Since UWT was founded in 1990, it has had an issue with groundwater contamination. Previously home to auto-repair shops and various factories, the UWT campus now faces the tough task of developing an underground cleanup plan.
The Department of Ecology (DOE) is proposing a legal agreement with the University of Washington that would help determine the extent of the contamination on the 46-acre campus, nestled in the Union Depot Historic Warehouse District.
Previous to UWT purchasing the space—which spans from South 21st St. and South 17th St. and from Pacific Ave. to Tacoma Ave.—a waste management company operated on the site. Before UWT purchased the land in downtown Tacoma, sparking the revitalization of Pacific Ave., Arrcom Inc. operated on campus from 1981 until the late ‘80s.
The land rights were given to Washington State, and UW later made the purchase, with plans of building a Tacoma branch. According to a report by the DOE, the US Environmental Protection Agency completed a study named the Resource Conservation and Recovery Act (RCRA) Facility Assessment in 1996, on the now UWT campus. They found traces of hazardous substances.
A DOE press release says, “Studies (2007-2009) found groundwater polluted with petroleum hydrocarbons, benzene, trichloroethene (TCE), and perchloroethylene (PCE).” The release goes on to say that while the risk of harm for human health is low, PCE, TCE, and petroleum hydrocarbons at a high level could potentially harm people. UWT’s drinking water is not affected by contamination.
In 1997, DOE and UWT came to an agreement that UWT would begin to clean the site up. According to the draft agreed order, which is located on the DOE website, “On October 1st, 1997, Ecology and the University of Washington entered into an agreed order No. DE 97HW-S238 to conduct a remedial investigation at the site (Tacoma).”
In 1997, the DOE’s agreement said that UW would manufacture a cleanup/ action plan for the Cragle Parcel portion of campus. Essentially, the new agreement between the DOE and UWT covers a larger surface area. DOE found that as UWT expanded, the findings of contaminants from Arrcom followed.
Due to the level of contamination found at the site, DOE is requiring UWT to:
Complete a remedial investigation/ report which, “describes the nature and extent of contamination and evaluates cleanup options.”
Draft a cleanup plan to remove the contaminants.
Describe how cleanup will continue on Howe Parcel (see map) through an interim action groundwater monitoring plan.
On April 6th, the DOE will host an educational public open house at First United Methodist Church of Tacoma— located at 621 Tacoma Ave. S—for Tacomans or inquirers to learn more about the UWT cleanup site.
The open house will be at 5:30 pm and will last until 8 pm. DOE released a fact sheet on their website saying, “Staff will be present to talk one-on-one during the open house sessions. Staff will give a presentation at 6 pm, followed by a question and answer session.”
DOE is accepting public comments regarding the draft agreed order plan through May 4th. You can review the documents on the Washington State Department of Ecology Website or at Tioga Library.