Olympia Brewery transformer spill

(Information on this site is considered to be accurate at the time of posting, but is subject to change as new information becomes available.)

A spill of transformer oil is now controlled at the former Olympia Brewery in Tumwater.

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  • See photos of this incident and our response on our Flickr site

Summary information

Date of incident:  February 25, 2019
Location: Tumwater, WA
Type of incident: Oil spill
Cause of incident: Under investigation
Responsible party: Tumwater Development LLC
Transformer that leaked as viewed from street.

This transformer, seen behind the cyclone fence, leaked oil at the former Olympia Brewery site. Approximately 600 gallons of oil entered the Deschutes River and Capitol Lake.  

Status updates

4 p.m., Sept. 27, 2019

All recreational areas of Capitol Lake are open, but be mindful of the orange fences that are protecting the grass that is growing back.

4 p.m., Sept. 10, 2019

We have completed active response operations.

Our work has reduced contaminant concentrations and prevented PCB oil from reaching Budd Inlet. This active response included:

  • Removal of oil at impacted public parks including; Tumwater Falls Park, Tumwater Historical Park, The DES Capitol Lake Interpretive Trail, Marathon Park and Heritage Park
  • ​Removal of 3.5 miles of oil and PCB impacted vegetation
  • Recovery of oil from the surface of Capitol Lake
  • Removal of oil and PCB contaminated sediments from Capitol Lake.
  • Removal and replacement of impacted public infrastructure such as roadways and storm drain system
  • Removed additional sources of potential contamination from the brewery

Right now we are in the process of decontaminating and demobilizing response equipment and the contaminated sediment treatment system. We are also working on restoration of grassy areas impacted by the treatment system. Ecology is continuing to evaluate the active response and determine if additional response or remediation is necessary.

2 p.m., July 15, 2019

Spill response efforts are moving on from Marathon Park, and the parking lot is open again. There is still some groundskeeping work to be completed, but the majority of the park is open for use. 

5 p.m., July 8, 2019

Google Earth map showing seven cleaned areas, three areas of removal in progress, and three under consideration.

Contaminated sediment removal areas as of July 8, 2019

Starting tomorrow, we are moving the treatment system from Marathon Park to Heritage Park to clean up contaminated areas in the northeast corner of Capitol Lake. There will be some traffic impacts this week as we move equipment in. There will be flaggers, similar to what people are seeing in Marathon Park.
The greenspace where we will have our system setup will be fenced off and inaccessible throughout the duration of the cleanup. When the system is up and running, the paved walkway/roadway will periodically be closed off to pedestrian traffic as we deliver equipment and remove the contaminated sediments. There may be noise impacts to the area during the day and after-hours.
Analytical results indicate that the walking trail in Tumwater Falls Park has been cleaned to meet Washington State’s cleanup criteria for oil and PCBs. We will begin restoration work soon.  

To date, responders have cleaned up seven of ten identified contaminated areas in Capitol Lake. We will continue to sample sediment to ensure clean areas meet state standards, and locate any new pockets of contamination.  

5 p.m., June 12, 2019

We have begun diving and suction operations to recover oil at the bottom of Capitol Lake.

Olympia Brewery Transformer Spill: Lake sediment cleanup, summer 2019

See a larger version of this poster, or get an accessible text version.

3 p.m., May 31, 2019

Marathon Park parking lot will be open the weekend of June 1-2, but closed for response operations starting Monday June 3.  

9 a.m., May 29, 2019

You may see elevated water levels in Capitol Lake. This is to help the divers removing contaminated sediments as part of the lake cleanup. 

