The area’s industrial past is coming back to haunt the University of Washington Tacoma campus as the school agrees to study the extent of groundwater contamination.
TACOMA — A new study is focused on finding the source of groundwater contamination under the University of Washington Tacoma (UWT) campus.
A proposed legal agreement between the UWT and the state Department of Ecology seeks to pinpoint the source of remaining groundwater contamination, including beyond the boundaries of the 46-acre downtown campus, The News Tribune of Tacoma reported.
University officials have already spent about $7 million since the mid-1990s investigating and cleaning up chemicals left over from the site’s industrial past.
Officials say the underground contamination doesn’t affect the drinking supply and poses little risks to human health.
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But it’s important to determine the extent of the contamination and how to clean it up, said UWT spokesman Michael Wark.
“We want to do this for the environment, and we want to do it to ensure health and safety,” he said.
Ecology department officials say a long history of industrial use left several plumes of groundwater contamination under what is now the campus in south downtown Tacoma. The area was once home to commercial and industrial uses such as dry cleaning, auto-repair operations and various manufacturing.
Contamination was found as the campus was built and as it expanded. Studies found groundwater polluted with contaminants including petroleum hydrocarbons and other chemicals, which at high enough levels could harm people and the environment.
The university is legally required to clean up groundwater on its site. If the investigation identifies contaminated areas beyond the campus, other property owners may be required to help clean up.
The source of the contamination appears to be somewhere higher on the hillside, according to previous studies by the UWT.
Ecology officials are primarily worried about the chemicals reaching the Foss Waterway and whether they are rising up through the soil as vapors that could be harmful for people to inhale, said Marv Coleman, Ecology’s site manager for the project.
So far, testing hasn’t found any problems with vapor intrusions on campus, he said. University officials say their testing indicates the groundwater contamination hasn’t reached the Foss Waterway yet.