State now controlling oil spill clean-up that dumped toxic chemical into river, lake

TUMWATER, Wash. – Crews continue cleaning up an oil spill that has impacted a river, a lake and several parks in the South Sound.

The problem: oil leaking from an old electrical transformer at the Olympia Brewery began in late February, but also mixed in with the oil is a dangerous toxic chemical that’s been banned for decades.

Plus, taxpayers could for now be picking up the tab which could climb into the millions of dollars.

While officials say the immediate threat to people and the environment is small, it remains possible the dangerous chemical could seep into the food chain.

“It’s a disaster pretty much,” said resident Andrew Kerr.

Wearing protective boots and clothing, contractors are still busy cleaning up an oil spill that has been causing problems since late February.

“That footprint of contamination is getting bigger and bigger every day and we need to remove it as soon as possible,” said David Byers from the Washington State Department of Ecology.

The owners of the property where the spill occurred, Tumwater Development LLC., blames the incident on vandals.

The spilled oil also contained a toxic chemical, called PCB’s, that can cause cancer among other issues.

“We’re trying to remove it all before it can get too far into the soil, too far into the rocks,” said Dept. of Ecology response supervisor Alison Meyers.

What’s worse, the toxic chemical drained first into the Deschutes River, then into Capitol Lake but has yet to be detected in Puget Sound, say officials.

So far seven miles of shoreline have been treated but there could be more toxins under the water.

“That’s going to be an expensive clean up,” said Byers. “Anytime you’re removing sediments that are contaminated, it’s going to be a big bill.”

“It’s really devastating to see,” said Kerr who walked his dog through Tumwater Falls Park on Tuesday.

Kerr said he was pleased to see clean-up teams continuing their work.

The Department of Ecology says contractors are only finding small amounts of PCB’s at the spill site, the real issue comes later when humans or orca eat fish that may have stored the chemical in their tissues.

“That’s been linked to cancers and that has ramifications all around, not only for wildlife but also for people as well,” said Kerr.

State officials say the property owner has already spent millions on clean-up, but they now cannot afford to continue so the state has taken over.

And while the total cost isn’t yet known, state officials say it could run millions more.

The property owner shared the following statement with Q13 News:

Tumwater Development LLC takes the environmental health of our local parks, our waterways, and our community seriously.  We are deeply saddened that the vandalism and resulting incident occurred, and we remain fully committed to addressing it in partnership with the Department of Ecology, the City of Tumwater, and all affected parties.  As soon as we became aware of the vandalism that led to the release, Tumwater Development worked quickly with an experienced spill response contractor to mobilize to the site and implement a response plan. We have worked closely in partnership with the Department of Ecology throughout the cleanup, and we immediately took financial responsibility and have devoted millions of dollars to the cleanup to date.  We are relieved to see progress from the hard work of our on-site teams, and we are committed to seeing the process through.

At this point, we don’t know the full cost of the cleanup, but we do know that the cost estimates continue to grow.  From the beginning, we have worked in good faith with our on-site contractors to mobilize the substantial response to this incident, including making significant cash payments while providing substantial collateral and working to generate additional revenues to cover current and anticipated costs.  As we continue to seek additional revenue to ensure the necessary resources are available, we believe the solution announced last week will help ensure that critical work continues without any delay.  That remains our top priority.

Earlier this month, we paid for the removal of buildings that housed the vandalized transformers that resulted in the spill, and we are hopeful that this action will allow crews to complete the cleanup of the waterway.  Tumwater Development will continue to further explore new and vibrant opportunities for use and development of the property.  We remain committed to the response efforts, and we will continue to assess all these pieces and share information with the Tumwater community as it becomes available