In a classroom at South Seattle Community College 14 local residents shimmy into hazmat suits, waving their arms like Michelin men and women. They’re part of a program run by the EPA to train people who live near Superfund sites to qualify to work on the cleanup.
“Get some movement. You’ll start heating up in that plastic suit,” James Zahnow coaches them from the front of the room.
Cleaning up the Duwamish River Superfund site will involve removing almost 800,000 cubic yards of sediment laced with heavy metals, PCBs, arsenic and other pollutants.
Zahnow deftly rolls up a giant plastic bag.
“And then it goes into another bag, and that’s how we dispose of it. That’s how you guys will probably end up learning how to dispose of debris,” he adds.
Marianne Clark is one of the trainees from the nearby Georgetown neighborhood. She lives in the same house her family has owned on the Duwamish River for 100 years.
“All generations have eaten out of that river and so I’ve got such a big stake in it,” she says. “I don’t want to pass the river on to my grandchildren the way it is now.”
Greg Welch, a local carpenter with five kids and no work, stands nearby.
“I think this is a good thing to supply jobs for the community. I mean, people got families to take care of and that’s most important,” he says.
Even though this is an environmental cleanup, Welch and Clark don’t think of themselves as environmentalists.
“This is a job-training program,” says Justin Howell, who coordinates the EPA program for the Duwamish River Clean Up Coalition.
No one in this program is guaranteed a job with the companies who will do the actual cleanup, though several contracting firms have contacted the training program with positions they’re looking to fill on early cleanup projects.