPA Study Area

    The Tacoma smelter operated from 1890 to 1986, on the border of North Tacoma and the town of Ruston. Its smokestack emissions dispersed arsenic, lead, and other heavy metals across a 1,000 square mile area now called the Tacoma Smelter Plume.

    The United States Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) study area is a one square mile area around the former ASARCO smelter and includes the neighborhoods closest to the former smelter. Since 1993, EPA has overseen cleanup of the yards in the study area. EPA cleaned up nearly all the yards with high concentrations of arsenic and lead.

    Since 2013, the Department of Ecology (Ecology) and EPA worked with homeowners within and outside the EPA study area to remove additional contaminated soil. Ecology and the Health Department work throughout the cleanup area to implement Community Protection Measures, like education and outreach.

    In 2019 we surveyed north Tacoma residents. The following frequently asked questions help answer survey comments from residents inside the EPA study area.

    The EPA Study area is located in north Tacoma and Ruston.

    EPA Study Area Dirt Alert

    Tacoma Smelter Plume Program FAQs

    For soil sampling and health questions contact us (253) 649-1853 or dirtalert@tpchd.org.

    For questions about soil replacement, sampling during development or child cares contact  Ecology at (360) 407-7688 and press 2.

    For questions about Pt. Ruston and the Commencement Bay, Nearshore/Tide flats EPA Superfund site, contact Kristine Koch at (206) 553-6705.

    First, check to see if the soil in the yard has already been tested for arsenic and lead. Enter your address into the address search in the Dirt Alert map.

    If there is no sampling information, you will need permission from the landlord so we can test the soil.  The landlord will need to sign an access agreement.  Once your landlord signs the form, call us at (253) 649-1853 to set up an appointment for soil sampling. If you can’t get permission for soil sampling, you can take Healthy actions to protect your family. Healthy actions are simple practices, like washing your hands, that help reduce exposure to contaminated soil. Healthy actions are for everyone inside the Tacoma Smelter Plume.

    You don’t need to test your yard more than once. The ASARCO Smelter was the source of the arsenic and lead contamination and it closed in 1986. There is no longer an active source of arsenic and lead.

    Under certain circumstances like the development of an empty lot, we will retest. If you have questions about your property, contact us at (253) 649-1853 or dirtalert@tpchd.org.

    The Seller’s Disclosure Statement (Form 17) outlines the details and history of a property. The seller completes the form and provides it to the buyer. Form 17 has a section which asks about known environmental conditions. It also asks about known soil contamination. The buyer is encouraged to research their property before purchase. View soil sampling maps at Dirt Alert map.

    Ecology contractors take the contaminated soil  removed from your yard to the LRI Landfill in Graham, WA. The soil is approved to use as a cap for the landfill.

    There are nearly 1,200 yards in the Ecology Yard Program service area that qualify for soil replacement.  Ecology works on 30-50 yards a year. To date Ecology removed and replaced soil in 333 residential yards. 

    The Ecology Yard Program soil replacement is a long-term project. The soil replacement sequence outlines how Ecology planned their work throughout the Yard Program Service Area. Ecology started with the yards with the highest average contaminant concentrations.

    Find your letter group by entering your address into our Dirt Alert map and downloading documents found under “Soil sampling map & paperwork.” For more information on the soil replacement sequence, visit Ecology’s webpage Soil replacement for residential yards.

    The action level is the concentration of arsenic or lead in soil at which Ecology will offer a property soil replacement. Ecology will remove soil with arsenic above 100 ppm or lead above 500 ppm (EPA cleaned up all the yards in the EPA Study Area with concentrations of lead above 500 ppm).­

    The Ecology action level of 100 ppm for arsenic uses less conservative cancer risk assumptions than EPA used in the study area while still protecting for non-cancer health effects.

    For more information see Ecology’s publication on state cleanup levels and action levels.

    Using the average concentrations of the soil sampling data allows Ecology to prioritize the Yard Program work. Properties with an average arsenic concentration over 100 ppm arsenic qualify. This allows Ecology to put resources in the areas with the highest contamination.

    Ecology and the EPA set different action levels for arsenic. Ecology’s action level is lower, which means more properties qualify for soil replacement, including some areas within the EPA study area where cleanup didn’t occur.

    While Ecology tries to remove as much contaminated soil as possible, not all contaminated soil can be removed. Soil that is in hard to reach places may remain. This includes areas along sidewalks, near building foundations, in heavily sloped areas and under decks. See Ecology’s Excluded Areas handout for more information.

    Healthy actions help reduce exposure to contaminated soil. Healthy actions are for everyone inside the Tacoma Smelter Plume.

    Not all parts of a property qualify for soil replacement. Yards qualify for soil replacement if they have an average over 100 ppm for arsenic or over 500 ppm lead. Soil sampling units must be over 100 ppm for arsenic or over 500 ppm for lead. This may mean some areas of the yard qualify, and some areas don’t.

    Contamination can vary by property. Factors that can affect soil concentrations depend on property location, wind direction, when it was built, when landscaping was installed, and vegetation like large trees. Soil that has not been disturbed usually has higher levels of contamination.