Most don’t think about creosote, oil and arsenic when thinking about Lake Washington, except for the folks working on cleaning up a hazardous site in Renton’s Kennydale neighborhood that includes parts of the shore and lake.
After years of deliberation and analysis, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) is putting the final touches on the cleanup plan for the 51-acre Quendall Terminals site along Lake Washington — one of the largest unused stretches of the shore left, next to the Seahawk’s training center, Virginia Mason Athletic Center. The site is contaminated by years of storage and spills from hazardous materials, which spreads and will continue to slowly spread until cleanup is complete.
Once the site is cleaned, Quendall property owners hope a developer will build a large development with housing, retail and restaurants, as well as a small park area along the water. But the owners’ believe the EPA’s preferred cleanup plan will make the development of the site infeasible.
The 22-acres of land is contaminated with oil, creosote and coal tars that are in liquid form, known as a dense non-aqueous phase liquid (DNAPL). This contamination then leaches out of the DNAPL and into the groundwater. The 29-acre lake portion of the site has contaminated sediment, seven to 16 feet below the water from creosote, oil and coal spills. The groundwater also spreads the contamination where people and aquatic life can be exposed to it on the site. The lake area of contamination has not changed much and onshore some of the contaminants flow slowly but much is stuck in the soil and “generally does not move,” according to the EPA.
Quendall had a creosote manufacturer from 1916 to 1969. After that, it became a crude oil, waste oil and diesel oil storage site before also becoming a log storage site. That ended in 2009 and the site has since been vacant, with signs and gates warning passersby of the hazards on the site. Other than the creosote oil contamination, naturally occurring arsenic was released into the groundwater as a reaction to the DNAPL.
Quendall was added to the EPA’s Superfund National Priorities List, which guides clean up for the most contaminated sites in the U.S., back in 2006. It was then put on an Administrator’s Emphasis List in 2017. In an interview with KNKX in 2018, one of the property owners Robert Cugini had hoped the expedited process would mean sooner development.
Cugini has been working on getting Quendall redeveloped for over 35 years when he worked with his dad on the property.
The EPA originally preferred an alternative that would use, along with capping the soil, in situ solidification (ISS) which mixes materials like cement into the soil to solidify contaminants and keep them from spreading. In 2017, EPA decided to include a new technology in the alternatives, Self-Sustaining Technology for Active Remediation (STAR,) which creates an underground self-sustained combustion, and flamelessly heats up the contaminants, leaving carbon dioxide and water in its stead. They then took one year to test STAR at the Quendall site.
In a one-page outline about concerns of the EPA’s plan for Quendall from Robert Cugini, it states: “After more than 15 years of environmental studies, EPA determined there were several options that are less disruptive to the neighborhood but have decided to ask the public to agree with their decision to experiment with technology that is not proven on a large-scale project.”
Although Cugini is concerned about the EPA’s preferred alternative, he has worked with the agency for many years and said they do not have a contentious or adversarial relationship over the disagreement. Both groups, he said, want to see this site cleaned up.
Cugini believes the owner-preferred alternative, which was eliminated from consideration by EPA because it did not meet the objective of restoring groundwater, can actually be done quicker and cheaper. The owners also argue that no matter which plan is chosen, the groundwater will never be clean.
Cugini also says that, according to his consultant, the time STAR development will take is likely to be longer than EPA estimates. The only large site using STAR, a 37-acre former coal tar facility in Newark, New Jersey, started cleanup in 2014 and is still on-going, according to the website of STAR’s supplier.
EPA’s preferred cleanup plan calls for a second treatment, if STAR is not fully successful, using ISS. Cugini said that uncertainty in the timeline of cleanup makes it hard to pitch to potential developers.
“People are tired of talking about doing things and want something to happen on the site. How long is it going to take to start cleaning it up?” Cugini said. “I hope to see a successful, completed project. I hope to continue to work with EPA and other parties to make it happen.”
The EPA expects to issue a final cleanup decision in 2020. More plan documents and information are available at EPA’s website here, and in hard copy at the Downtown Renton Library.