Toxic mercury removed from Bellingham waterfront

by: Chris Legeros Updated:

BELLINGHAM, Wash. - Behind a fenced-off area on the Bellingham waterfront, cleanup crews wearing protective suits pull contaminated soil from the ground.

Beads of liquid mercury have been recovered -- adding up to a quart of the toxic material so far. It was mixed in with 500 tons of contaminated soil.

Georgia Pacific once used mercury in its pulp and paper mill at the location. It eventually sold the land for $10 to the Port of Bellingham, with the understanding that the port would partner with the state to clean up the hazardous material.

"It's not something you want to have around," said the port site manager, Brian Gouran.

Breathing mercury vapor can make you sick. Long-term exposure can damage the kidneys and lungs.

"We want to prevent it from getting to the bay," said Brian Sato from the Department of Ecology.

The cost of the cleanup has climbed from an estimated $1.8 million to more than $3 million.

The state and the Port of Bellingham are splitting the cost.

The port said Georgia Pacific helped buy an environmental insurance policy that will help cover the cost overruns. The company is also still liable for the cleanup if future costs exceed what's covered under the insurance policy.