The Asarco smelter plume is estimated to stretch across more than 1,000 square miles of Pierce, Thurston and King counties. Lead and arsenic in the soil can cause significant long-term health problems. The risk is magnified for children who play in the dirt, officials say.
State and county agencies recommend a range of ways for residents to learn about potential health dangers of the pollution in their area and precautions that can minimize the risks.
ON THE WEB
Dirtalert.info offers an explanation of the pollution and contact information for agencies that can answer questions about testing and cleanup.
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The state Department of Ecology maintains a searchable database (1.usa.gov/1d0UboW) of testing results for addresses in areas with the most pollution and a separate map of estimated arsenic pollution for areas in the plume (1.usa.gov/1iIjxlK).
The federal Environmental Protection Agency also hosts a site (1.usa.gov/1PthA9G) explaining its work in areas nearest to the former smelter.
Officials recommend the following precautions for residents of areas with lead and arsenic soil pollution:
▪ Don’t wear outdoor shoes into the home.
▪ Use plenty of soap and water when washing hands, and always wash before eating. Hand sanitizers do not reduce the harm from arsenic and lead.
▪ Wash heavily soiled clothing separate from other laundry, and wash children’s toys, bedding and pacifiers frequently.
▪ Dust using a damp cloth and vacuum weekly to minimize household dust.
▪ Wash fruits and vegetables, and grow leafy produce in a raised bed with arsenic-free dirt. Use a scrub brush on potatoes, carrots and other root vegetables.
▪ Wash pets frequently, and wipe off excess dirt and mud before a pet comes inside.
▪ Cover all bare patches of soil, either with healthy, thick grass or another ground covering, such as gravel or wood chips.
▪ Build or install a covered sandbox so children inclined to play with dirt have a safe place to do so. Use play sand that has been washed and screened.
▪ Wear gloves and shoes when gardening, and wear a dust mask if gardening on a dry, windy day.
▪ Eat a diet high in iron, calcium and vitamin C, all of which help decrease absorption of lead.
FOR MORE INFORMATION AND RECOMMENDATIONS
The Tacoma-Pierce County Health Department’s Dirt Alert program can be reached at 253-798-6492. King County’s Tacoma Smelter Project is at 206-477-3478.
The Ecology Department’s Tacoma Smelter Plume Project is at 360-407-7688, option 2.