In the first half of the 20th century, lead arsenate was commonly used as a pesticide in apple and pear orchards throughout the U.S., including in the Lake Chelan Valley. In the 70 years since, the resultant lead and arsenic contamination in the surface soils of these areas has not attenuated, leaving residual contamination well above Washington state health-based cleanup levels.
As these lands are developed for residential housing use, occupants of these homes are potentially exposed to lead and arsenic due to incidental ingestion, dust inhalation, dermal contact, and home-grown vegetables. Decades of research indicate that lead is harmful to neurological and brain function and arsenic is a powerful cancer-causing agent. Both of these toxins are especially harmful to children – studies indicate that children born and raised on land contaminated with lead and arsenic concentrations similar to those found in legacy orchard lands are highly likely to develop intellectual disabilities of varying degrees.
Historically, Chelan and Chelan County did not address this soil contamination when approving residential housing developments on legacy orchard lands, even though this was a requirement of the State Environmental Policy Act (SEPA) review process. In 2018, current CBC President Brian Patterson (and later with assistance from CBC and the environmental legal nonprofit EarthJustice) began a campaign to compel Chelan and Chelan County to comply with SEPA law and address the residual lead and arsenic contamination when approving residential developments.
The Washington State Department of Ecology was eventually persuaded to join in this effort using legal authority granted to them under the state Model Toxics Control Act (MTCA). After a year of stakeholder meetings (the Legacy Orchard Working Group), a set of “model remedies” were developed to mitigate lead and arsenic exposure when these lands are developed. Using this MTCA authority, these model remedies are now required for any development of legacy orchard lands, even if SEPA review is not triggered.
Unfortunately, many homes are currently located on contaminated legacy orchard lands. Residents can help reduce exposure to lead and arsenic by taking actions that reduce tracking of soil into the home, keep children from playing on or near bare soil, use raised beds with clean soil for growing vegetables, etc. The Department of Ecology provides free soil testing services to homeowners for lead and arsenic – just send an email to FormerOrchards@ecy.wa.gov to schedule an appointment.
Additionally, the Washington State Department of Health recommends that all children be tested for blood lead concentrations at ages 12 and 24 months, with additional testing recommended for children at higher risk, which includes children “living on former orchard land”. Blood lead testing can usually be performed by the child’s pediatrician.
Going forward, CBC remains vigilant in following the development of legacy orchard lands in the Lake Chelan Valley to ensure that the relatively -new model remedy program is being applied properly and consistently to protect the health and safety of our local residents.