This week the Seattle Post Intelligencer published a 'Special Report' on the Duwamish River in South Seattle. The articles look at the history of the Duwamish and how it came to be an industrial wasteland and critically analyzes the clean-up efforts that have been going on since it was designated a a national Superfund site in 2001. It is a very good report and certainly needed. The environmental raping of the Duwamish has continuously been put on the back shelf by policy makers for a host of reasons, including costs and its geographic location in the poorer South end of Seattle. As Seattle's only river, its sad that its natural beauty go completely unenjoyed by humans and wildlife alike. From the report:
The Duwamish is Seattle's river. Seattle's only real river.
And it is among the largest and most complicated toxic messes ever taken on by the federal government.
It's a Superfund site five miles long. How wide? That's yet to be decided, but theoretically it could extend from the crest of West Seattle to the top of Beacon Hill, a vast swath of Seattle, more than 10 square miles.
This is the heart of industrial South Seattle, where the meandering and shallow Duwamish River was straightened and deepened into an angular canal, mostly between 1913 and 1918. After that, industry moved in where Japanese- and Italian-American farmers had grown some of the first produce sold at Pike Place Market.
Along the Duwamish an army of industry took over: shipbuilding, manufacturing, oil tanks, metalworking shops, rendering plants, cement companies, a steel foundry, on and on.
Much of today's pollution had its roots in World War II, when Boeing cranked out nearly 7,000 "Flying Fortress" bombers. At the height of the war, a plane rolled off the assembly line about every two hours.
It helped save our country, but today that plant is arguably the river's most noxious toxic dump. PCBs leaked out of the bottom of the main plant, without anyone noticing, for decades.
Other riverside plants produced parts for the Liberty Ships that delivered vital supplies to Allied troops -- often food and materiel loaded at Seattle piers.
By the war's end, the price paid was becoming clear: More than 20 pollutants were being dumped into or alongside the river, including muriatic acid, sulfuric acid, cyanide, arsenic, copper sulfate salts, copper ammoniate and chromic acid. Plus the raw or minimally treated sewage of 48,000 people.
Wrote investigator Richard F. Foster of the newly created Washington Pollution Control Commission in December 1945: "The expansion of existing factories and the addition of several new industries since the outbreak of war has increased the pollution load. ... The extensive and continued spilling of oil ... does not seem justified."
But substances much worse than oil were being quietly unleashed, and their volumes would grow.
A River Lost?
- The Duwamish helped Seattle prosper. But along the way it became one of the nation's largest and most toxic urban sites.
- Critics say the clean up plan doesn't do enough to protect local residents, wildlife, and the environment.
- A cautionary tale about a whitleblower who paid the a steep price for his actions.
Check out the full report for photos and other mulitmedia.