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Port Lawsuit: Boeing Must Pay its Fair Share of Lower Duwamish Superfund Cleanup

Litigation protects local taxpayers by ensuring that polluters pay fair share for cleanup
July 19, 2022

May 23, 2023 update: 

While the Port and Boeing have not yet resolved their differences, to continue on a path toward a fair resolution, the Port has dismissed the lawsuit. The Port looks forward to continuing to work with all parties on the cleanup of the Duwamish River.

July 19, 2022 original post:

The Port of Seattle filed a civil lawsuit today demanding that The Boeing Company pay its fair share of the cost of the Superfund Cleanup in the Lower Duwamish Waterway. The Port’s litigation demands that the “polluter pay,” a core principle of Superfund law.

The litigation does not change the Port’s commitment to completing the cleanup, which just reached a major milestone this month when the Port opened a new 14-acre park and habitat restoration site at former Terminal 117 after years of shoreline and in-water sediment cleanup.

Since 2000, the Port of Seattle, City of Seattle, King County, and Boeing have worked together as the Lower Duwamish Waterway Group to investigate the nature of the contamination and develop cleanup plans.  All partners have paid an equal share for the investigation and planning necessary to perform the Lower Duwamish Waterway cleanup, while acknowledging it would be necessary to redistribute costs when the project advanced past investigation and design.

In its lawsuit, the Port demands that Boeing reimburse the Port for millions of dollars of response costs that the Port has paid over the last 22 years, which should have been paid by Boeing based on its status as the largest industrial manufacturer responsible for toxic waste in the river.  The litigation also asks the court to set a fair share for Boeing to pay for future cleanup costs.

For decades, Boeing pumped polychlorinated biphenyl (PCBs) from numerous transformer vaults (holding leaking transformers) at its Plant 2 facility directly to the Lower Duwamish Waterway.  As late as the 1990s, PCB concentrations in vault sludge ranged up to 1 billion parts per billion, i.e., 100 percent PCB.  Sediment PCB concentrations at the location where that vault’s sump discharged to the Lower Duwamish ranged up to 890,000 parts per billion – nearly 500,000 times higher than PCB cleanup levels set by the United States Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) in its Superfund cleanup plan.

Boeing has also released large magnitudes of other hazardous substances to the Lower Duwamish Waterway from its 300 acres of facilities along the Waterway or draining into it, including dioxins/furans, polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (“PAHs”), phthalates, arsenic, and other metals.

By contrast, the Port’s role in the Lower Duwamish Waterway has been that of an owner/landlord, leasing facilities to tenants that primarily conduct cargo shipping and storage activities.  These operations are not comparable to those of Boeing, whose intensive manufacturing operations used and regularly released large magnitudes of PCBs and other hazardous substances into the Lower Duwamish Waterway.

Port of Seattle cleanup work is funded by King County taxpayers. Drawing on local taxpayers to cover Boeing’s obligations is unjust and limits the availability of public funding needed to support environmental, employment, and environmental justice initiatives in local communities.

The complaint concludes:

“The Port cannot accept an arrangement whereby local taxpayers would be stuck effectively subsidizing Boeing’s cleanup bill.

“Boeing has gleaned billions of dollars in profits over the past several decades partly through externalizing its waste disposal costs by dumping wastes into the Lower Duwamish River.

The Port, as a steward of public funds, cannot agree to redirect King County taxpayers’ funds from projects and programs that benefit the public in order to permit Boeing to pay far less than its fair share of Lower Duwamish Waterway cleanup costs.”


Kathy Roeder | Port of Seattle Communications Director
(206) 787-4882 |

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