Mostly, environmental concerns over Gas Works Park have involved the contaminated waters of Lake Union at the park's edge - the mud smells like gas because of the chemical sediment that has never been thoroughly cleaned up. But with tar bubbling up anew along the east lakeshore, the question is what has the eruption brought to the park surface?
The park land itself has been repeatedly pronounced safe, even though the former chemical plant where we play and sit and eat and swim (at your own risk) retains a no. 1 high-risk ranking on the state Department of Ecology's list of hazardous chemical sites, based on the amount of contaminants, their toxicity, and how easily people can come in contact with the chemicals.
Among the legacy of petroleum compounds left behind from the 50-year operation of the 1906 plant is an underground plume of benzene, a toxic chemical that can cause cancer through long-term exposure to high levels.
"If you dig a hole, there'd be no benzene until four or five feet down," Craig Thompson, DOE project manager, told me a few years back. "That's so far below the surface, no one could be harmed."This week, using heavy equipment to dig and test far below the surface, officials will try to reassure us of that. In the meantime, it's recommend you follow the historical advice of locals who live around the scenic park: Have fun, but don't eat the dirt.