Alcoa Seeks to Dredge Toxic Sediment from Columbia River

VANCOUVER, Washington, February 15, 2008 (ENS) – Alcoa submitted its formal request to the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers for permission to dredge portions of the Columbia River at Vancouver, Washington starting this fall. The dredging project will remove river sediments contaminated with polychlorinated biphenyls, PCBs, toxic byproducts of more than 40 years of industrial activity on the property.

The Alcoa Vancouver site is located on the north bank of the Columbia River three miles northwest of downtown Vancouver. Alcoa constructed an aluminum smelter on the site in 1940. Between 1944 and 1970, a number of fabrication operations were added to form aluminum into finished goods such as wire, rod, and extrusions. Alcoa operated the entire facility for 45 years, until its closure in 1985.

The smelter was constructed during World War II and supplied aluminum to the war effort. But aluminum smelters built in the early 1940′s were constructed without control scrubbers and chemical waste water treatment systems.

Cleanup is taking place at the Alcoa
Vancouver smelter site. (Photo
courtesy Department of Ecology)

Industrial and solid wastes from construction and operation of the aluminum smelter were stored in waste piles and consolidated in landfills onsite over the years. Hazardous contaminants in these wastes include petroleum hydrocarbons, PCBs, cyanide, fluoride, trichloroethylene, low-level organic chemicals, and metals.

When approved, the Joint Aquatic Resource Permit Application will allow Alcoa to remove thousands of cubic yards of contaminated sediments from the Columbia River.

The project is slated to begin at the earliest date possible for in-river work, in November 2008.

“Alcoa continues to be pleased with the progress and has made available all the necessary resources to meet our accelerated schedule,” said Alcoa’s director of asset management, Mark Stiffler.

“Alcoa and Ecology have been working intensely to prepare this application, and Ecology is pleased the company beat the accelerated timeline by nearly two weeks,” said Carol Kraege, manager of Ecology’s team overseeing Alcoa’s cleanup. “This gives everyone more time to focus on the big work ahead.”

The cleanup of industrial contamination at Alcoa has been underway since 1990, with $42 million spent to date. Approximately $34 million has been spent on controlling the sources of PCBs and stopping the flow of contaminants to the Columbia River.

Next steps for this site include the state Department of Ecology requesting public comment on the draft Remedial Investigation and Feasibility Study, documents which detail the extent and nature of contamination on the site and the cleanup options. Ecology will announce the public review period and a public meeting as soon as the documents are ready.

Alcoa is in the process of hiring a contractor to remove the last PCB-laden building on its property. That work should be underway in March. This is the final step in making sure the source of toxic contamination in the river has been shut off at its source.

The river cleanup will also involve the removal of freshwater clams along Alcoa’s beach.

Health information released last spring indicated high levels of PCBs in clam tissue taken from many places along the Columbia River shoreline.

The state Health Department has issued a health advisory prohibiting clam harvesting on Columbia River near Alcoa property and contaminated clam warning signs in eight languages have been placed at boat launches along the river.

Alcoa is monitoring river levels to determine when it may be necessary to put a protective boom in place to limit access to the clam beds for anyone attempting to illegally harvest clams at Alcoa’s property.

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