10 a.m., May 24, 2019

We are initiating the next phase of cleanup operations, which will include the removal of contaminated lake sediment from heavily impacted areas in Capitol Lake. We are currently making preparations so divers can access contaminated areas from the shoreline wearing protective diving equipment to remove the top layer of lake sediments by suction. We expect this activity to begin sometime next week.
Contaminated lake sediments will be pumped into large settling tanks to allow the sediments to separate from the water. The contaminated sediments will be taken off site by tank truck and solidified for proper disposal in a landfill.
Divers and others accessing the lake will use state Department of Fish and Wildlife approved decontamination measures to protect against the spread of New Zealand mud snails beyond Capitol Lake.
Two primary areas of operation will have an impact on public access at Tumwater Historical Park and Marathon Park in the Olympia Capitol Campus. Parking areas will be closed at both of these areas to accommodate the equipment being used to support dive operations, contaminated sediment storage tanks and truck traffic. 
Tumwater Historical Park: Starting Friday May 24, 2019, equipment setup will begin. A portion of the parking in the park will be closed until the completion of this phase of the cleanup. The playground, restrooms and shelter areas will still be open and accessible. Signs alerting visitors to the parking closures will be posted. Since February, the interpretive trail passing under I-5 connecting the park to Deschutes Parkway has been closed due to the cleanup, and this closure will remain in place.
Marathon Park: Starting Friday May 31, 2019, equipment setup will begin here. All parking within the park will be closed to support cleanup operations. The walking trail around Capitol Lake and park restrooms will be still be accessible, and parking along Deschutes Parkway will be available. 
Response operations will continue in Tumwater Falls Park, and the walking trail on the east side of the Deschutes River remains closed.
Ecology is continuing the next phase of response operations with the contractor team of CCS and Global Diving & Salvage, Inc.

2 p.m., May 9, 2019

After much consultation and partnership on this spill response and cleanup, and despite ongoing efforts, the owner of the former brewery is not currently able to provide continuous funding to the spill response operations without interrupting clean-up activities. Because of the continued possible risks to human health and the environment, we have decided to continue cleanup operations using state funds.

As a reminder, the spill is not an immediate public health threat, however it remains a concern to the health of the Deschutes watershed. We are doing our best to rapidly, aggressively, and effectively find and remove the remaining PCB-containing oil.
State-funded work to continue includes:

  • Removal of contaminated soil and debris, decontamination of impacted rocky shoreline, and recovery of oil seeps in Tumwater Falls Park.
  • ​Sampling of soil to confirm cleanup below the demolished building and excavated sidewalk adjacent to Boston Street, so it can be backfilled and restored.
  • Maintenance of oil containment boom.
  • Sampling of subsurface lake sediment to map out the extent of contamination.

The current contractor, CCS, will carry out this work under our supervision. CCS is a current contractor on the Department of Enterprise Services Statewide Emergency Response Master Services Contract, and we have also certified them as a Primary Response Contractor.

Additionally, while we continue to delineate the extent of lake sediment contamination, we are evaluating options to remove contaminated sediments.

We want to acknowledge the significant clean-up work that the brewery owner has funded and accomplished to date, which includes:

  • Disposal of the transformer and residual oil that was the source of the spill, and finding and removing additional sources of transformer oil on the former Olympia brewery property.
  • Removal of contaminated sidewalk, asphalt, and storm drains leading from the source transformer to Tumwater Falls Park. 
  • Demolition of a building on the brewery property that was contaminated with PCB oil and the identification, removal, and capping of contaminated drain lines located under and adjacent to the building.
  • Removal of PCB-contaminated vegetation, soil, and debris from Tumwater Falls Park and decontamination of the rock face on the shoreline of the Deschutes River. 
  • Containment and removal of PCB-containing oil from the surface of Capitol Lake.
  • Removal of PCB oil-contaminated vegetation around Capitol Lake.
  • Delineation of the horizontal and vertical extent of contamination in lake sediments

There have been no reports or observations of birds or wildlife harmed by the spill to this date. We are also working with waterfront property owners to request access for sampling and cleanup work along private shorelines of the lake.
We will continue to lead this effort and oversee operations until we are satisfied the oil is cleaned-up using visual and analytical (lab results) evidence. We do not have a predicted end date for the response at this time.
Find the latest information and photos of the spill response on this website at www.ecology.wa.gov/spill-incident/olybrewery. Follow the response on Twitter at https://twitter.com/ecysw.

