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EPA Revises Cleanup Standards for Commencement Bay

Release Date: 7/28/1997
Contact Information: Allison Hiltner
(206) 553-2140 or (800) 424-4372....from Washington, Oregon, Idaho and Alaska

July 28, 1997 - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - 97-51

A new standard for polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs) in the contaminated sediments of Commencement Bay will continue to protect human health, even for the heavy consumer of the bay's bottom fish.
The revised PCB cleanup standard, announced today by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, was based on consideration of new toxicity data developed since the former standard went into effect in 1989.  The old standard called for cleanup efforts to remove PCBs so that l0 years later, through natural recovery processes, sediments would contain PCBs in concentrations of no more than 150 parts per billion; the new standard sets 300 parts per billion as the maximum concentration 10 years after cleanup.

Chuck Findley, EPA's deputy regional administrator in Seattle, said the new standard takes into account not just the risk of cancer, as did the old standard, but the dangers of possible damage to the liver, and the reproductive and immune systems.

"In terms of risks to human health, there would be no measurable difference between the old standard and the new one,"  Findley declared.  "The consequences of heavy exposure to PCB's can be serious, but recent toxicological research indicates it's not as grave as EPA once thought it to be, even when EPA considers persons whose major diet consists of fish feeding on contaminated sediments at the bottom of Commencement Bay."

Although the new standard was set for sediments throughout Commencement Bay, Findley said that -- in practical terms -- the standard will apply mainly to the Hylebos Waterway, the waterway along the Commencement Bay shore whose sediments contain the most PCB's, and where cleanup of other contaminants won't take care of the PCB problem.

"One effect of the new standard is that the costs for the cleanup of the Hylebos Waterway sediments will be drastically reduced,"  Findley said.  "The end result will be virtually the same, but the expense of the cleanup will be much, much less."

According to EPA, instead of the $31 million currently estimated for the cleanup to meet the old standard, the job will cost about $18 million to comply with the new PCB limits.

Findley said the new standard for PCBs in the Commencement Bay sediments is the most stringent of any major Superfund cleanup anywhere in the nation.  To reach the 300 parts per billion concentration in Commencement Bay, Findley explained, it will be necessary for the cleanup operation to reduce PCB levels to no more than 450 parts per billion.  PCB cleanup standards at other sediment cleanups around the country are at 1,000 parts per billion and higher.