COMMENCEMENT BAY, NEARSHORE/TIDEFLATS
WASHINGTON
EPA ID# WAD980726368
EPA Region 10
Pierce County
Tacoma and Ruston

6th and 9th Congressional District

Other Names: Asarco Tacoma Smelter, Ruston/North Tacoma Study Area, Tacoma Tar Pits, Tideflats Area
Last Update: May, 2010

Hide details for Site DescriptionSite Description

The Commencement Bay Nearshore/Tideflats Site covers 12 square miles in Tacoma, Washington, and includes more than 300 active businesses and nearly 500 identified point and non-point sources of contamination. The site is divided into a number of separate Project Areas being managed as distinct sites. Construction is underway or completed at some of the Project Areas. These Project Areas include Asarco Tacoma Smelter, Ruston/North Tacoma Study Area, and Commencement Bay Nearshore/Tideflats.

Project Area #1: Asarco Tacoma Smelter
Tacoma/Ruston, Pierce County, Washington

Asarco’s smelter property (or plant site) occupies about 67 acres. Prior to 1890, sawmills were active in the area and deposited wood waste along the shoreline. From 1890 through 1912, the property was used as a lead smelter and refinery. Asarco purchased the property in 1905 and converted it in 1912 into a facility to smelt and refine copper from copper-bearing ores and concentrates shipped in from other locations. By-products of the smelting operations were further refined to produce other marketable products, such as arsenic, sulfuric acid, liquid sulfur dioxide, and slag. Asarco ended operation of the smelter in 1985. Many of the smelter buildings and structures were constructed on slag fill. The shoreline was extended when molten slag from smelting operations was poured into Commencement Bay.

The 23-acre slag peninsula comprises different forms of slag (molten and granulated) that were poured or placed on many occasions since the 1940s. Its primary surface features are the Tacoma Yacht Club building, a paved access road, and paved parking areas. An estimated 15 million tons of slag exist at the smelter property and slag peninsula.

Project Area #2: Ruston/North Tacoma Study Area
Tacoma/Ruston, Pierce County, Washington

The Study Area, approximately 950 acres, comprises an arc of approximately one mile radius surrounding the Asarco Tacoma smelter and includes the town of Ruston and a northern portion of the city of Tacoma. The Study Area land is primarily residential and includes schools, playgrounds, and parks. The Study Area includes a population of approximately 4,290 and about 1,820 housing units.

Project Area #3: Tacoma Tar Pits
Tacoma, Pierce County, Washington

The Tacoma Tar Pits Operable Unit 3 is within the Tacoma Tideflats industrial area near Commencement Bay. It is situated on a peninsula of land located between the Puyallup River and the Thea Foss Waterway, approximately three-quarters of a mile north of Interstate 5. The total area of the site encompasses approximately 52 acres.

Imported or dredged fills were placed in the vicinity of the site around the turn of the last century to provide foundation support for structures associated with a meat packing plant, a bulk fuel storage facility, and railroad tracks. In 1924, a manufactured coal gasification plant began operating on the eastern portion of the site. It operated on the site through 1956 and the facility was demolished in 1966. Waste materials remaining on site from coal gasification operations included coal ash, coal tar liquor, and coal tar solids and semisolids. This waste material was either buried on site at shallow depths or disposed of in on site ponds.

Starting in 1967, a portion of the Tacoma Tar Pits site was used for metal recycling operations by Joseph Simon & Sons (JS&S, now Simon Metals). As part of construction and operation of the metals recycling facility, a variety of new fills were emplaced, including metal debris, soil, and shredded car interiors referred to as “auto fluff.” During the early operational history of the recycling facility, metals predominantly from automobiles and electrical transformers were recycled. Recycling of transformers led to the release of oils containing polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs). The auto fluff used as fill also contained PCBs as well as heavy metals. The metal recycling operations on site are still currently active; however, auto fluff and other materials containing PCBs are no longer being handled at the facility.

Several active facilities are currently within the site boundaries including Simon Metals, the Northwest Detention Center (NWDC; an immigration detention facility), and a capped engineered waste pile and groundwater treatment plant constructed as part of the remedial action for the site.

