Settlement reached with Puget Soundkeeper and Waste Action Project over Clean Water Act Violations

TUKWILA, WA—On February 25th, Puget Soundkeeper, Waste Action Project, and the Boeing Company filed a consent decree to address multiple violations of state and federal water quality and pollution control standards at Boeing’s Military Delivery Center (Boeing MDC).  The settlement requires Boeing to pay $750,000 to King County to aid in the timely completion of the Lones Levee Setback and Floodplain Restoration Project – a plan to create over 20 acres of salmon habitat in South King County – and includes installing advanced stormwater treatment facilities at Boeing MDC, expanding the site’s stormwater monitoring locations to ensure pollutants are properly surveyed, and removing PCB-laden flight line materials.

Located south of Boeing Field on the east side of the Duwamish River near the Turning Basin, the Boeing MDC site discharges industrial stormwater to the Duwamish River under Washington’s Industrial Stormwater General Permit (ISGP).  Under the ISGP, various pollutants are carefully monitored because of their harmful health effects on humans and wildlife.  Of these, polychlorinated biphenyls, or PCBs, are especially lethal, and known to cause cancer and complications to the immune, reproductive, and nervous system.  PCB contamination is also a key reason for the endangered status of Southern Resident Orca Whales.  PCBs bio-accumulate up the food chain, are stored in fatty tissues, and passed from mother orcas to calves via the mother’s milk – contributing to calf mortality.

Many years of Department of Ecology records show that the Boeing MDC site was discharging high levels of PCBs for at least five years without adequate monitoring or control.  According to reports, the Boeing MDC site has, at certain times, discharged up to 36,000 times the Water Quality Standards for Human Health Criteria for PCBs into the Duwamish River, an already heavily contaminated Superfund site since 2001.  Furthermore, solids found in the catch basins of Boeing’s MDC site was 497 million times over the Sediment Quality Standards for Human Health Criteria.  The PCB levels in the sediment from Boeing MDC catch basins are of critical concern, especially during heavy rains that can loosen toxic sediment and cause it to flow directly into the Duwamish River. 

The source of the PCBs also include flight line caulking material, runway strip paint, and building materials.  Though Boeing has reduced many of these sources by removing these materials, additional abatement is required by today’s settlement.

“We were astounded to find that Boeing was discharging such high levels of PCBs to a river that has an active superfund cleanup underway to abate PCBs, of which they are already responsible for cleaning up,” states Katelyn Kinn, Puget Soundkeeper’s Staff Attorney.  “Clearly, Boeing knew about its PCB discharges from their Military Delivery Center because it took the samples and reported the data to the Department of Ecology.  Their delayed response is troublesome, but we hope that today’s settlement marks a renewed commitment to better protecting the river moving forward.”

With funds from the settlement being directed to the Lones Levee Setback and Floodplain Restoration Project, King County is now able to break ground on a new plan to promote recovery of salmon and orca.  The plan proposes to remove Lones Levee, an aging flood facility just east of the City of Auburn.  Once the failing levee is gone, the Green River – from which the Duwamish River flows – will be reconnected to its historic floodplain.  The expected result is increased salmon habitat, productivity, abundance, and diversity of Green River Chinook salmon and steelhead stocks.  Improved off-site flood and erosion protection for agricultural land, private farms, residences, and roads is also expected once the project is completed.

“Waste Action Project is glad to be part of this settlement, which will improve treatment to keep PCBs from reaching the Duwamish, as well as permanently remove additional PCBs from Boeing’s facility,” said Greg Wingard, Waste Action Project’s Executive Director.  “In addition, the settlement will facilitate one of the most significant restoration projects on the Green/Duwamish River that will increase the number of health salmon going out to sea, feeding our endangered Orca, improving the Green/Duwamish River and the Puget Sound for generations to come.”

“I congratulate Puget Soundkeeper and Waste Action Project for collaborating to keep our local waters free of pollution. I am excited that the funds from this settlement will complement the work of King County and the King County Flood Control District on the Lones Levy Project,” said King County Councilmember Dave Upthegrove.

Puget Soundkeeper is an environmental non-profit whose mission is to protect and preserve the waters of Puget Sound.  Since 1984, Puget Soundkeeper has filed over 200 legal actions.  Funds from successful settlements go to restoring polluted waterways in the region through the Puget Sound Stewardship & Mitigation Fund.

Waste Action Project is a non-profit organization focused on the protection of the waters of Washington State since 1994.  Funds from settlements are used to build conservation community in and around waters harmed by pollution.

Puget Soundkeeper and Waste Action Project were represented in this action by Marc Zemel at Smith & Lowney PLLC and Puget Soundkeeper Staff Attorney Katelyn Kinn.

To view the Consent Decree, click here.

Media Contact:

Katelyn Kinn, Staff Attorney

(206) 297-7002

Photo: A United Airlines Boeing 737 parked out front of the Boeing Delivery Center on October 19, 2015 in Seattle, Washington. (Stephen Brashear/Getty Images)