Cleaning up contaminated sediment in Washington

We're cleaning up contaminated sediment along coastlines, embayments, estuaries, and rivers.

What is sediment? Sediment is where aquatic animals such as crabs and clams live. Sediment can include silt, sand, cobble, and beaches.

Why does sediment matter? Clean sediment improves the health of marine and freshwater environments. Contaminated sediment can harm aquatic animals (such as shellfish) that live on or in it. Other animals that depend on these sediment-dwellers for food can also be harmed, including fish, harbor seals, orcas, and people.

We focus our sediment cleanups in areas with high environmental and economic value. This includes areas with natural resources and critical habitats.

What kind of critical habitats are we talking about?

  • Shellfish and eelgrass beds.
  • Herring and salmon spawning habitat.
  • Salmon migration corridors.
When these habitats are cleaned up, they can improve human and environmental health. They can increase recreation opportunities and improve the economy.

Who does this work? The Toxics Cleanup Program is the central group that manages Ecology's contaminated sediment cleanup work by:

  • Managing sediment cleanup sites.
  • Providing expert technical support.
  • Revising the Sediment Management Standards rule.
  • Developing guidance and policy.
  • Conducting activities that prevent pollution.

Where are the major contaminated sediment sites in Washington?

Puget Sound Initiative Priority Bays

North Puget Sound

Central Puget Sound

South Puget Sound

Hood Canal Area

Strait of Juan de Fuca

Spokane River

BNSF Railway Skykomish

Upper Columbia River

What regulations are used to clean up contaminated sediment?

We use the Sediment Management Standards (SMS) rule to manage and clean up contaminated sediment and prevent further contamination.

What guidance can help me clean up contaminated sediment?

Sediment Cleanup User’s Manual (SCUM II) provides guidance for:

Wood Waste Cleanup Guidance is guidance for cleaning up sediment contaminated by wood waste.

Adaptation Strategies for Resilient Cleanup Remedies is a guide for cleanup project managers to increase the resilience of cleanup sites to the impacts from climate change.

What sediment studies have been done recently?

Regional background. This is a concept in the SMS rule that can be used to set sediment cleanup levels. It can also help evaluate cleanup options, and identify potential areas for cleanup in the future. Regional background includes chemical concentrations in sediment that are from diffuse sources, like stormwater, rather than a specific source. Regional background is set for a specific area, like an embayment or a lake. We have set regional background in a number of areas:

Baywide studies. As part of the Puget Sound Initiative, we've completed baywide sediment studies to help with our cleanup work:

Marine Monitoring ProgramAs part of our Long-Term Marine Sediment Monitoring Program, we evaluate the health of six urban bays in Puget Sound.

Where can I find more technical information about contaminated sediment and cleanup?

How can the sediment team help me clean up sites?

Sediment contact list and expertise directory

Where are Washington’s upland sites (contaminated sites in soil or groundwater)?

How can I get updates on the Sediment Management Standards and MTCA rule?

Sign up for e-mail announcements from our MTCA-SMS-Rulemaking ListServ. You'll get updates on the Sediment Management Standards implementation efforts, and Model Toxics Control Act rulemaking activities.

How do I find and analyze Ecology’s sediment data?

Where can I find other sediment-related information at Ecology?

Dredged Material Management Program (DMMP)

The DMMP includes Ecology, U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (Seattle District), Washington Department of Natural Resources, and the Environmental Protection Agency (Region 10). This program manages the in-water dredging and disposal of marine sediment. This could be from navigation channels, restoration sites, and cleanup sites in Puget Sound or along the Pacific coastline.

For information on the Dredged Material Management Program, contact:

Regional Sediment Evaluation Team (RSET)

The RSET includes Ecology, U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (Portland District), Washington Department of Natural Resources, the Environmental Protection Agency (Region 10), Oregon Department of Environmental Quality, Idaho Department of Environmental Quality, U.S. Fish and Wildlife, and National Marine Fisheries Service. This program manages the dredging and in-water management of sediment in freshwater. This could be from navigation channels, restoration sites, and cleanup sites.

For information on the Regional Sediment Evaluation Team, contact:

Ecology’s Environmental Assessment Program

Ecology’s Water Quality Program