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Google takes extra steps to remove contamination from Kirkland brownfield site

Ultra Corp./Pace National Corp.
Ultra Corp./Pace National Corp.'s former manufacturing site is becoming Google's second Kirkland campus, adjacent to Google I, seen in the upper part of the aerial view. The site underwent a successful cleanup to meet Washington's protective, health-based cleanup standards. Google, which is leasing the site from a new owner, asked for more before construction: no detectable pollutants.
— image credit: Photo courtesy of the Department of Ecology

Five acres of dirt is all that’s left of a former Kirkland brownfield site where a chemical mixing and storage facility once pumped toxins into the environment for nearly 20 years.

The contaminated land, set to be the new location for the Google II project, met state standards in 2012 after extensive cleanup by the chemical company.

But Google executives want more for the property that will house 1,000 employees come 2015.

For the first time, as far as Ecology officials understand, a business in Washington is taking extra steps to ensure property contamination is as close to zero as possible.

“They want it as low as they could possibly take it,” said Department of Ecology spokesman Larry Altose. “It’s new and we like it. Typically the cleanup law strikes a balance. It protects the environment and public health but it doesn’t require them to take the site down to zero [contamination levels].”

Property owner and developer SRM Development began site excavation in November 2013 after breaking ground on the Google Phase II project that September.

They have since removed 11,325 tons of contaminated soils and have completed about 98 percent of excavation.

“The brownfield site offers a unique opportunity to create a healthy environment from the ground up,” said a Google spokeswoman. “We encourage the property owner to be sure that the site is as clean as it can be, which we think is as positive for us as it is for the  community.”

Google has been a longtime advocate of healthy environments for employees.

Seeking a LEED Platinum certification, Dave Tomson, the development manager of SRM, told the Reporter in September 2013 the project will have a 500,000 gallon system. The system is designed for the Pacific Northwest and will collect rain water that will be used to flush toilets and for irrigation. In addition, the 180,000-square-foot building with 720 underground parking stalls will have 41 percent energy efficiency, he said.

Maura O’Brien, the Department of Ecology site manager for the Google campus, said the chemicals were a real health hazard before contamination levels were lowered to state standards in 2012.

“All of the chemicals that were identified are toxic chemicals,” O’Brien said. “If left on the site and people come in contact with the soil, some of these compounds could release vapors or be unhealthful to even touch.”

O’Brien said a particular solvent, vinyl chloride, had been released at this site and could have mixed with ground water and, at high concentrations, evaporate and get into houses. However, the chemical is no longer a threat, as it is currently below state levels.

“People don’t have wells in this water but it [was] still a risk to the neighborhood,” she said. “There were compounds that presented a number of environmental health risks.”

Before the initial cleanup, contamination levels were between 10 and 300 parts per billion, O’Brien said. After cleanup, the levels were lowered to 0.2 parts per billion and continue to get lower and lower as SRM Development finishes the extra cleanup requested by Google executives.

The brownfield site was owned by Ultra Corp., formerly known as Pace National Corp. The company operated a chemical mixing and storage facility from 1971 to 1990. But after business ceased, soil contamination was discovered in the early 1990s. The company conducted soil and ground water testing investigations to determine appropriate cleanup methods. Petroleum hydrocarbons, semi-volatile organic compounds and chlorinated solvents were identified in the soil and groundwater.

The site was used as retail storage until 2006, when the Ultra Corp. building was demolished for further soil excavation.

In 2008, Ultra Corp. and Department of Ecology officials signed an “Agreed Order” to complete the cleanup action plan, which was finished in 2012.

Ultra Corp. conducted ground water testing for two years and reported mostly clean results. SRM Development has since decided to restart monitoring and conduct their own of vinyl chloride testing.

The ground water at the site will be tested for two years at six month intervals to confirm the chemical is gone.

Altose said the monitoring won’t impact the project construction timeline and will be a fairly easy process because the wells are already in place from the previous cleanup.

For more information on the Google Campus Phase II project, visit www.kirklandwa.gov and search “Google Phase II.”

A rendering of the Google Phase II project. CONTRIBUTED

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