Monday, June 09, 2014

New round of testing in Algona to trace Boeing pollution

ALGONA, Wash. -- A dozen test wells are being drilled to see how much pollution from a Boeing plant has seeped into the city's groundwater.

Crews punched into the earth in northeast Algona to track how far the contamination has spread.

"We're roughly a half a mile from the Boeing facility at the current moment," said Steven Tochko, Boeing's senior manager for environmental remediation.

For decades, the Boeing plant used cleaning solvents that seeped into the groundwater. That contamination is gradually pushing north, but state scientists say the concentrations are safe and in no way affects drinking water -- which comes from another source.

"We think that the health impacts to people in Algona are quite low," said Neal Hines with the state Department of Ecology. "Exactly what that number is I can't say at this point."

Neighbors say such assurances fall flat when it's their families at risk.

"We don't want to get sick, whatever contaminants they did to the water," said Michael Valenzuela, one of the neighbors near the drilling sites.

State ecology workers said initial tests show the polluted groundwater is deep enough that neighbors shouldn't be exposed, but Valenzuela isn't convinced.

"You can dig down about a foot, and there's the water table," he said. "You can't go out and play in it because you want to make sure it's not contaminated. And we have a lot of grandbabies come over, and we're trying to be safe for them."

Because of the widespread concern, so far 116 Algona residents have banded together and are suing Boeing and its environmental contractor, Landau Associates. In court filings, they claim they were "exposed to hazardous chemicals and incurred property damage" because of the contamination to chemicals such as trichloroethylene, or TCE. The cancer-causing chemical was in a solvent used by Boeing to clean airplane parts in the 1960s.

Algona Mayor David Hill said the city has hired its own experts, who confirm Boeing's findings.

"I think it's pretty well proven to be not as bad as they thought at first," Hill said.

However, the testing continues with solutions likely years away.

"It's a very big site," Hines said. "It covers many many miles, and that's why an investigation like this takes a bit of time."

So far, Boeing has spent $10 million on the testing and clean-up effort, and is on the hook for ongoing costs.

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