Legacy Pesticides Working Group update

Looking back to look forward

Bloggers note: This blog is one in a series about lead arsenate and its historic use on orchard lands in Central Washington. We are engaging a working group to help us to address this legacy pesticide, especially when those lands transition to new uses like housing developments, schools, and business ventures.

We’ve been hearing from homeowners and news outlets, wondering what’s been happening with the Legacy Pesticide Working Group. What we’re finding is that news reporters are asking the same questions as the public and the members of the working group.

One of the most frequent questions is “why now?” For us, it is not a question of why now, but rather why not now? Lead and arsenic contamination in Central Washington’s soil has been a concern for decades. In 2005, a state task force offered recommendations to address legacy contamination from lead arsenate, and funding from the Legislature provided school cleanups to protect the most vulnerable — children.

Now we’re turning our attention to other land uses.

A bit of history

The pesticide lead arsenate was used nationwide on orchards stretching from the East Coast to the West Coast. Recommended by the USDA to kill coddling moth on apples, it was widely used, until replaced by DDT. 

In 2003, the Areawide Soil Contamination Task Force, comprised of local and business interests, and headed by state Health, Ecology and the Department of Commerce, was convened to tackle lead and arsenic in soils across the state. The task force met for nearly two years, and made recommendations that included mapping, education and outreach, and ideas for sampling and cleanup. See our Dirt Alert webpage for additional information.

In the meantime, cleanup has occurred in Tacoma and Everett, where lead and arsenic contamination occurred from emissions at copper smelting operations. Ecology successfully settled with the mining company ASARCO to fund cleanup of pollution in nearby residential areas in Tacoma and Everett.

This settlement allowed yards to be sampled and soil replaced, and for coordinated outreach and education with local health departments, and other proactive changes in Western Washington.

What's happened in Central Washington?

Over the past 15 years, we’ve worked with school districts and cleaned up 26 school grounds on former orchards in Chelan, Douglas, Okanogan, Spokane, and Yakima counties.

Now we’re embarking on this new effort — responding to recently-raised concerns.

We’re asking homeowners and developers to help us make sure developments on former orchard lands are safe and clean when old orchards are converted to residential and commercial uses. We want homeowners to have the tools they need to learn about these historic properties where development has already occurred. We’re creating an online mapping interface where people can look to find where old orchards existed. We also provide guidance about sampling and cleanup through the state environmental checklist (SEPA process) when counties make land use decisions.

While those efforts are still underway, we know we will be more successful tackling these contaminated sites working strategically and in partnership with local communities. The Legacy Pesticide Working Group is helping us develop proactive and manageable tools to do just that.

Logistics & timeline for the working group

Over the past month, group members divided themselves into four smaller groups so conversations could be more focused and easier to manage on an online platform. We held our first individual subgroup meetings in May. Our plan for the summer is for these small groups to continue meeting online in June, and schedule full group meetings online (or in-person if allowed) in July, August, and September.  

Support for small groups

We're committed to remaining impartial as the working group moves forward with discussions and recommendations. To that end, we supported Chelan County contracting with Maul Foster Alongi (MFA), a large consulting firm with experience in land use planning, regulations, contaminated lands cleanup, and education and outreach expertise. MFA has worked with Ecology and has longstanding relationships with communities in Central Washington.

Initial questions and discussion topics

MFA plans to submit a technical research paper to the small groups in late June. This paper will address some of the initial questions raised by the small groups during the May meetings. Question and discussion topics have several overarching themes including:

  • Finding a straightforward way to inform property owners about potential contamination without negatively impacting financing and/or home prices
  • Providing recommendations on SEPA comment language that clearly articulate human health and environmental protections
  • Considering potential impacts to affordable housing
  • Developing guidance on mitigating legacy pesticides that is reasonable and low-cost for developers and homebuilders
  • Communicating clearly about potential public health risks to all community members
  • Considering environmental justice issues including how agricultural workers and communities of color are being impacted

This is not new rulemaking

Our goal with the Legacy Pesticide Working Group is to create a process that focuses on proactive ideas and solutions. Lead and arsenic contamination in soil does not go away over time, so it has to be cleaned up. That is the law and that is our job at Ecology. We believe the best way to focus the conversations the working group is having is to ensure that they have good support from the facilitators (Triangle Associates) and the technical advisor (MFA).

We have many years of lessons learned from cleanup of brownfield properties across the state. Brownfields are historically contaminated properties that are tested, cleaned up, and redeveloped to support economic revitalization. Similar to our work with brownfields, we believe that lead and arsenic soil contamination is manageable and the processes to cleanup and develop will be reasonable. And we believe these cleaned up properties will increase in value the same way as brownfield sites do as they become highly desirable development areas.

We look forward to the outcomes of this process and believe the recommendations of this group will achieve just that.

Call to action

Contact information

Jill Scheffer
CRO Section Planner
Toxics Cleanup Program

Jeff Newschwander
CRO Area-wide Contamination Coordinator
Toxics Cleanup Program