Topsoil in your yard – is it safe?

If you are fairly new to Pierce County, you may not be aware that the beautiful place on the waterfront called Point Ruston hides a dirty old secret. The site was formerly the ASARCO Smelter. It took raw materials and turned out new shiny copper materials. The sludge from the refinery was poured into Puget Sound and the smoke that belched out of its smokestack on the hill behind it, now called Stack Hill, was full of arsenic, lead and other heavy metals.

The Washington State Department of Ecology initiated a cleanup years ago, people replaced the topsoil in their backyards around Ruston and North Tacoma. Not everyone replaced their soil however. Only the very worst contamination was cleaned up. Other areas were also affected, more in the direction of prevailing winds, but occasionally the wind blew that material to the south. Here is a map of the contamination.

The Washington State Department of Ecology has more information on their website about getting your soil tested and other available services called the Tacoma Smelter Plume Project.
Dirt Alert 
Soil Safety Program
Yard Program:  Soil sampling and soil replacement
Technical Assistance

Arsenic and lead are toxic and pose a risk if they are ingested. A settlement was reached with the ASARCO as a Superfund site in 2009. Washington State has been administering the cleanup efforts. If you have had mysterious illnesses in your pets, or more sadly, children at home or in your neighborhood you may want to see if your property is safe.

Historic photo of the Tacoma Smelter from Washington Ecology

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