State to continue sampling yards for arsenic, invites 400 to be tested


Staff Writer

This week about 400 Vashon homes will receive letters from the state urging them to take advantage of a free program that tests yards on the island for arsenic contamination.

Last fall the state Department of Ecology  (DOE) began a program to test yards in parts of Vashon, Maury and Tacoma it believes are most affected by pollution from the historic Tacoma Smelter Plume. So far, 325 homes on Vashon have opted to have their soil tested, and 26 had yards haver been found to contain soil with arsenic levels high enough to receive free cleanup, according to Hannah Aoyagi, an outreach and education specialist at DOE’s Toxics Cleanup Program. The first cleanups, which involve replacing about a foot of topsoil, will take place this summer.

DOE did not do sampling over the winter, but will begin again this May, and officials hope many of the 400 homes that were not tested last year will sign up.

While the program is voluntary, Aoyagi stressed that it is islanders’ only opportunity for free yard testing and for free yard cleanup, should they qualify.

“We want it to be voluntary, but we do encourage people to sign up,” she said.

State funding for the massive cleanup comes from a settlement Asarco, a Ruston-based copper smelter, made when it filed for bankruptcy in 2005. The state received $188 million in settlement funds and expects to spend about $64 million of that on its yard cleanup testing and program, which is also being carried out in north Tacoma.

Aoyagi said that so far homes on Vashon have been found to have arsenic levels significantly lower than those in Tacoma, closer to where the smelter was.

“That’s a good thing. We kind of go in expecting the worst, and if the levels are lower, that’s good,” she said.

DOE representatives will present more detailed information on their findings so far at the April 21 meeting of the Vashon-Maury Island Community Council.

For more information about the yard sampling and cleanup program, contact Jill Jacobson at or 360-407-6245. For soil sampling sign-ups, contact Adrianna Jarosz at

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