By Associated Press - Wednesday, June 10, 2020

YAKIMA, Wash. (AP) - The Washington state Department of Ecology has created a working group to address and resolve issues stemming from lead arsenate contamination on former orchard lands in Yakima after receiving an increasing number of calls from concerned homeowners and developers.

Yakima was built on former orchard lands that were sprayed with pesticides to kill insects prior to the 1940s, the Yakima Herald-Republic reported. The pesticide would stick to soil and break down into lead and arsenate contaminants that can pose significant threats to public health, including heart disease, diabetes, and several types of cancer.

The pesticides remain toxic in soil for decades rather than washing away or becoming absorbed into growing plants. Area-wide contamination concerns have been raised across the state, department spokeswoman Joye Redfield-Wilder said, adding that the department estimates more than 156 square miles (405 square kilometers) are contaminated.

The Legacy Pesticide Working Group is tasked with studying the issue, answering questions and finding potential solutions to ensure people are not exposed to the contaminants as land use changes and former orchard lands become the site of houses, developments, schools or businesses, Redfield-Wilder said.

The working group is also expected to create a process to soil sample all properties, notify buyers or current homeowners about specific contamination at their properties, and educate the public about risks from lead and arsenic.

“We know that lead and arsenic soil contamination on historic orchards in Central Washington is a complex issue,” the department said in a blog post online. “We believe that the risk is manageable, cleanup is surmountable, and practical approaches can be found.”

The group had its first meeting in February and is expected to meet this month.

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