The Duwamish Superfund cleanup is moving into the next phase of activity, as the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has announced its preferred alternative. Over the next three weeks, comments are being taken on the proposal, and we expect EPA to make a final decision in the next few months. In the meantime, I have been working with the Duwamish River Cleanup Coalition (DRCC) and other active parties to try to ensure that whatever cleanup program is adopted will have complementary elements that will support the communities of Georgetown and South Park.
One of the most important potential opportunities for these communities is the possibility of job training and employment in cleanup activities, hopefully leading to skill development that can result in long-term, living wage employment for residents of these communities, many of whom are recent immigrants and/or have limited income opportunities.
Last fall the EPA announced that it would create a Lower Duwamish Waterway Job Training Initiative, and this spring EPA is offering the first opportunity for participants to apply for an enroll in a job training program. Working with the Duwamish River Cleanup Coalition, the program begins with training in Pre-employment Skills, Hazardous Waste Operations and Emergency Response, and First Aid and Workplace Safety. This three week initial training program will qualify participants to apply for the first level of cleanup jobs on a competitive basis.
While the communities surrounding Superfund sites are supposed to be the beneficiaries of the program, and cleaning up toxic contamination is of course a positive step, cleanups can be impactful on these communities. And a very successful cleanup could even lead to more negative results for them if it makes the area attractive enough that current residents are displaced by rising housing costs.
The best way to prevent these outcomes, to compensate residents for the history of environmental problems, and to position them for future success, is to provide jobs and skill development. This gives them immediate income, as well as the possibility of future employment. Some communities are even seeking to leverage Superfund cleanups to foster the growth of a small business sector that can use the experience of working on the project to become experts and work on other superfund sites. Seattle’s strong environmental consulting and engineering sector may be able to capitalize on this opportunity, and provide more long-term jobs doing this important work.
The EPA Job Training Initiative is a great step in the right direction.