Duwamish barge fire raises concerns about community health and pollution - Puget Soundkeeper Alliance

On Tuesday, June 26 around 8:30 pm a barge full of scrap metal caught fire on the Duwamish River, at Seattle Iron and Metals (SIM), a scrap metal recycling and shredding facility. The fire burned for over an hour before response teams were able to get it under control. The thick pungent smoke blanketed the community of South Park and parts of Georgetown and was visible as far south as Tacoma.

Soundkeeper staff responded to the fire and documented the incident while it was occurring, as well as returning the next day to photograph foam residue on the banks of the river. We’re following up with the appropriate agencies about the impact of smoke, firefighting foam, potential fuel spills and debris on the river and surrounding community.

The cause of the fire was reported as  accidental — we heard from Washington Department of Ecology staff that SIM was expecting a shipment of scrap metal with no hazards. Instead there was a propane powered pickup truck on board with an intact propane tank. The equipment unloading the barge punctured the propane tank and started the fire. The barge is owned by ABC Recycling Unlimited out of Vancouver, BC.

While the cause of this incident may or may not involve negligence from the SIM facility, this is not the first time we have encountered problems at this location. Soundkeeper has an active lawsuit in federal court against SIM for ongoing pollution violations, including violations of the Clean Water Act and Resource Conservation and Recovery Act. Seattle Iron and Metals discharges toxic polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs) to the river in wastewater and stormwater, regularly exceeding their permit limits.

The Seattle Iron and Metals facility on a routine boat patrol in early June.

The Duwamish River is a federal Superfund Cleanup site, in large part due to PCBs. PCBs are known to be carcinogenic and persist in the environment for decades, leading to fish consumption warnings and closures, and are implicated as a cause for the endangered status of our resident orca whales. Soundkeeper patrols have previously observed small fires at the facility, strong burning chemical odors and scrap metal and debris falling into the river in the process of loading and unloading barges.

No one was evacuated from the surrounding neighborhoods, despite large amounts of smoke. All smoke from fires can have serious health effects and smoke from an industrial facility such as this raises additional toxic concerns. Georgetown and South Park communities already endure some of the worst air quality in the state , and a study in 2013 showed that the life expectancy of residents was up to eight years less than in other parts of Seattle.

News coverage of the fire:

The Seattle Times
King 5 News
Westside Seattle
West Seattle Blog