MAC: Mines and Communities

Residents wait, wonder if job will end

Published by MAC on 2006-03-19

Residents wait, wonder if job will end

by SUSAN GORDON; The News Tribune

19th March 2006

EVERETT - John Klepadlo can look out his kitchen window and see where a corner of his small Everett lot touches a parcel where dangerous concentrations of arsenic were found as deep as 17 feet below ground.

For months last year, the neighboring property - former Asarco smelter land - was an excavation hub.

Dump trucks rumbled up and down Klepadlo's street until 4 a.m. as they loaded arsenic-contaminated soil and hauled it south to Tacoma.

By the time crews finished digging, enough contaminated soil to fill the Museum of Glass cone eight times had been unloaded on the site of the former copper smelter that straddles the border of Ruston and Tacoma.

The Everett excavation made way for a neighborhood of new homes.

Soil contamination in Klepadlo's northeast Everett neighborhood dates back to Everett's early history, when John D. Rockefeller and others built a lead smelter, which Asarco later acquired.

Later, the company razed the buildings and sold the land. Houses went up on the smelter site, including Klepadlo's in 1931. It's a small, green two-story with a peaked entryway that mimics the fashion of more luxurious homes.

The house is among about 550 residential properties within a mile of the smelter site that state Ecology Department officials have marked for potential cleanup.

In 1990, testing showed high concentrations of arsenic in neighborhood soils. Asarco bought back a fraction of the original 44-acre smelter site and demolished 22 homes but resisted state efforts to do more.

Ecology Department officials estimate they've spent $13 million on efforts to reduce contamination left behind by the Everett smelter.

In 2002, a court ordered Asarco to remove the most highly contaminated material near Klepadlo's house. But when Asarco filed for bankruptcy reorganization, the contractor quit.

To finish the job, the Everett Housing Authority, which owns the property, scrounged up $900,000 from various government sources and tapped into Asarco's national environmental trust fund.

Now Klepadlo and some of his neighbors don't know if or when poisoned soil will be removed from their land.

"Asarco says they ain't got the money and they can't do it," said Klepadlo, who works the night shift at Boeing's Everett plant.

Tom Aldrich, Asarco's vice president for environmental affairs, said the bankruptcy filing canceled plans to clean up 20 Everett yards.

A plume of contaminated ground water still extends from the smelter toward the river.

"Nobody has cleaned that up. Nobody has tested it. Nobody has the money to do it," said Miji Ryan, a retired teacher who lives in the neighborhood.

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