Contractor crews will be digging out pockets of mercury contamination along Bellingham’s waterfront starting next month.
Crews have set up construction offices and are bringing equipment to the former Georgia-Pacific property near the Bellingham Shipping Terminal at the end of Cornwall Ave.
“We’re getting ready to go after mercury,” Brian Sato, Ecology’s site manager, said in a release. “You can actually see BBs of mercury in the dirt samples we’ve taken. This is the most highly concentrated contamination on the entire site.”
Mercury is a concern because it is toxic and gets into the food chain.
Crews will dig out approximately 500 tons of soil contaminated with elemental mercury. The soil will be mixed with sulfur and cement and turned into concrete blocks that will be transferred to a hazardous waste landfill. Much of the work will be completed within an enclosed building to ensure mercury vapors are contained and treated, Ecology said.
The Port of Bellingham hired contractor Strider Construction of Bellingham, Wash., and is working with the Washington Department of Ecology under the laws of the Model Toxic Control Act to clean up a small portion of the Georgia-Pacific West site.
The contamination was left behind by Georgia-Pacific, a former pulp mill on the Bellingham waterfront that used mercury as part of its pulping process to create chlorine and sodium-hydroxide. Crews will also demolish Georgia-Pacific’s old mercury cell building.
The port acquired the property in 2005. Investigations by the port in 2010 found elemental mercury in the soil, which led to the $1.8 million interim cleanup work. The work, which is expected to be finished in May, has to be completed before a larger site-wide cleanup can start.
Ecology will reimburse half of port’s cleanup costs through the state’s Remedial Action Grant program. The program helps pay to clean up publicly owned sites and is funded with revenue from a voter-approved tax on hazardous substances.