5 p.m., April 23, 2019

Boston Street SE will be closed between Custer Way and Deschutes Parkway SW from 8 a.m. - 5 p.m. on April 24, 2019. The closure may extend into Friday, April 26, 2019, depending on work progression.

As early as tomorrow, plans and permits are in place to remove the building that’s located next to the site of the transformer that leaked oil into the river and lake. This is the same building where we previously discovered multiple transformers. Boston Street will be closed to traffic when this occurs. We continue to deal with the complex drainage system that is associated with this building, and plan to isolate and encapsulate any part of the drainage system that can’t be removed. Once this has been done, we have approval from the Olympia Tumwater Foundation to start cleanup work on the hillsides above and below the east (brewery side) trail in in Tumwater Falls Park.

We’re still seeking permission to sample private properties on Capitol Lake. If you own property on the lake and would like more information, please contact Dave Byers at david.byers@ecy.wa.gov or 360-407-6974.

People have asked us if the water in Budd Inlet is safe for water recreation. We have not detected any oil in Budd Inlet. Oil containment boom remains in place just south of the 5th Avenue dam. The dam is an under-flowing dam that may be helping keep the oil, which floats, contained in the lake.

Budd Inlet suffers from historical contamination and has fish and shellfish advisories in place. The Department of Health conducted a health consultation of Budd Inlet in 2009.

6 p.m., April 11, 2019

We will host a public meeting for the community to learn more about the spill response from 6:30 – 8:30 p.m. on April 18 in Multipurpose Room A of the Olympia Center, 222 Columbia St. NW, in Olympia. People and organizations who own property along the lake are especially encouraged to attend. 

9 p.m., April 8, 2019

Spill source site

While working to remove three of the newly discovered transformers on Boston Street and cleaning up the building where they were found, workers discovered a complex drainage system. It’s a top priority now to determine where drainage system connects and where it daylights, as it poses a potential threat for additional contamination.

Tumwater Falls Park

Work on the hillsides above and below the east (brewery side) trail is on pause, pending the elimination of upstream contamination and the approval of the remediation plan by the Olympia-Tumwater Foundation, the owner of Tumwater Falls Park. 

Capitol Lake

We continue to re-inspect the shoreline. While trimming vegetation near the northern shoreline of Marathon Park, we observed that cattails have soaked up oil into their stalks. Responders placed oil containment boom around the area. Analytical results confirmed that this is brewery oil and it contains low concentrations of PCBs.

Oil skimmers are also being used to remove PCB oil from the lake surface. Two of the units are working near the northern shoreline of Marathon Park. The oily water is sent through a carbon filtration system and then clean, filtered, low-pressure water is discharged back over the shoreline to wash it. No PCBs have been detected in the discharge water.  

Public meeting

A public meeting about the spill and the spill response is planned for the evening of April 18 in Olympia. We will have more information here as we finalize arrangements.

 2 p.m., April 2, 2019

We have now identified a total of 15 transformers on the former Olympia Brewery property, including the one that spilled oil into the river. We’ve collected oil samples from all of the identified transformers. They don’t all contain PCB-contaminated oil. We are still awaiting laboratory results for some of the transformers.

An assessment of the large property continues to help us identify other sources of potential contamination, including additional transformers. Due to safety concerns, including the presence of asbestos and the limited access of some parts of the property, this may be a long process.

Walkers and joggers walking around the lake will continue to see workers in protective suits in boats trimming vegetation and removing oil trapped near the shoreline. They are wearing full protection due to their close proximity to the oil.

One lane of Boston Street SE, nearest to the source of the spill, has been closed off and on to allow for cleanup. Crews plan to remove additional sections of the roadway and underlying soil.

We appreciate everybody’s patience with the trail and roadway closures.

Stay tuned to this website for the latest information.

1 p.m., March 29

The stormwater system on Boston St. SE is now completely replaced and test results confirm there is no longer any contamination leaving the system. Restoration work on the sidewalk and roadway continue.

