Duwamish River: Have a say in cleaning up Seattle's biggest toxic waste dump


Picture 12,000 dump-truck loads of dirt – enough to fill eight Olympic-sized swimming pools. This dirt contains some pollution -- but no one is really sure how much.

Swept downstream each year into Seattle’s biggest toxic-waste site, the Duwamish River – this mountain of dirt looms large as the public gets a chance this week to weigh in on how to clean up the part of the river set to be rehabilitated under the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s Superfund program.



Photo by Paul Joseph Brown

To see more photos of the Duwamish,go to

Seattle, King County, The Boeing Co. and the Port of Seattle – all major polluters of the Duwamish over the years – have laid out 11 plans that aim to clean up decades of accumulated toxic goop in the river. To scoop out some of the mess and bury at least some of the rest beneath clean sand, gravel and rock, the pricetags range from spending $230 million over 24 years to expending $1.3 billion over 43 years. 

The most controversial issues are related: Does the river need to be so clean that people can eat seafood from it regularly? And if so, does that mean polluted rainwater runoff flowing off a massive area of south King County – and bringing with it at least some of those 12,000 truckloads of dirt – must be cleaned up at an even higher price?

Death of a Trash Fish

When I was growing up in South Florida and my dad would wake me at 5 a.m. to go fishing in the Everglades, I always looked forward to catching catfish, bass and bream. Our nemesis was the alligator gar, the “trash fish” that was too bony to eat, wolfed down our bait and looked like something out of a Godzilla movie taken down to Everglades size.

So I found it difficult to believe Tom Benning’s alligator gar tale out of Texas in today’s Wall Street Journal ( -- read it today, lest ye have to pay!), which says the alligator gar in East Texas 1) has become a prized sport fish and 2) has become so prized as a sport fish that state authorities are imposing a one-a-day bag limit as of Sept. 1.

[caption id="attachment_336" align="alignleft" width="300" caption="This monster weighed in at 161 pounds. Photo/U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service"]This monster weighed in at 161 pounds. Photo/U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service[/caption]

Even more amazing is the fact that these things are now being commercially fished and sold to Mexico, where they are popular in restaurants, Benning reports.  Some are large enough that they're hunted with crossbows!

And as for the new catch restriction:

The limit has infuriated commercial fishermen, who catch gar by the hundreds to export to Mexico, where they are a popular menu item. Some hunting guides worry the limit could ruin their business, too. The mere notion that alligator gar would need protecting strikes even some of the fish's biggest fans as ridiculous.