Cleanup has resumed at the former Olympia Dry Cleaners site in an effort to remove decades’ worth of pollution.
Starting Aug. 3, the state Department of Ecology will remove nearly 400 tons of contaminated soil at 606 Union Ave. SE. The property’s current tenant, Howard’s Prestige Cleaners, will remain open during the work.
The main pollutant is tetrachloroethene (PCE), a chemical solvent commonly used by dry cleaners. High concentrations of PCE can cause negative health effects such as dizziness, nausea and headaches. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has classified PCE as likely to be carcinogenic, meaning it has the potential to cause cancer in humans with long-term exposure.
The current tenant at the Olympia site operates PCE-free, and tenants have been PCE-free since 2004.
However, the damage was done by previous tenants dating back to 1970, when the facility was built. Contamination was reported on the site in 1995, setting the stage for two decades of scrutiny.
Tests found PCE contamination and more in the soil, groundwater, surface water and surrounding air. The contaminated surface water — known as seep — discharges into storm drains that lead to Budd Inlet.
In 2001, the Department of Ecology made an agreement with property owner Frank Burleson to start cleaning up the site. Burleson has since died, and the property is now owned by his estate. Owners of the adjacent property at 1000 Cherry Street SE have taken legal action against the Burleson estate over contaminants.
In 2006, crews removed about 311 tons of contaminated soil. As of February 2015, the property was still on the state’s hazardous sites list with a ranking of 2. Hazardous sites are ranked on a scale of 1-5, with a score of 1 representing the highest level of risk to human health.
This summer’s project is intended to remove all of the known soil contamination on the site. Crews will backfill trenches with a material that will protect groundwater, according to the Department of Ecology. Some contamination under the building will remain, but those contaminants are expected to decline naturally to levels below the cleanup threshold within five to 10 years, the department reports.
Steve Teel, site manager with the Department of Ecology, said it’s common for sites to take years to clean up.
“Fortunately, the area of contamination from this site is fairly limited,” Teel told The Olympian. “This site is not as bad as it could have been.”
The department will review the site every five years to ensure the cleanup’s effectiveness. Although originally estimated at $335,000, the total cost of the cleanup is closer to $475,000 when including the department’s future monitoring of the site, Teel said.
The Department of Ecology provides resources for dry cleaners in regards to pollution and waste management at http://www.ecy.wa.gov/