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Duwamish River community fights proposed changes to cleanup of Seattle's only river

Many living in the Duwamish Valley gathered at the South Park Plaza Friday evening to peacefully rally against proposed changes to the river's cleanup plan.

SEATTLE — Many living in the Duwamish Valley gathered at the South Park Plaza Friday evening to peacefully rally against proposed changes to the river's cleanup plan from the Environmental Protecting Agency (EPA).

Paulina Lopez, the executive director of the Duwamish River Cleanup Coalition said these changes would only bring harm to a community that has already been through so much.

"The river gives us a lot," she said. "We want to make sure that we are caring for it and at the same time that the community is taken well care of."

Lopez has lived in the Duwamish Valley for the past 17 years. It is a community home to Seattle's only river.

"Since 2001, it has been one of the most polluted rivers of the nation," Lopez said.

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Back in 2014, after 13 years of planning and community input, the EPA issued a cleanup order for the Duwamish River, a superfund site, which Lopez said includes the area where the river's East Waterway enters Elliott Bay. 

"A big amount of our native community, our immigrant and refugee communities [fish] from the river and [fish] from the Spokane bridge which is the East Waterway," said Lopez.

Now the EPA is proposing changes to the plan, that people living in the South Park neighborhood said will expose the community to toxic chemicals that the EPA promised to clean up.

Lopez said this includes allowing some pollutants to be seven times higher in the water.

"Why do you want to leave PCBs behind when you were already committed to a full clean-up?" she said.

KING 5 reached out to the EPA who sent this statement:

"We welcome the community’s input on our on-going efforts to clean up the Lower Duwamish Waterway’s contaminated sediments. We factor public input into our decisions along with the best available science. We are still in the process of gathering and responding to public input on two of the areas mentioned in the DRCC’s news release: the change related to cPAHs and the cleanup at Jorgensen Forge. We will be seeking input on the third area, the East Waterway, later this year. We have not made final decisions about any of the three areas.

Since the 2014 Record of Decision, major progress has been made in improving the health of the river. More work is needed and is underway. We look forward to continuing to engage with the DRCC and all others interested in the cleanup of the Lower Duwamish Waterway. We know how important the Duwamish is to those who live closest to it, those who fish there, and those who want to be able to safely use and enjoy it. We want to keep working together constructively to improve the health of the river for all."

Now the city of Seattle, the Port of Seattle and King County are fighting alongside residents, hoping the EPA will pay attention.

"Listen up, put a hold [on] it and make a decision when the community has been consulted in a meaningful way," said Lopez. "This is the time to show that you really care for that environmental justice and climate and the future."

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