The Tacoma Smelter (ASARCO Smelter) - Tacoma, Washington
Posted by: Hikenutty
N 47° 17.939 W 122° 30.514
10T E 537152 N 5238506
Quick Description: The ASARCO smelter property covers about 67 acres along Commencement Bay. From 1890 to 1985, ASARCO deposited an estimated 15 million tons of slag on the property and in the Bay. It is one of the major Superfund sites on Puget Sound.
Location: Washington, United States
Date Posted: 5/6/2007 9:59:26 AM
Waymark Code: WM1GQE
The following excerpt is from Washington: A Guide to the Evergreen State
from the Tacoma "Points of Interest" section.
The TACOMA SMELTER, (open by appointment), N. 51st St. and Ruston Way, is operated by the American Smelting and Refining Company in the little town of Ruston. The smelter refines one-twelth of the world's copper; and during normal times smelts 60,000 ounces of gold and 450 ounces of silver. The stack, erected in 1917, the highest in the world, rises 564 feet above its base. Ruston is surrounded by the city of Tacoma, excepting along its waterfront, but it retains its political identity; near by is Old Town Dock, owned by the city of Tacoma. p 275
This is no longer a place you would take out of town guests, unless they are waymarkers who want to log a visit to the site. In fact, why you'd want to visit even back then is beyond me. The smelter mentioned in the excerpt is no longer and has left behind an ecological disaster area.
From 1890-1912, lead was smelt and refined at ASARCO, then they switched mainly to copper smelting until the smelter closed in 1985. The landfill and peninsula began to be created in the 1940s, as molten slag by-products were dumped into Commencement Bay, a part of Puget Sound.
The ASARCO smelter property covers about 67 acres along Commencement Bay. From 1890 to 1912, the property was used to smelt and refine lead. ASARCO purchased the property in 1905, and later converted the facility to a copper smelter and refinery. In the 1940's, ASARCO poured molten slag, a by-product of smelting operations, into Commencement Bay creating a 23-acre peninsula. In addition, many of the smelter buildings and structures on other parts of the property were constructed on slag that was used as fill material. In all, ASARCO deposited an estimated 15 million tons of slag on the property and in the Bay. The smelting and refining operations stopped in 1985, but this did not prevent the release of such metals as arsenic, cadmium, copper, lead, and zinc into the soil, air and the bay. In addition, metals in the slag and soil have migrated to the area's ponds and springs, and groundwater.
Besides lead, there are large amounts of arsenic. The arsenic was also emitted into the air via the tall smokestack spoken of in the above excerpt, since demolished. Studies of the air-borne emissions found high levels of arsenic in the soil all around the smelter, North Tacoma, Vashon Island, Gig Harbor, Federal Way, and many other nearby regions.
Key components of the cleanup include demolishing remaining buildings and structures, covering the entire project area with a cap (including the peninsula created from slag), and protecting the shoreline and peninsula against erosion.
ASARCO is one of the major Superfund sites on Puget Sound. In recent years, ASARCO and the EPA have been working to clean the place up, but the job is enormous. Some progress has been made. Many of the smelter buildings are gone and there are plans to make the slag peninsula part of Point Defiance Park. It already shelters a marina and there are further plans for redevelopment. However, progress hit a snag when ASARCO filed for bankruptcy in 2005.