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New Development Could Harm Our Watershed

Updated: Dec 26, 2023

by Sarah Ben Olson

This is Part 2 in a series on former Kaiser properties. To read Part 1, visit: https://www.flsrv.org/legacy-of-kaiser- aluminum-continues-to-impact-watershed/

North Spokane property has a filthy backstory: its stormwater flowed directly into the Little Spokane River watershed, with PCB levels over 250 times Washington’s Human Health standards. PCBs are man-made carcinogens that accumulate in the fats of animals and people. Manufacture of PCBs was banned in the U.S. in 1977, because of their potential to cause cancer. Hazardous PCB levels in Deadman Creek spurred an emergency removal by the EPA in 2020. The federal agency cleared asbestos and PCB-containing material from two former Kaiser properties. Although the EPA carted off toxic waste, it has not done any to monitoring for PCBs in the soils, or the groundwater. In 2020, Ecology approved a Total Maximum Daily Load (TMDL) for the Little Spokane River that does not include PCBs as a monitoring requirement. Ecology effectively tied its own hands, making it impossible for the agency to require stormwater testing for PCBs. Without a PCB TMDL, the agency is also unable to enforce cleanup of polluted properties.


Studies show an association between dietary PCB exposures and developmental effects. EPA has classified PCBs as a probable human carcinogen. https://www.epa.gov/sites/default/ files/2016-09/documents/polychlorinated-biphenyls.pdf


Now, a Development Agreement Greenstone filed for this property obscures the history of the site. In its Environmental Ordinance Forms, Greenstone claims possible impacts to groundwater and air quality “do not apply” to their project. The property’s groundwater flows to a protected watershed, including private wells; it is upwind of neighborhoods, and three public schools.

Spokane County planners told me it is the State Department of Ecology’s job to flag potentially harmful projects at the zoning stage. Staff at Ecology say they examine development proposals for risks – but not until a rezone has been approved. Both agencies seem at odds regarding responsibilities to regulate development and protect the community. The Commissioners need honest environmental disclosures, and informed guidance from the EPA, to make decisions about the safety of developing this polluted site. Kevin Schneidmiller assured me Greenstone would show “due diligence” and test the 300 acres it plans to develop. Yet, Greenstone and Kaiser Investments Company haven’t done any testing to prove the property is safe for development. Neither Spokane County nor Ecology are calling for testing now, before a rezone proposal is approved. Without evidence to the contrary, the public must assume the property is still contaminated and demand proof that development won’t cause harm. Ecology Fails to Monitor Water Quality

in Little Spokane River Watershed Violating the Clean Water Act. The Department of Ecology has been neglecting to monitor the Little Spokane for pollutants for over a decade. It has not tested for PCBs in the watershed since the EPA’s 2020 emergency Removal action. Regular testing of water bodies is mandated by law. According to the Washington Dept. of Ecology Website, “the Clean Water Act requires states to perform a water quality assessment every two years to track how clean the rivers, lakes, and marine water bodies are.”


Ecology has known for years that PCBs are a persistent contaminant in the watershed. In a 2019 EPA Memorandum, Brooks Stanfield described the Little Spokane as “listed as impaired on the State of Washington’s 303(d) list due to the high concentrations of PCBs” (emphasis added.) However, no testing in the Little Spokane watershed is being conducted to check for continued PCB contamination. Ecology’s most recent testing for PCBs in Deadman Creek was in 2018, only at the spot the Kaiser Smelter stormwater system drained into the river. No other testing for PCBs has been conducted in the watershed since 2016. Curtis Johnson, from Ecology’s Water Quality Program, stated the agency has not done a comprehensive water quality analysis of the watershed in 8-10 years. This would appear to be in violation of Ecology’s monitoring responsibilities under the Clean Water Act.


Without monitoring, the health of the watershed, and the people who use it, could be in jeopardy. Whatever gets into the groundwater can make it to the river. The polluted land that once belonged to Kaiser Aluminum is only 150 feet above our aquifer. Contaminated groundwater from the Superfund NPL site flows northwest 1.5 miles, then discharges (outflows) into the Little Spokane. Today, elevated levels of cyanide and fluoride are still being recorded at those outflow points. Yet, no one has surveyed the soils of the former Kaiser properties for the pollutants that are poisoning our watershed. Fluoride and cyanide are only two of the toxic chemicals related to Kaiser’s activities here. PCBs are another. But Ecology isn’t looking for them in the soils, or in our river.


We need to know if toxic chemicals are present in the soils. If they are, developers must be held accountable to protect our watershed. It isn’t too late to make a public comment on Greenstone’s rezone proposal.


Your comments can request a public hearing regarding environmental concerns. Or, you can mention Greenstone’s lack of disclosure about potential hazards in its Environmental Ordinance Forms.


Contact the planner involved by mail: ATTN: Tammy Jones Spokane County Building and Planning. 1026 W Broadway Ave Spokane, WA 99260 Tammy Jones can also be reached by phone: 509- 477-7225 State that the email is related to: CC-01- 2021 Reference the file number with the parcel: no. 36096.9063 Or, Contact Commissioner Josh Kerns: Jkerns@spokanecounty.org 509-477-2265

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