The full cost of mercury-cleanup work on Bellingham’s central waterfront is expected to nearly double as crews with the Washington Department of Ecology continue to pull amounts of the toxic material out of the ground.
Originally, the project was expected to cost approximately $1.8 million. The Port of Bellingham is now estimating it might cost up to $3.2 million, because of the increased digging and mercury treatment.
“This is expensive work, especially when you consider the kind of contamination and the unique effort it takes to collect, contain, treat and dispose it,” the port’s site manager, Brian Gouran, said, in a press release. “It doesn’t take much extra work for the price to increase quickly.”
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.
The ecology department will reimburse half of the 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.
The mercury cleanup work is expected to be completed early summer.
Crews have been digging in two small areas, each about the size of four parking spots. These spots are considered the most contaminated areas on the entire 64-acre cleanup site. The excavation areas expanded as crews dug below the surface and located the mercury contamination.
With a specialized, high-powered vacuum truck doing the bulk of the heavy lifting, crews are sucking up large quantities of dirt loaded with small beads of mercury.
As the mercury-contaminated soil is pulled from the ground, it’s then transferred to an enclosed building and run through a treatment process. Crews use a special formula to mix the soil with sulfur and cement, and turn it into concrete blocks.
Solidifying the mercury-contaminated soil in concrete makes it much safer and easier to transport and store. Once formed, the concrete blocks will be transferred to a special hazardous waste facility. The liquid mercury that is collected will be transferred to a special hazardous waste facility, too.
Ecology officials have released photos and video of the process on its Flikr profile.
More information about the project is also available online.