Cleanup activities are taking place on the hillsides above and below the east (brewery side) trail in Tumwater Falls Park. This may include a variety of activities including removal of vegetation and soil and rock scrubbing.

At Capitol Lake, workers continue to trim and remove contaminated vegetation and oil trapped near the shoreline. Washington Conservation Corps supervisors and crew members are assessing areas of shoreline that may need further cleanup and reassessing areas that have been trimmed to see if they need further cleanup.

The Department of Fish & Wildlife assisted this week by providing an emergency Hydraulic Project Approval permit to allow for the removal of oiled woody material from the water.

Our responders continue to collect sediment and surface water samples. Lab sample results are important because they will help inform us about where the spill has spread and when the spill response may be completed. Ecology is sending its samples to the state/federal laboratory in Manchester. The cleanup contractor is also sampling and sending its samples to a private accredited lab.

Several Department of Ecology programs are providing expertise and oversight including the Toxics Cleanup Program, the Water Quality Program, and the Shorelands and Environmental Assistance Program.

Many others continue to participate in the response, including representatives of the brewery’s owner, CCS, which is the cleanup contractor hired by the owner, the city of Tumwater, the Olympia Tumwater Foundation, which owns Tumwater Falls Park, the state departments of Fish & Wildlife, and Enterprise Services.

5 p.m., March 21

The northbound lane of Boston Street SE will be closed between Custer Way and Deschutes Parkway from 8 p.m., Thursday, March 21, to 5 a.m., Friday, March 22, 2019, for emergency repair to the stormwater infrastructure.
Both Lanes will be closed from 8 p.m., Friday, March 22, through 8 p.m., Saturday, March 23, 2019.
A private contractor is replacing stormwater basins and pipes damaged by the transformer oil spill at the former brewery property as part of the spill cleanup we have required.
Detour signs will be in place at 2nd Avenue, Custer Way, Capitol Boulevard, E Street, and Deschutes Parkway. 
Traffic control and flaggers will be on site to assist drivers around the work zone. Please drive slowly around the work zone, and comply with all instructions from flaggers.
Call the City of Tumwater Public Works Department at 360-754-4140 with construction questions or concerns.

5 p.m., March 14

Upwards of 50 workers will be on site starting Friday supporting the ongoing response to the spill. Teams working from boats will be cleaning up impacted shorelines in the river and lake by trimming and collecting oiled vegetation. Working from boats helps protect the shoreline area. The oiled vegetation will be collected and disposed of properly.

Crew supervisors from the Washington Conservation Corps have been assisting with identifying and mapping areas of impacted shoreline that will be targeted for cleanup. They will help ensure the workers remain safe and represent the state’s interests during the cleanup process. The WCC supervisors have certification and experience working with hazardous materials during responses to natural disasters.

Today we provided a walking tour of the site to Tumwater Mayor Pete Kmet, city council members Tom Oliva and Debbie Sullivan, as well as Dan Smith, the city’s water resources manager. Also along was Sue Patnude, executive director of the Deschutes Estuary Restoration Team and other Ecology staff members.

Assessments also continue at the former brewery complex to identify any other sources of pollution that may threaten the river and lake. A complete search of the brewery property may take some time due to the size of the complex, number of buildings, and hazards, like asbestos, associated with the site.

The re-cleaning of the stormwater system was completed and a sample was collected from the outfall to ensure the cleanup was effective. The results indicate there is still contamination in the stormwater system, so we will be using a camera tomorrow to investigate the system for cracks or other inputs.

Lastly, this area is richly significant. It is designated as a National Historic District. We are using an “Inadvertent Discovery Plan” so that we will have a rapid, aggressive, and well-coordinated response in the case of a find of historical, cultural or archeological significance. If that occurs, we have professionals on standby for identification and temporary custody and curation while consultation is initiated with the Washington Department of Archeology and Historic Preservation and the interested Tribes.

