The number may shock you, but Washington state has identified over 12,300 toxic sites. Many of these are likely right in your backyard. While half of these sites have been remediated over the years, thousands more are likely unknown to the state. The Department of Ecology (DOE), however, has put together a useful interactive map that shows where toxic sites are located and what their remediation status is.

Toxic sites in the Seattle area. (Washington State Department of Ecology)
Toxic sites in the Seattle area. (Washington State Department of Ecology)

It’s hard to say just how many toxic site are located within Seattle. But within a three-mile radius of Downtown Seattle, DOE’s toxics map returned more than 800 sites. So it’s probably safe to assume that there are well over 1,500 toxic sites in Seattle. Zooming into the Rainier Valley near Columbia City, it’s possible to see that 36 toxic sites are located within one mile of the district. Eight of the sites are still awaiting cleanup near Columbia City while another 12 have been fully remediated. The types of properties that require cleanup may be surprising to some like residential and church uses. Others though, like cleaners, landfills, gas stations, and auto repair, shouldn’t register as surprising toxic sites to most.

Toxic sites near Columbia City. Awaiting Cleanup (Blue); Cleanup Started (Sea Green); or No Further Action (Forest Green). (Washington State Department of Ecology)
Toxic sites near Columbia City. Awaiting Cleanup (Blue); Cleanup Started (Sea Green); or No Further Action (Forest Green). (Washington State Department of Ecology)

A cursory review of the toxic site pattern across Seattle should raise some concerns over environmental justice. Areas in Southeast Seattle appear to have a higher concentration of toxic sites compared to other like areas in Seattle. But with that said, dense districts and industrial areas of Seattle naturally register higher densities of toxic sites compared to lower density areas of the city.

Overall, the level of toxic site density across the region runs on a gradient from high to low almost in tandem with urban and rural densities. Seattle stands out in the map with the highest density of toxic sites. Arterial streets generally appear as the most likely locations for toxic sites, in part because commercial and industrial uses tend to be located on them. But residential streets are not entirely immune from toxic facilities, even in wealthier areas on the Eastside like Mercer Island.

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Stephen is an urban planner with a passion for promoting sustainable, livable, and diverse cities. He advocates for smart policies, regulations, and implementation programs that enhance urban environments by committing to quality design, accommodating growth, providing a diversity of housing choices, and adequately providing public services. Stephen primarily writes about land use and transportation issues.


  1. If you go to the actual map and zoom in, the dots shrink considerably, and it doesn’t look nearly as scary. You can click on the map and a table appears with information about each site. In my neighborhood most of the dots have to do with fuel or vehicles, though there is a “drug lab” and a few other residences.

  2. This study, though a good start toward listing pollution sites in urban areas, can never approach the reality of answering “Is my neighborhood toxic?” because very little testing has ever been done to really ground truth the toxic contaminant risks site specifically. They tag sites that had old gasoline tanks at stations, and other known industrial pollution sites located historically, but there are vast numbers of untested sites that exist across neighborhoods that need assessment with sampling. It is a ‘buyer beware’ world out there…. and it very much matters for personal and public health. Monitoring is the eyes and ears of science, and science needs to inform the public health paradigm. Legislatures try to avoid adequate sampling and assessment by the ‘departments of environmental quality’ and health authorities, erroneously proclaiming that they are trying to save money… yet it is monitoring with integrity that finds our toxic contaminant mistakes, enabling us to make corrections so that we no long have to continue to pay over and over again with our health and money into the future for each mistake ignored. The school drinking fountain lead contamination is an example that long ago was known to be harming children, yet remained politically covered up by never granting funding to adequately bring the risk to light and subsequent correction. How much harm has been done? The scientific research pointing out these risks is extensive, yet ignored politically for many decades.

  3. How many sites are crematoria, that vaporize vast amounts of dental amalgam up their stacks to drift mercury with the winds out over our neighborhoods? Mercury is both additive and synergistic with lead exposure to harm many physiologic pathways in the body.

  4. Urban, and suburban, sites that historically had orchards growing very often have soils heavily contaminated by lead and arsenic used as pesticides. Gardening without testing soils first is risky, especially if these old orchard areas were then later located close to heavy traffic routes during the lead gasoline era.

  5. I bet a large number of these sites within residential Seattle areas are underground oil tanks that leaked and removal or replacement of the tank required soil remediation. It’s amazing how many leaky tanks there are out there!

  6. Everybody better check their own garages, look on the bench where you set your tackle box after taking the grandkids to teach them how to fish. Go to a hardware store, buy a cheap lead test kit for surfaces, go home and test that tackle box superfund site by just swabbing anywhere in the box. The fine black nearly pure lead powder contaminating the surfaces has likely poisoned the people you love by contaminating your hands, the fishing pole, the sandwiches you handed out to your grandkids, the apples you ate, the cooler ice, and the fish you took home to put into the frying pan. Chronic low dose accumulative effects harm children from all lead sources, the high levels on those apples could have directly poisoned them at levels that reduced IQ. How many tackle boxes sit in contaminated boats? How many sinkers get lost in salmon streams that grind lead sinkers up, exponentially increasing surface area to dissolve faster in the water, chronically low dosing whole aquatic habitats? All of this pollution is ignored by the regulatory agencies because the NRA and industry lobbies reduce election funding to many legislators that would
    ask their ‘environmental protection agencies’ to do their jobs assessing these risks as required by the Clean Water Act, Clean Drinking Water Act etc. None of this ever shows up due to lack of due diligence for public health…. and we are poisoning our precious children.

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