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Seattle’s Gas Works Park About to Undergo Toxic Cleanup

One of Seattle’s most popular parks was built on an industrial site where toxics have yet to be completely removed from the soil.

March 20, 2017

Seattle’s iconic Gas Works Park preserves the city’s industrial past — in more ways than one. Wikimedia Commons.

Kite flyers, picnickers, and Ultimate players treasure Seattle’s Gas Works Park, whose famous towers and pipes were once part of a coal gasification plant on the shore of Lake Union that lit up early Seattleites’ homes.

But beneath the grass lies a more insidious legacy of the park’s industrial past: toxic waste.

“Just offshore, the sediments are contaminated by oily substances that have oozed from the land into the lake,” says Ching-Pi Wang, with the Department of Ecology. And that’s not all: Benzene, arsenic, lead, and other substances pollute the soil, groundwater, and lake sediment.

The landscape architect who designed the park tried to clean up the pollutants left behind at the site. It officially reopened as a park in 1975. But there weren’t enough tools in the 1970s toolbox. So, now, Puget Sound Energy is working with public officials to clean up the mess.

Wang says the city of Seattle is taking a first step to get arsenic out of the groundwater this spring.

“The cleanup technique is to install piping in the ground that will be used to inject a certain type of chemical that will degrade the arsenic,” he explains.

The public comment period on the pipes closes on April 18. Wang says he hopes the complete cleanup plan will be ready this fall.


The play barn at Seattle's Gas Works Park. Toxic pollution that remained decades after the old industrial site was made into a park in 1975 prompted cleanup plans to be taken up in 2017.