8:30 a.m., March 12

Cleanup crews removed the remainder of the sidewalk and part of the roadway on Boston St. SE on March 9. The soil below the concrete will be tested for PCB contamination and the sidewalk will be replaced when soil samples meet state-required cleanup levels.
Workers cleaned the stormwater line a second time that lies between the initially impacted storm drain and the storm drain on the southbound side of Boston St. SE. Additional lane closures will be needed so workers can completely clean the stormwater line to its outfall in Tumwater Falls Park. Continued cleanup of the hillsides inside Tumwater Falls Park is on hold until the stormwater line is re-cleaned and sampled. The east (brewery side) trail in the park will remain closed as workers continue cleanup and sampling of the upper hillside above the park trail.
Surface water sampling and additional shoreline sediment sampling continues this week. Cleanup crews also continue to recover sheen where possible. Plans to cleanup impacted shorelines are being finalized and will be implemented this week.

5 p.m., March 7

We continue to oversee the cleanup of transformer oil from the former Olympia Brewery. Our mobile command post, which resembles a large motor home, is parked at the Tumwater Historical Park. Oil containment boom is still in place and workers are removing oil where they can find it.
We’re testing the most efficient ways to trim away and collect oiled vegetation to cleanup impacted shorelines. We continue to take surface water and sediment samples to determine the extent of the contamination in the lake and along shorelines.
There are still no reports of oil-affected wildlife. 
Tumwater Falls Park re-opened today except for the trail closest to the brewery. Tumwater Historical Park is open with the exception of the trail which runs under I-5. The Capitol Campus Interpretive Center trail remains closed.
Crews have removed vault and drain covers from the brewery property and have discovered additional oil. We believe that all of this oil is contained within the on-site vault and drain system, and we believe it has been disconnected from the municipal sewer system. We are analyzing this oil to determine if it contains PCBs and working with the local utilities to determine where the vaults and drains lead.  
It is still difficult to assess the timeline of cleanup activities and we do not have an estimate of how long containment boom and skimming will remain in place or how long soil, vegetation, and possible sediment cleanup will take.

5 p.m., March 5

Tumwater Falls Park is expected to re-open on Thursday, however the park’s trail on the brewery side of the river will remain closed.

Cleanup crews continue to recover oil sheen from the water. Sediment sampling is underway to determine the extent of contamination in the river, lake and connected culverts.

Overall, the response is going well but is expected to continue for a while, according to Spills Program lead Alison Meyers.

As this website reported on March 1, the spilled oil does not pose an immediate public health threat. Cleanup crews are wearing protective clothing because of their close proximity to the spill. 

Watch this page for continued updates.

5 p.m., March 4

Cleanup and related park and trail closures continue this week. We do not know how long our response will last, but we will be there as long as it takes to find and remove oil from the environment.
A sidewalk on Boston Street SE in Tumwater has been removed and it is closed to pedestrians. We have sampled soils below the sidewalk, and are working to find and remove all further contamination in the area. The contaminated material will be disposed of properly. In addition:

  • Crews have cleaned out the storm drain system near the transformer where the spill originated. We are testing it to verify that the system is clean enough to re-open for use.
  • ​Crews continue work to clean up shorelines and surface water areas.
  • Short- and long-term monitoring plans are being developed for Capitol Lake.​
  • Tumwater Falls Park remains closed.
  • The Interpretive Center trail on Capitol Campus remains closed. 

While isolated pockets of oil have been found along the shoreline of Capitol Lake, we have not found any measurable oil in Budd Inlet.

We’ve added new photos to our Flickr album (you can find the link at the top of this update).

3 p.m., March 1

Tumwater Falls Park is now closed to allow for the safe movement of response equipment and personnel. We are asking the public to honor this closure, as well as the closure of the trail at Capitol Campus Interpretive Center. The spill response is expected to last into the weekend and possibly longer.

