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Do these things if you live in the path of the Asarco smelter plume

Chris Matter mug
by Chris Matter04/23/2019 2:07 p.m.
Updated: 08/05/2019

The Asarco copper smelter operated in Ruston, at the site of the new Point Ruston development, for almost 100 years. It closed in 1986. Seven years later, crews imploded the 562-foot-tall smoke stack.

An unhealthy legacy 

While it operated, the stack spewed lead and arsenic into the air as byproducts of copper smelting. It landed in parts of Pierce and King Counties, and even northern Thurston County. The Pierce County communities most affected are Ruston, North and West Tacoma, Northeast Tacoma, University Place, Fircrest, Lakewood, and Steilacoom. Lead and arsenic remain in the dirt in these areas.

While not an emergency, there are health risks when we eat or breathe dirt and dust containing arsenic and lead for many years.

  • Lead causes developmental disabilities in children and can lower I.Q.
  • Arsenic can contribute to cancer and heart disease later in life.

You eat contaminated dirt when it gets on food, hands, or anything you put in your mouth. Children under the age of 6 are at greatest risk because they are developing rapidly, still put things in their mouths, and may not remember to wash their hands before eating.

Dirt alert inspector looking into van

Take Healthy Actions to protect your family 

You can take simple steps to reduce your family’s contact with arsenic and lead. The Health Department’s Dirt Alert program calls these Healthy Actions.

  • Leave your shoes at the door to reduce dirt and dust in your home.
  • Wash your hands well before eating and after working or playing in the dirt. Use a scrub brush to clean dirt under your fingernails.
  • Cover bare patches of dirt in your yard with a ground cover like wood chips, grass, or gravel. Visit our website to learn more Healthy Actions. You can see if you live in an area where we offer free soil sampling. Our staff can sample your garden and children’s play areas for arsenic and lead and tell you about Healthy Actions you can take in your yard to keep your family safe.

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  1. Updated: 08/05/2019
Chris Matter mug

by Chris Matter

Chris protects the environment, and your health, from harmful materials.


We invite your comments but will delete those with profanity, personal attacks, derogatory statements, ads or promotional material. Tacoma-Pierce County Health Department does not provide personal medical advice; please contact your health care provider.