This week, SeaTac’s McMicken Heights and Sunset Playfields parks will be two of seven area parks being cleaned up by the Washington Department of Ecology (Ecology), in an effort to remove arsenic and lead-contaminated soils from play areas in King and Pierce counties.
Additional park play areas being cleaned up are Dottie Harper Park in Burien, Lake Grove in Federal Way, Dockton on Vashon Island, and American Lake and Kiwanis in Lakewood.
Soil sampling in 2010 confirmed the presence of arsenic and lead contamination from the former Asarco smelter in Tacoma.
“Although contamination levels in the parks are not high enough to cause immediate concern, the long-term health risk for children has made the cleanups a priority for Ecology,” reads an announcement.
Work is scheduled for a narrow window of time between the busy summer season and the onset of heavy rains.
“We have a very tight timeline,” said Ecology’s cleanup coordinator, John Zinza, who will oversee the contractors. “Grass must be seeded by mid-October in order to survive the winter, and rain can make soil work more difficult.”
Park neighbors can expect construction noise and some truck traffic during normal work hours. Contractors will use dust control measures to minimize contaminated soil escaping the site.
Money from a settlement with Asarco allowed Ecology to expand the existing Soil Safety Program to include parks, camps, and public multi-family housing. The program, created through 2005 legislation, initially covered school and childcare play areas.
“Every single park cleanup project protects more children in South King and Pierce counties from toxic chemicals,” said state Rep. Dave Upthegrove, D–Des Moines, the prime sponsor of the original soil safety legislation. “This program is an investment in the health and safety of future generations.”
Play area cleanups reduce arsenic and lead exposure for large numbers of children, in the places they regularly spend time.
“Children’s developing bodies are more sensitive to the toxic effects of heavy metals. They play on the ground, and their hand-to-mouth behaviors put them at higher risk than adults,” explained Marian Abbett, Ecology’s Tacoma Smelter Plume project manager.
Some contamination may still remain outside of designated play areas, especially in wooded areas. Several parks have already installed signs that recommend reducing contact with those soils.
Simple actions can also help reduce contact with potentially contaminated soils – hand-washing, taking off shoes or using a doormat to keep dirt out of the home, regular vacuuming and damp-dusting, and keeping toys clean.