Multiple lengths of oil containment boom are deployed between the spill site and down the Deschutes River into the south end of Capitol Lake. Spilled oil is contained by using boom that floats on the surface of water. The boom helps concentrate oil so that it can be skimmed off the surface of the water and recovered in larger volumes. Skimming physically removes oil from the environment, allows for proper disposal and minimizes environmental impacts.

We are compiling information about how much oil has been recovered to help us understand the volume of oil that was spilled.

Laboratory results show the oil contains less than 0.005 percent PCBs (approximately 30 - 50 parts per million). It is important to know this spill does not pose an immediate public health threat, according to state Department of Health toxicologist and PCB expert Barb Morrissey.

We anticipated there might be PCBs in the oil because from 1929 to 1979, about 600,000 metric tons of PCBs were commercially manufactured in the United States. Although federal law banned PCBs in 1979, there are widespread reservoirs of this toxic chemical in old caulk, electrical transformers, fluorescent light ballasts, and paint.

PCBs released into water bodies can accumulate in the aquatic food chain and build up over time to harmful levels in fish that we eat. PCBs can accumulate in and affect the health of people and marine life, including orcas.

To address this potential problem, Washington has very strict water quality standards to prevent release of PCBs to water. As a precaution, spill response crews are wearing protective clothing because of their close proximity to the oil.

In 2015, the Washington departments of Ecology and Health released a chemical action plan to guide our state’s strategy to find and remove PCBs, and reduce exposures.

Read more about PCBs on at the Department of Health’s website and also on our website.

5:30 p.m., Feb. 28

Responders hired by the owner of the former Olympia Brewery continued to make progress today in removing and containing transformer oil on land and in the Deschutes River. The Interpretive Center trail on the Capitol Campus and the section of trail closest to the brewery in Tumwater Falls Park remains closed. The response is expected to last through the weekend and likely beyond. At this time, we do not know how long spill containment booms will remain in place and how long soil, vegetation, and possible sediment cleanup, will take. 

The transformer had a capacity of 677 gallons, however we do not know how much oil has spilled. Final lab results identifying the oil are still pending.

The spill is a concern for the Deschutes watershed. Responders are doing their best to rapidly, aggressively, and effectively clean up and remove the oil on soil, rocks, vegetation, and in the water. Find more information here as we have it. 

5 p.m., Feb. 27, 2019

This afternoon, we have been investigating pockets of oil sheen on Capitol Lake. We took samples of the sheen today to see if it is connected to the Olympia Brewery transformer spill. We are working in coordination with the Department of Enterprise Services, which manages Capitol Lake, and the brewery’s cleanup contractor, Cowlitz Clean Sweep, on this response. The public may see some activity around Tumwater Historical Park and near the I-5 bridge, where cleanup crews may be placing containment and absorbent materials. The Interpretive Center trail on the Capitol Campus will be closed during the response. The Olympia Tumwater Foundation has closed a portion of the trail in Tumwater Falls Park where cleanup work is occurring.
Watch this website for continued updates.

Feb. 27, 2019

A spill of transformer oil at the former Olympia Brewery on Boston Street SW impacting the Deschutes River was identified and stopped on Feb. 26. The spill, first discovered on Feb. 25, is believed to have entered the Deschutes River through a series of storm drains. 
We do not know exactly how much oil spilled. The transformer had a capacity of approximately 700 gallons.
Ecology is waiting for lab results of oil samples that were collected at the spill site to help identify the product that was spilled. Transformer oil may contain PCBs (polychlorinated biphenyls), a toxic chemical that gets into the food chain.
People and their pets should continue to stay out of Capitol Lake where the river flows, as advised by current closures.
The Department of Ecology, the city of Tumwater, and Thurston County Health Department are working together with the owner of the brewery property on a cleanup plan.
The cause of the spill is under investigation. More information will be posted on this website as we have it.

Media contact

Ty Keltner, Communications Manager, ty.keltner@ecy.wa.gov, 360-407-6990 ,ecysw

Ann Cook, City of Tumwater, Communications Manager, acook@ci.tumwater.wa.us, 360-754-4123