August 20, 2018

Katelyn Kinn, Puget Soundkeeper, (206) 297-7002,

On August 16, Puget Soundkeeper and Waste Action Project (WAP) filed a lawsuit in federal court against the Boeing Company for Clean Water Act violations at the Boeing Military Delivery Center, located on the Duwamish River. Soundkeeper and WAP are taking action to enforce the Clean Water Act in order to protect the health of the Duwamish River and communities nearby.

Boeing’s facility discharges industrial stormwater to the Duwamish River under a permit from the state. Records show discharge of cancer-causing polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs) thousands of times above the human health criteria set by state water quality standards. The facility is also violating a number of other permit provisions, and discharging excessive amounts of zinc, copper, and total suspended solids to the river.

“We were astounded to find that Boeing was discharging these levels of PCBs,” said Chris Wilke, Executive Director at Puget Soundkeeper. “These chemicals are highly toxic and known to impact people and wildlife, including our Southern Resident orca whales. Soundkeeper supports a thriving industrial economy and working waterfront, but these uses must follow clean water laws and safely coexist with public uses of the waterway.”

The Duwamish River provides habitat for four native salmon species, steelhead trout, river otter, osprey, and hundreds of other species. The river is also a federal Superfund site with an active cleanup underway to remove PCBs and other legacy contaminants from years of industrial activity. Recent research has shown that the endangered Southern Resident Killer Whales rely on Chinook salmon from rivers throughout Puget Sound, including the Duwamish. The whales accumulate PCBs and other toxics in their blubber, and pass on a heavy dose of their toxic load to their calves.

Boeing, which has been involved in the cleanup and restoration of the river, was aware of their discharge because they self-reported water quality data to the state Department of Ecology. Ecology attempted to enforce Boeing’s permit conditions and expressed concern about the PCB discharges for at least five years, first noting problems in February of 2013.

Boeing is a member of an industry group petitioning the Environmental Protection Agency to reconsider their 2016 update to Washington’s water quality standards. The standards set limits on toxic pollution and were updated to reflect the most recent science and data on public health statewide.


The Boeing Military Delivery Center is located at 10002 East Marginal Way S., Tukwila, WA 98109, just east of the turning basin on the Duwamish River. The facility discharges industrial stormwater to the Duwamish under Washington’s Industrial Stormwater General Permit, administered by the Washington Department of Ecology.

The facility is violating numerous permit provisions including:

  • Violations of water quality standards due to elevated levels of PCBs, zinc, and copper
  • Violation of the permit condition requiring AKART (all known, available and reasonable methods of prevention, control and treatment)
  • Failure to develop and implement an adequate SWPPP (Stormwater Pollution Prevention Plan)
  • Violations of the numeric effluent limit for TSS (Total Suspended Solids)
  • Violation of an Administrative Order from Ecology in 2017 requiring installation of a water treatment system by October 2017

Polychlorinated Biphenyls (PCBs) are a class of toxic man-made chemicals that were manufactured from 1929 until their production was banned in 1979. They do not readily break down in the environment and accumulate in sediment and in the fatty tissue of animals and people. Studies show that PCBs can cause a number of adverse health effects, which include effects on the immune system, reproductive system, nervous system, and endocrine system. They have been shown to cause cancer in animals and studies in humans support evidence that they are carcinogenic. As Governor Inslee noted in his Executive Order creating the Southern Resident Killer Whale Recovery and Task Force, PCB contamination is one reason for the endangered status of Southern Resident Orca Whales.

The Duwamish River was designated a federal Superfund site by the Environmental Protection Agency in 2001, identifying it as one of the nation’s most toxic hazardous waste sites. Over 40 contaminants, including PCBs, are found in the river’s sediment at levels unsafe for human health. The river originates as the Green River at the crest of the Cascade Mountains and is the traditional land of the Duwamish Tribe. The Muckleshoot and Suquamish Tribes have treaty fishing rights on the river. All resident fish in the Duwamish are unsafe to eat because of PCB levels in the river, and health advisories recommend limiting consumption of some migratory species that return to the river, such as Chinook Salmon. Despite the contamination, many people fish for subsistence in the Duwamish River.

Puget Soundkeeper and WAP are represented in this action by Richard Smith and Marc Zemel, Smith & Lowney PLLC.