The aerospace giant’s own reports to the state Department of Ecology show stormwater discharges and sediments containing PCBs far in excess of state water-quality standards
Two Seattle environmental groups are planning to sue Boeing over the aerospace giant’s failure to stop discharging toxic PCBs into the Duwamish River.
Meantime, the Washington Department of Ecology has ordered Boeing to clean up stormwater discharge to the Duwamish and sediments in catch basins at its Military Delivery Center (MDC), located at 10002 East Marginal Way S., in Tukwila, just east of the turning basin on the Duwamish River.
The facility discharges industrial stormwater there to the Duwamish under Washington’s Industrial Stormwater General Permit. Ecology administers the permit.
Sediments in some of the catch basins, as well as discharge from some parts of the facility over the past five years, have exceeded state water-quality standards for PCBs by thousands of times the legal limit, according to the company’s monitoring reports, filed with Ecology.
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The company also did not complete monitoring reports during all quarters in which they are required, or take monitoring samples at all required discharge points, according to the Waste Action Project and Puget Soundkeeper Alliance, a pair of environmental nonprofits that have filed a 60-day notice of intent to sue Boeing under provisions of the Clean Water Act.
Boeing has implemented numerous projects at the MDC site over the past decade to address stormwater pollutants, including projects to remove materials such as caulk from buildings and the flight line, said company spokeswoman Holly Braithwaite.
“As a result of these activities, most of the samples of stormwater at the MDC have been nondetect or had very low levels of PCBs,” Braithwaite said.
The samples that are out of compliance with the facility’s discharge permit were the result of a project to remove paint and other materials contaminated with PCBs, Braithwaite said. The removal work disturbed the materials, she said, and “a very small amount reached stormwater.”
She disputes allegations that levels of PCBs in those stormwater samples caused or contributed to water-quality problems.
A new engineering report from Boeing to address the problem is under review at Ecology.
“Boeing remains committed to improving stormwater quality and is ready to move forward with the proposed corrective actions submitted in the engineering report,” Braithwaite said. “Boeing looks forward to receiving their approval so we can proceed.”
Ecology has been working with Boeing on the facility’s stormwater issues since 2012, spokesman Larry Altose wrote in an email to The Seattle Times.
“We’ve required the company to increase monitoring and, last year, to submit a plan to treat the stormwater,” Altose said. “An (earlier) engineering report submitted in response to the order could not be approved.”
Boeing appealed the treatment order, and the case is scheduled for a hearing later this year before the Pollution Control Hearings Board.
The Superfund cleanup of industrial pollution of the Duwamish River, a more-than-$300-million project, can’t be successful if pollutants continue to be discharged to the river, said Chris Wilke, executive director of the Puget Soundkeeper Alliance.
“We were astounded to find that Boeing was discharging these levels of PCBs,” Wilke said. “These chemicals are known to cause cancer, and the Duwamish is already closed to fishing for all resident species because of PCB contamination. But people do fish in the Duwamish.”
Critically endangered southern resident killer whales also eat Puget Sound chinook, and are harmed by the PCBs in the environment.
“The last thing anybody wants to do is clean up this river and see it repolluted,” Wilke said. “We have to get a handle on ongoing sources of PCBs, they are the number-one reason why the river cleanup is being pursued.”
Wilke said he was disappointed the problem has persisted for so long.
James Rasmussen, director of the Duwamish River Cleanup Coalition, said Boeing has done a good job at cleaning up sites it has tackled under an early action program.
With the final cleanup of the river at stake, addressing existing discharges is critical, Rasmussen said.
“Source control before we do the final cleanup is going to be paramount, this is an incredibly big issue,” Rasmussen said.