Plain, Chunky, or Toxic

If the Sunny Jim building is contaminated, what does that mean for the poor kids who ate it?

Mayor Mike McGinn's plan to permanently relocate the residents of Seattle's two roving homeless encampments—Nickelsville and Tent City—to the site of the former Sunny Jim factory in SoDo hit a snag this past weekend, when it was revealed that a report issued last year by the city showed the site to be contaminated. McGinn hired an environmental consultant weeks ago to prove the site is safe for people—which is ironic, considering that it's likely been contaminated for a long, long time, and no one thought to raise the safety issue back when Sunny Jim was making peanut butter. The city's report on the Sunny Jim factory—which burned down in September—found petroleum byproducts and a toxic cleaning solvent in the groundwater. Where all that came from and when is unknown. The site is home to other buildings, including an SDOT sign-maintenance facility. But there's evidence that the contaminants have been around since long before the city bought the property in 1991. According to the city's own report, a letter sent nearly 20 years ago from a private attorney to the state Department of Ecology stated that the site's soil may be contaminated with diesel-fuel runoff; chromium; the same toxic cleaning solvent found in last year's tests; and a highly toxic gas called vinyl chloride. [This story has been corrected since it was first posted. It originally said the attorney's letter stated the site's soil was contaminated with the substances mentioned.] The factory stopped making peanut butter only a few years before those soil tests were taken. Meaning there's a good chance that while political leaders today try to hash out whether the site is safe for people who might otherwise live under a highway overpass, they're ignoring the fact that the place was similarly "unclean" back when kids still ate Sunny Jim PB&Js.

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