In parts of Auburn and Algona, the groundwater is contaminated with a chemical called trichloroethene (TCE) and volatile organic compounds (VOCs). The contamination most likely originated from a degreaser used at the Boeing Auburn facility. The contaminated groundwater (called a plume) flows north and northwest away from the Boeing property into portions of southwest Auburn and northeast Algona.
During the remedial investigation, we required Boeing to test places where people can come into contact with the contaminated groundwater as it enters surface waters (like ditches, shallow groundwater and creeks) or the air (through air in soil pockets or indoor air). We consistently found chemical levels low enough that they do not pose a risk to human health.
The remedial investigation began in 2002 and evaluated the location, size, and impacts of underground contamination. We approved the remedial investigation report.
Boeing must further evaluate four of the 31 areas on their property.
Chemicals released may include low levels of petroleum hydrocarbons, cyanide, and metals (such as cadmium and copper).
Boeing collected hundreds of samples on and near the site, including Government Canal, the stormwater collection ditch on Chicago Avenue, the O Street wetland, the Outlet Collection stormwater ponds and collection ditch, the Auburn 400 ponds, Mill Creek, and various wetlands associated with Mill Creek, including the Auburn Environmental Park.
Testing showed that that these sites did not contain toxic chemicals at levels that would affect human health. We recommended that Boeing continue to evaluate groundwater across the site to confirm that contaminants are not reaching surface waters.
We recommended that Boeing continue to evaluate site-wide groundwater and address it in the feasibility study. Work is underway on that study, which is the next step in the cleanup process.
Groundwater moves slowly through soil, sand, and rocks. We're developing a strategy to clean up groundwater across the site. If contamination levels are above cleanup thresholds at specific locations, we will propose remediation or cleanup at those locations.
Following the remedial investigation, we are not recommending further indoor air evaluation. Indoor air will not be part of the feasibility study since there are no indications of health risks.
We reviewed air quality data from samples taken in residential and commercial areas over contaminated groundwater. The Department of Health reviewed results from air sampling data. None of the data indicates human health risks from breathing air in these locations. We will continue to evaluate the levels of volatile contaminants in groundwater during the cleanup. If levels rise, we could recommend additional testing to nearby homeowners to ensure that indoor air quality is safe.
Under the Model Toxics Control Act (MTCA), contaminated sites in Washington must go through a four-step cleanup process:
The Remedial Investigation identified the boundaries of the plume in and around the Boeing facility. It also laid out potential impacts of the contamination by evaluating data from groundwater, surface water, air, and soil samples. The investigation also sampled "areas of concern" and "solid waste management units" at the facility for other contaminants, such as metals and petroleum. Under our oversight, Boeing completed sampling and compiled a draft remedial investigation report that summarizes the investigation’s findings and recommendations.
We reviewed, revised, and approved the remedial investigation report.
Sometimes we require a partial cleanup (called an interim action) of a site to reduce potential impacts to human health or the environment from unsafe concentrations of a hazardous substance. We hold a public comment period on proposed interim action plans before authorizing the work.
Boeing discovered high levels of contamination on their property in the 1990s and notified Ecology. The Boeing Auburn remedial investigation began in 2002. The data from the 1990s, combined with newer findings, showed that groundwater at the location of what had been Building 17-05 had very high concentrations of trichloroethene (TCE). We required an interim action using bioremediation to lower TCE concentrations below state cleanup levels. The process took about a year. Since then, monitoring shows that TCE concentrations remain below levels of concern. This interim action will not be the final cleanup.
For more information about the interim action, see these documents:
The feasibility study takes information from the remedial investigation and identifies and evaluates alternatives for cleanup.
We develop a cleanup action plan using information gathered in the Remedial Investigation and Feasibility Study. The plan specifies the selected cleanup option, cleanup standards, and methods. It describes the steps to be taken, including any additional environmental monitoring required during and after the cleanup, and the schedule.
Implementation of the Cleanup Action Plan includes design, construction, operations, and monitoring. A site may be taken off the Hazardous Sites List after cleanup is completed and we determine cleanup standards have been met.
Boeing documented and notified Ecology of a prior release of TCE at the facility.
Boeing started a pilot project in commercial Algona to test potential cleanup methods. As they gather information on methods that may be effective, they will propose solutions for cleanup of the impacted areas.
In parts of Auburn and Algona, groundwater is contaminated with a degreaser called trichloroethene (TCE) and its breakdown products. It is believed that the chemicals originated from Boeing’s Auburn facility. The contaminated groundwater flows north and northwest away from the Boeing property under portions of northeast Algona and southwest Auburn. To date, the chemicals in the contaminated groundwater have been found at low levels that are not expected to pose a risk to human health and the environment. If future testing found levels that posed an immediate risk, Ecology would direct Boeing to take action to protect residents in the area.
We don’t have reason to believe that the contamination came from a single release or spill. TCE was used at the facility from 1966 until the early 1980s, so Boeing believes the contamination occurred during this timeframe. Use of TCE at the facility was phased out by the mid-1980s, so there is no risk of additional contamination coming from the facility.
Ecology and Boeing signed an agreement in 2002 and have since been working to understand the contamination and develop a plan for cleanup. In 2009, Ecology discovered that the contamination had spread beyond the Boeing property and directed the company to expand its sampling to determine how far the plumes had spread.
Boeing’s cleanup must follow Washington's cleanup process. This requires a thorough investigation of the contamination and of potential cleanup options. So far, the focus of the project has been the first phase of that process, called the Remedial Investigation, in which we studied the type and extent of the contamination. The size and complexity of the contaminated area added to the work needed to complete the investigation. The next step will be developing a feasibility study, which will review potential options to clean up the contamination. As this work goes on, Boeing continues to test both groundwater and surface water at the site under our supervision.
In 2002, Boeing conducted a pilot study to test bioremediation on a site beneath one of its buildings found to have very high levels of TCE. The pilot project reduced levels of TCE and related chemicals to within federal drinking water standards.
Yes. The water in homes and businesses in the area comes from public water systems that are regularly monitored by the Washington State Department of Health. The contamination discovered to date does not affect drinking water wells, and the groundwater in the area flows away from existing wells. Testing by the Department of Health has not detected any chemicals of concern. Private wells in the area are not monitored by the Department of Health. Contact Ecology if you have a private well.
Yes. We have studied garden sites in the area and found that the fruits and vegetables growing in them do not pose a threat to people. The chemicals do not build up in the plant or fruit tissue.
TCE and its breakdown products are colorless and odorless at the concentrations found in groundwater and surface water. The sheen of rainbow colored oil sometimes seen in ditches is likely from bacteria commonly found in wetlands.