What we've learned: extent of contamination

Most of the progress we've made on the Rayonier Mill cleanup has been behind the scenes, gathering the information we need to plan efficient and effective cleanup actions. These studies influence work on this project and also inform cleanup activities in the region.

Because the extent of contamination across the site is unknown, the focus for recent studies has been the study area, which is the former mill property and the marine environment next to the former mill.

You can find out about our work:

  • Defining the types and amounts of contamination in the marine and upland portions of the study area.
  • Evaluating several cleanup options for soil, groundwater, and marine sediments in the study area.
  • Investigating the sources and concentrations of dioxin in soil near the former mill.
  • Estimating amounts of contaminants that are introduced to Port Angeles Harbor but don’t have a clear source.

We can conduct long-lasting and effective cleanups when we understand which contaminants are present, where they are, their concentrations, and the possible approaches to cleanup. Thoroughly answering these questions has been a big part of our work on the Rayonier Mill cleanup. The following reports tell that story.

Interim Action Report: Volumes I, II, and III

Upland Data Summary (Volume I)

Rayonier Mill cleanup upland and marine study areas.

The 75-acre former mill site makes up the upland portion of the Rayonier Mill Study Area. The Upland Data Summary (Volume I) describes the types and amounts of contamination in the upland area.

The amount and type of contamination vary across the Upland Study Area. Most of the contaminated hot spots were removed with partial cleanups in the 1990s and 2000s. Remaining contamination was spotty and found across much of the upland area.

There are limited areas of low and high pH (acidity and alkalinity) in groundwater. This can cause some metals to move out of soil and into groundwater. Groundwater is not a source of drinking water because it is close to the saltwater of the harbor. Contaminants in the groundwater can migrate to the marine waters and sediments.

Contaminants found in soils and groundwater in the Upland Study Area include:

People and wildlife visiting the upland can be exposed to contaminated soil by direct contact with skin or by consuming contaminated soil.

Marine Data Summary (Volume II)

The Marine Study Area is about 1,300 acres of marine environment next to the mill property. The Marine Data Summary (Volume II) describes the types and amounts of contaminants in sediments in the marine portions of the study area. Many of the same contaminants found in soil are also present in sediment including PAHs, metals, dioxins, PCBs, and wood waste. 

People can be exposed to contaminated sediment by direct skin contact or by consuming it.  People and wildlife eating fish and clams that have accumulated contaminants in their tissues may be exposed to contaminants.

Fact sheet 

Cleanup Alternatives Evaluation (Volume III)

Several options for cleanup of soil, groundwater, and sediments in the study area are described and compared in the Cleanup Alternatives Evaluation (Volume III). To evaluate these options, we consider how long each cleanup might take, what the associated costs are, and how well each option could protect human health and the environment. 

The cleanup options protect against the exposure of people and wildlife to contaminants. Options for cleaning up contaminated soil include excavating soil and either hauling it away or consolidating the contaminated soil on-site. Options vary in the size of the area to be excavated. If contaminated soil is left on the property, then a cap will cover the contaminated soil.

Groundwater is not a source of drinking water, and the primary concern is to protect against contamination moving from the groundwater to marine waters and sediments. Cleanup options vary from treating groundwater at the shoreline to treating it throughout the upland. Treatments include injecting air into groundwater to increase the rate of breakdown of contaminants or using chemicals to treat groundwater. 

Cleanup options for marine sediment include dredging, using fill, and capping. Enhanced natural recovery means placing a thin layer of clean sand on top of the sediment and the activity of animals living in the sediment mixes the sand and contaminated sediments. A cap is a mixture of sand, gravel, and other materials that seals the contaminated sediment under the cap.

We invite you to review Volumes I, II, and III and share your comments during the public comment period from August 29 to November 26, 2019. We held an open house to answer your questions and make a presentation on Sept 25, 2019, at the Olympic Medical Center in Port Angeles.

Port Angeles Harbor Sediment Study reports

Port Angeles Harbor is one of seven Puget Sound bays at the center of the Puget Sound Initiative. We used special funding from the Puget Sound Initiative to learn where sediment in the harbor was contaminated and to study the nature of that contamination.

After the sediment study, we looked further into the sources of sediment pollution and developed a strategy for cleaning up the harbor.

You can read more about these studies on our harbor-wide projects page.

North Olympic Peninsula Regional Background Study

If we removed every contaminant in Port Angeles Harbor, would the sediment, air, and water entering the harbor re-contaminate the area? An update to the rule that guides our cleanup work in sediments introduced the concept of background chemical concentration levels to address questions like this.

In 2016, we completed a study of the regional background levels of several contaminants found in Port Angeles Harbor. The results of this study, in combination with our understanding of the risk contaminants pose to human health and the environment, help us decide cleanup levels. You can read more about the North Olympic Peninsula Regional Background Study on our harbor-wide projects page.

Off-Property Soil Dioxin Study

We studied soil in upland areas near the former mill to learn whether operations at the mill contributed to elevated dioxin levels and look for specific areas of concern. In 2011, we released a draft report on the study.

Learn more: