Duwamish River scrap facility to clean up its act after Puget Soundkeeper forces Clean Water Act settlement

Seattle Iron and Metals Corporation agrees to make over $1 million worth of improvements to its site to prevent air and water pollution.

SEATTLE, WA—On January 17, Puget Soundkeeper and Seattle Iron and Metals Corporation (SIMC) filed a consent decree in US District Court resolving a case to protect the Duwamish River and the surrounding community from long-running pollution problems at the site. The settlement requires SIMC to make over $1 million worth of improvements to control aerial pollution, wastewater discharge and polluted stormwater discharge. The case included claims brought under the federal Clean Water Act and Resource Conservation and Recovery Act.

“Seattle Iron and Metals has been polluting the air and water for far too long without adequate controls in place,” said Chris Wilke, Puget Soundkeeper Executive Director. “We’re very happy to have finally resolved this case so that SIM can complete its corrective actions — installing proper treatment, dust control and other safeguards to protect the health of Duwamish Valley residents and help to recover the river.”

The SIMC scrap metal and vehicle recycling facility on Seattle’s Duwamish River is one of the largest of its kind in the Northwest and discharges industrial wastewater and stormwater to the river, which is classified as a federal Superfund site due to legacy pollution. Data from SIMC’s monitoring reports indicated numerous violations of Clean Water Act permit limits, including discharge of toxic heavy metals, petroleum hydrocarbons and polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs).

The settlement also includes measures to reduce air pollution into the surrounding community from burning materials and from toxic dust emitted without proper control and containment. Concerns over the dust emissions also include the potential for polluting matter entering the Duwamish River and contaminating nearby land.

Seattle Iron and Metals still discharges PCBs, highly toxic chemicals that were banned from manufacturing in the 1970s. PCBs are a chief concern in the ongoing cleanup of the Duwamish River Superfund site and have led to fish consumption warnings and closures. PCBs are also a key threat to Chinook salmon and orca whales. The settlement requires the facility to carefully monitor stormwater and dust for PCBs and install more sophisticated treatment and controls if pollution levels violate permit limits and background levels.

The Duwamish Valley has a history of industrial pollution that goes beyond its status as a federal Superfund site. A 2013 report that examined a range of disproportionate health exposures and impacts affecting people in the Duwamish Valley revealed that the 98108 zip code (where SIMC is located) has some of the worst air quality in the region. Driven by community health concerns, the settlement requires dust controls intended to reduce the disproportionate burden on residents who rightfully deserve a clean and healthy living space.

Soundkeeper is represented in this case by Claire Tonry and Richard Smith of Smith & Lowney PLLC, and Staff Attorney Katelyn Kinn.

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Puget Soundkeeper first filed the Clean Water Act (CWA) and Resource Conservation and Recovery Act (RCRA) suit against Seattle Iron and Metals on July 12, 2012, seeking to enforce provisions of these laws to stop pollution and repair damage to the river and surrounding community.

Seattle Iron and Metals is a scrap metal and vehicle recycling facility at 601 and 730 S Myrtle St, Seattle, Washington, in Seattle’s Georgetown neighborhood. The facility is a large industrial yard with a high-volume open-air metal shredder, large piles of scrap metal, non-metal residue, and substantial heavy machinery and truck traffic. It discharges wastewater and stormwater to the Lower Duwamish Waterway. The facility has discharged metal debris and scrap directly to the river during loading and unloading, in addition to violating permit limits for PCBs in treated wastewater discharged to the river. The site also generates dust and debris.

In response to its violations and during the course of litigation, SIMC implemented additional pollution control measures, including

  • Upgrades to the main wastewater treatment system
  • Completely enclosing the facility’s metal shredder with a structure that uses negative pressure and a dust collection system to make sure dust and debris are contained.
  • Paving of a dirt lot that was a source of pollutants
  • Installing two modular wetland stormwater treatment systems to treat polluted stormwater runoff
  • Conducting enhanced monitoring of stormwater discharges and implementing enhanced water treatment methods if effluent limits or benchmarks are exceeded.
  • Reducing the size of debris piles and installing wind fences to stop neighborhood dust contamination; and analyzing pollutant levels in dust to ensure new controls work.
  • Installation of a heat monitoring and fire suppression system to prevent and extinguish onsite fires. Multiple small fires and a large barge fire in June 2018 raised community concerns over air pollution.
  • $200,000 payable to the Puget Sound Stewardship and Mitigation Fund to fund local restoration and pollution mitigation work in the community.
  • Conducting annual in-water surveys and underwater debris removal using divers and a large magnet, to remove scrap material that fell into the river.
  • Requiring trucks entering and exiting the site to follow specific routes of travel through the Georgetown neighborhood to minimize impacts on residents who live nearby.

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 migratory species that return to the river. The river supports populations of seven salmon and trout species.

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 Task Force, PCB contamination is one of the chief threats to this endangered population of orca whales.