Project Area #4: Tideflats Areas
Tacoma, Pierce County, Washington

Commencement Bay Nearshore/Tideflats (CB/NT) consists of 10-12 square miles of shallow water, shoreline and adjacent land, most of which is developed and industrialized. Marine sediments are contaminated from diverse industrial activities including shipbuilding, oil refining, chemical manufacturing and storage, and pulp and paper mills, dating from the turn of the century. EPA’s 1989 Record of Decision (ROD) set forth a cleanup plan which included control of upland sources, followed by sediment remediation by dredging and containment or capping, for eight contaminated sediment problem areas in the St. Paul, Sitcum, Hylebos, Thea Foss, Wheeler Osgood, and Middle Waterways. CB/NT was the first site in the nation to complete a partial delisting of clean areas from the NPL. The delisted areas comprise about 1,000 acres or 10-15% of the site. The partial delisting was completed on October 29, 1996.


Site Responsibility: This site is being addressed through federal, state, and potentially responsible parties' actions.

NPL Listing HistoryDates
Proposed Date:12/30/1982
Removed Date:
Withdrawal Date:
Final Date:09/08/1983
Deleted Date:


Hide details for Threats and ContaminantsThreats and Contaminants

Media Affected: Air, Groundwater, Soil & Sludges, Sediments, Surface Water

Project Area #1: Asarco Smelter - Metals including arsenic, cadmium, copper, and lead were released into the soils, air, and Commencement Bay as a result of the smelting and refining operations. Metals in slag or soil have migrated to surface and groundwater at the Project Area.

Project Area #2: Ruston/North Tacoma Study Area - Soils in the Study Area are contaminated with arsenic and lead that was released during the 100 years of operation of the Asarco Tacoma smelter (late 1800's to 1986).

Project Area #3: Tacoma Tar Pits - Results of site investigations conducted in the 1980s indicated that soil, surface water and groundwater across most of the site were contaminated with organic and inorganic contaminants from former on site coal gasification plant operations and the recycling of automobiles and electrical transformers. The primary contaminants included metals, PAHs, PCBs, and various volatile organic compounds (VOCs) including benzene.

Project Area #4: Tideflats Areas - Shipbuilding, oil refining, chemical manufacturing and storage, and other industrial activities have caused hazardous waste contamination of the land and sediments in the Commencement Bay area.



Show details for Cleanup ProgressCleanup Progress

Hide details for Regional ContactsRegional Contacts

SITE MANAGER(S):Jonathan Williams (Hylebos Waterway - head and mouth; Occidental Site)
E-MAIL ADDRESS:williams.jonathan@epa.gov
PHONE NUMBER:206-553-1369

Kevin Rochlin (Asarco Smelter; Offshore Sediments, Ruston/N.Tacoma Residential Area)
rochlin.kevin@epa.gov
206-553-2106

Tamara Langton (Tacoma Tar Pits)
langton.tamara@epa.gov
206-553-2709

Howard Orlean (Asarco Sediments)
orlean.howard@epa.gov
206-553-2851

Kira Lynch (Thea Foss/Wheeler-Osgood Waterways)
lynch.kira@epa.gov
206-553-2144

Kris Flint (Source Control)
flint.kris@epa.gov
206-553-8155

Nancy Harney (Middle Waterway)
harney.nancy@epa.gov
206-553-6635

Karen Keeley (St. Paul; Sitcum; Olympic View Resource Area)
keeley.karen@epa.gov
206-553-2141
COMMUNITY INVOLVEMENT COORDINATOR:Jeanne O'dell
E-MAIL ADDRESSodell.jeanne@epa.gov
PHONE NUMBER:206-553-6919

Caryn Sengupta
sengupta.caryn@epa.gov
206-553-1275
Information pertaining to this site is housed at the following location(s):
Citizens for a Healthy Bay
917 Pacific Avenue, Suite 100
Tacoma, WA 98402

EPA Region 10 Superfund Records Center (Administrative Record)
1200 Sixth Avenue, ECL-076
Seattle, WA 98101