Environmental Protection

Water Samples Bring Up Asbestos in Sumas River

Naturally occurring asbestos has been carried downstream of Swift Creek and along the banks of the Sumas River, according to samples recently collected by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. The asbestos comes from a landslide on Sumas Mountain that deposits asbestos-laden sediment into Swift Creek, the focus of previous health and environmental studies.

EPA's sampling revealed asbestos and several metals in water, bank sediments, and recent flood deposits in Whatcom County, north of Swift Creek and approaching the Canadian border. The agency shared the study results with local property owners, local and state health departments, the Washington Department of Ecology, and officials in Canada where the Sumas River continues northward.

"These asbestos levels deserve close attention," said Dan Opalski, director of EPA's Superfund Cleanup Office in Seattle. "The new data will enable agencies to make important health recommendations so local families make informed decisions to protect themselves."

The samples taken from the Sumas riverbank showed higher concentrations of asbestos than previous samples of Swift Creek dredged material. Concentrations ranged up to 27 percent asbestos along the Sumas riverbank.

The Whatcom County Health Department and Washington Department of Health have sent an advisory to residents and property owners along the Sumas River. The advisory outlines measures people can take to limit their exposure to asbestos in water, sediment and flood deposits.

Agencies including Whatcom County Health Department and Whatcom County Public Works, state departments of Health, Ecology, and Labor and Industries, and federal Army Corps of Engineers, Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry, and EPA are coordinating resources and information to address this problem for both the near term and long term.

Engineering options—including building a structure that would control sediment near the landslide—are being considered. The situation may also call for changes to local land use planning.

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