Hooker Chemical Cleanup Planning Getting Underway

Apr 24, 2017

Update: The state Department of Ecology has extended the time frame for the public to weigh in on the cleanup process. The new deadline is June 26.

One million pounds of toxic chemicals; that’s what estimated to be left behind over several decades because of work done at the Hooker Chemical plant on the Tacoma Tideflats. The plant was purchased by a company called Occidental in the late 1960s and finally shut down for good in 2002.

Now the state Department of Ecology is deciding how to move forward on cleaning up the area. And the price tag for that cleanup is anywhere between $110 to $440 million. The public comment period for cleanup options closes April 27.

Derrick Nunnally has been reporting on the cleanup efforts for the News Tribune  and he recently spoke with 88.5’s Kirsten Kendrick.

Interview highlights

History of Hooker Chemical: "It goes back almost 100 years. Before 1920, the area was just undeveloped mud flats. And then they came in and dredged up material, they built out the land to where it would hold up structures. Hooker Chemical came in in the early 1920s. They had been looking for a place in the western part of the United States to be their entire regional base of operations for several years. Back in the day they refined chemicals they didn't were going to cause any lasting damage." 

Former workers' perspectives: "I don't believe that there was this kind of consideration to there being a lasting impact from these chemicals. Because the mentality for a long time was 'Okay, if we have this Hylebos waterway, it washes out in the Puget Sound, washes out in the ocean, that takes care of the toxic effects of anything that we have on hand that maybe we shouldn't be breathing in right now.' Did they recognize that the job was harmful when they were doing it? Yeah, they seemed to have." 

Port of Tacoma eyeing environmentally friendly projects: "I think it's been something in fairly recent years. You go back a couple of decades and people really got sick of being referred to as a place with a smell; a place with an air quality that you have a hard time breathing in some days. People became less accepting of that as just how things are done. They wanted to say 'Well, I've got my house. I've got my yard. My kids can play here. I don't want them to have to worry about their safety for digging in the dirt.'"