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Tumwater brewery oil spill cleanup shifts to Boston Street, focus remains on PCBs

What’s going on at the Fifth Avenue dam?

An oil leak caused by vandals at the former Olympia Brewery closed Tumwater Falls Park and prompted the installation of an oil boom in front of the Fifth Avenue dam on Capitol Lake.
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An oil leak caused by vandals at the former Olympia Brewery closed Tumwater Falls Park and prompted the installation of an oil boom in front of the Fifth Avenue dam on Capitol Lake.

Tumwater Falls Park has reopened, but now Boston Street Southwest, a busy little street that connects Custer Way with Deschutes Way, is the focus of an oil spill cleanup that started in the area more than two weeks ago.

Crews removed the sidewalk and part of the road over the weekend, state Department of Ecology spokeswoman Sandy Howard said Tuesday.

“We will dig up the soil, test the soil and we will keep testing it until it comes back clean,” she said, adding that the sidewalk and road won’t be replaced until then.

“We have pretty strong standards for our cleanups,” she said.

Ecology is concerned about a residual amount of PCBs that were found in the oil.

PCBs, or polychlorinated biphenyls, are man-made chemicals that do not break down easily in the environment and are considered harmful. Although banned in the late 1970s, they were often used in transformers, including the one that was damaged at the brewery and spilled oil in late February.

The oil in that transformer along Boston Street was ultimately replaced with mineral oil, Howard said. Still, tests have found a residual amount — 0.005 percent PCBs — in the oil.

She emphasized there is no immediate health threat to the public, despite the oil reaching Capitol Lake.

There hasn’t been water access to Capitol Lake for years because of an invasive species known as the New Zealand Mud Snail. But even if someone were to touch the water, they would not be affected by PCBs, Howard said.

And it’s even less likely that someone would drink the water or eat an animal in the area that had been drinking from the lake.

The mothballed brewery’s transformer was damaged on Feb. 25 after some vandals, thought to be after copper wire for its recycling value, created the spill. The transformer contained 677 gallons of oil, although the amount that spilled still isn’t known.

After the spill, the owner of the brewery hired a company called CCS (Cowlitz Clean Sweep) to clean it up.

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