EVERETT — A soil sample taken from Cydney Gillis’ yard last year confirmed what she had long feared. High levels of arsenic pollute her property in Everett’s Delta neighborhood.
The chemicals were left more than a century ago by the Everett smelter, whose smokestacks spewed arsenic and lead as the plant heated ore to separate its metals.
Nearly three decades after the state discovered the large amounts of arsenic and lead surrounding the former smelter site, about 150 homeowners are still waiting for the contamination to be cleaned up. So far, about 350 properties have been remediated in Everett, using $34 million allocated from a settlement the state received from the smelter’s former owner.
The Department of Ecology says there’s enough funding left to start cleanup work on 20 more properties. But after those are completed in 2019, there will be less than $1 million to remove the heavy metals from remaining yards.
With funds dwindling, federal lawmakers have promised to get involved. But unless a new source of money is found, homeowners like Gillis — still waiting for the chemicals to be removed — will be left to live with the toxic legacy.
“I kept hoping, because I was farther away from the site, I might test clean,” said Gillis, 57, who works in the county’s prosecutor’s office.
The smelter operated from 1894 to 1912 near the intersection of North Broadway and E. Marine View Drive. The contaminants released by the plant, which was owned by Asarco when it closed, weren’t discovered until 1990.
As cleanup work began, the company declared bankruptcy and the state received a settlement in court of $188 million in 2008 for remediation work around Washington.
From the settlement, $34 million was set aside for Everett. An additional $10 million was used to repay the state for past remediation work here.
“Once we got the settlement, we knew there wasn’t enough to complete all the cleanup that needed to get done,” said Sandra Matthews, the Department of Ecology project manager for the former smelter site.
Long-term exposure to arsenic has been linked with skin disorders and increased risks for diabetes, high blood pressure and several types of cancer, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
“Arsenic is a hazard if you consume it, and you can protect yourself by washing your hands before you eat,” Matthews said.
To remove the heavy metals, between 12 inches and two feet of soil is taken away, depending on the level of contamination. Clean soil is brought in, along with new landscaping.
The ecology department plans to start remediation on 20 Everett properties this year. Afterward, at least 130 properties still will be awaiting cleanup. That number could grow to 230, if the roughly 100 homeowners who never opted into the voluntary program choose to have their soil tested, according to Matthews.
The Department of Ecology plans to begin work this fall on contaminated areas along the Snohomish River.
Ecology also is set to clean up two parks in the Delta neighborhood this fall, Viola Oursler Viewpoint and Wiggums Hollow. The work is scheduled to begin after Labor Day.