Smelter site clean up agreement reached
The federal government reached an agreement in
August to expedite the estimated $28 million cleanup of the Asarco
Smelter Site in Tacoma and Ruston, Washington. The agreement will
allow Asarco to sell the Asarco Smelter property which is part of
the Commencement Bay Nearshore Tideflats Superfund Site, to Lacey
Washington-based developer Point Ruston LLC.
This will ensure that the cleanup work required
on the approximately 97 acres of contaminated land will be completed.
Under the agreement, Point Ruston will assume all cleanup obligations
on the property owned by Asarco and assume significant cleanup obligations
on adjacent land which was also contaminated by Asarco’s past
Point Ruston intends to undertake residential
and commercial development on the purchased property and will clean
up the land to residential environmental standards. Along with the
purchased property, Point Ruston has agreed to clean up the non-residential
adjacent, contaminated property which due to the development will
have significant public access.
The land is the former site of a smelting facility
operated by Asarco from 1912 to 1985. A byproduct of the smelting
process, called slag, was used by Asarco as fill material throughout
the facility and was also poured into Commencement Bay to extend
the shoreline of the smelter site by approximately 500 feet. Slag
and other wastes from past smelter operations contaminate the property,
and are a continuing source of contamination of groundwater below
the site and to marine sediments offshore of the smelter property.
According to current estimate, as much as 15 million tons of slag
exists on the site today.
In 1997, a consent decree between EPA and Asarco
mandated cleanup of the uplands portions of the smelter property
and the adjacent properties. In 2000, EPA issued an administrative
order requiring Asarco to perform the sediment and groundwater work.
While Asarco has performed a substantial amount of the work required,
much of the cleanup has yet to be implemented.
In August 2005, Asarco filed for bankruptcy protection
under Chapter 11 in Texas. In January, 2006, the bankruptcy court
approved the sale of the property to MC Construction and the sale
agreement was subsequently assigned to Point Ruston.
As part of pre-conditions of the sale set forth
by the Bankruptcy Court, Point Ruston was required to reach an agreement
with the Environmental Protection Agency regarding the cleanup of
the property it is attempting to purchase. The United States has
also agreed to release a CERCLA lien against the property in exchange
for $1.5 million at closing and contingent payments over time that
may reach $4 million so that the property can be sold free and clear
of any encumbrances. These funds will be placed into a special account
to be used to clean up contaminated sediments in areas not covered
by this agreement. As part of the settlement, Point Ruston will
also pay EPA’s oversight costs.
Residential yards in north Tacoma, Washington
which were contaminated by the fallout from the Asarco Smelter are
not covered in this agreement. The cleanup of these yards is being
funded from a trust fund using money from a previous settlement
The Department of Justice lodged the amendment
to the existing consent decree today in the United States District
Court for the Western District of Washington. The consent decree
will be subject to a 30-day public comment period and subsequent
judicial approval. It is available on the Justice Department website: