Highline near dump grounds

By Samuel Robbins - Staff Reporter

Be careful and do your research when shopping for an affordable home. You might find the home built on a foundation of toxic garbage, a Highline geology professor last week warned.

Dr. Eric Baer spoke at last week's Science Seminar, his lecture covering nearby Superfund sites.

Science Seminar is held every Friday and attendance is open to anyone. Presentations are led by faculty on research topics and subjects of general scientific interest.

Superfund sites are polluted locations considered by the government to be of great threat to human health and in dire need of attention.

The Superfund program is a government-led effort to redevelop these lands into safe and usable areas.

The Midway Landfill and the Kent-Highlands Landfill are the two Superfund sites within five miles of Highline.

You might have seen or driven by either of these landfills. On first appearance, they seem to be nothing but grassy lowlands. This is false.

The land is artificially built on top of garbage, the surface layer mostly comprising clay.

"This area has a very industrial history. In the past companies and the government didn't see a problem with dumping garbage," Dr. Baer said.

These areas have been labeled as safe for now but Dr. Baer said that accidents that endanger could happen because people were not informed.

The Kent-Highlands Landfill is the most dangerous Superfund site near Highline, Dr. Baer said. 

Located Northeast of Military road and Kent-Des Moines Road, the site operated from 1968 to 1986. 

The City of Seattle leased the site and disposed of refuse on about 60 acres of a 90-acre ravine on a hillside above the Green River. 

The landfill accepted paint residues, industrial sludge, municipal and industrial wastes. 

These landfill operations resulted in impacts to groundwater and air. 

The City of Seattle has now closed the landfill, and operation and maintenance activities are ongoing.

Right now, the danger is contained but it could pose a greater threat in the future.

"A few years ago, a private company bought the land to redevelop into affordable apartments, yet if you go to the website it doesn't mention the land's history anywhere," he said.

"Wouldn't you want to know if the apartment you are moving into are built on top of several feet of clay and then toxic garbage?" Dr. Baer asked.

The Midway Landfill Superfund site is a 60-acre former gravel quarry in Kent, which operated as a waste landfill from 1966 to 1983.

If you drove by the Midway Landfill you would see what appears to be a grassy field with a few dozen pipes coming out of it.

These pipes are the 139 extraction wells used to extract gas from underneath the soil.

These extraction wells must be pumping at exactly the correct speed: too slow and nothing will drain, too fast and you could suck in oxygen and risk an explosion.

The cost of this project is huge. Before 1995 the government spent $56.5 million on this. Every year since they spent around $500,000.

"If you live in the greater Seattle area, a part of the taxes you pay annually goes to this project and other projects like it," Dr. Baer said.

He cited the current statistics: there are 1,336 Superfund sites across America. Forty-eight of them are located inside Washington state.

"We in Western Washington like to believe that we are very environmental but we have a legacy of doing harm to the environment," Dr. Baer said.

Superfund sites often began as land plots which companies leased and polluted and then left the toxic remains after going bankrupt.

In 1980 the Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation, and Liability Act was passed. This act authorized the federal government to clean up the mess.

"Originally it was the polluters who had to pay. Now we all pay," Dr. Baer said. 

Superfund sites can be found in fields, in old factories, in military bases, in agricultural sites, and many other places.

"I want you to be aware and to look out for these things, when you're looking at housing no one is going to look out for you," Dr. Baer said. 

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