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Study shows landfill toxins not hazardous

LITTLE BOSTON — Existing concentrations of potentially harmful minerals, such as arsenic, aluminum, mercury and nickel, are not threatening Port Gamble S’Klallam residents who live on the Port Gamble Indian Reservation, according to a recently released Environmental Protection Agency study.

“The reservation community is pleased they don’t see any immediate hazard to the population,” said Dave Fuller, the tribe’s lead staff person on the study and water resources manager.

Approximately 100 tribal members, the tribe’s health clinic and natural resources departments, the Tribal Council, the Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry and the EPA worked together on the three-year study to review the possible exposure of harmful minerals to tribal members on the Port Gamble Indian Reservation.

The results of the study show that while portions of the reservation are affected, metal concentrations are within acceptable human health levels at this time.

The EPA will conduct follow-up tests on samples taken from the reservation to monitor the levels of concentration. As a further precaution, activities such as gardening, gathering native plants or fishing in waters within the 300 acres will be limited.

The study was a result of the tribal leaders’ concerns in 2001 about potentially detrimental impacts of the old Hansville landfill, which is adjacent to the reservation. Studies have shown that the landfill has contaminated the 300 acres in question on the reservation.

“We expressed concern with all of the unknowns associated with the landfill,” said Fuller. “And the fact we knew there (were) toxins coming out of the landfill.”

Concerns included the amount of arsenic in the area’s streams and shoreline — the same areas where tribal members harvest fish and shellfish — and the recent reports of cancer and diseases within the tribe. Many residents have blamed the landfill as the root cause of these diagnoses, Fuller said.

However, he pointed out that the study shows the contamination levels are acceptable.

“I don’t think we’re approaching a hazard level,” Fuller said. “The tribal population doesn’t seem to be out of the norm for human health risk for diseases, despite their intake of fish and shellfish.”

Fish and shellfish tend to naturally have low levels of arsenic within their systems, something that scientists have been trying to figure out how and why for years, he explained.

The landfill was open from 1962 to 1989 and was put on the Kitsap County Hazardous Sites List in 1994 with the highest ecology hazard rating possible. No funds have yet been distributed for clean up but more than $1 million has been spent in studying the site since the mid-1990s.

Waste Management, the previous owner of the landfill operation and the county are currently working on a remedial study, which includes showing what toxins exist within the landfill. The feasibility study will provide various options to remedy the situation.

Currently, there is an impermeable surface cap on the landfill that is designed to prevent rainwater from seeping into the waste and mobilizing it into surrounding areas. The levels of the different chemicals have also declined naturally over time, which has helped, said Gretchen Olsen, solid waste division manager for Kitsap County.

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