Tuesday, June 27, 2017 This Week's Paper

Occupy Moves Into Second Month With Winterizing Troubles

// The Occupy Tacoma protest downtown is settling in for the winter, while it faces questions of toxic vapor exposure

Occupy Tacoma’s "occupation" of Pugnetti Park at Pacific Avenue and 21st Street is showing signs of settling in for the cold winter.

"We have plenty of blankets and people bring in more of them all the time," Occupy protester Neil Rogers said.

But blankets aren't enough, so the Occupy protesters are looking at shifting from their current stock of camping tents and tarps to more insulated structures called hexayurts.

The new structures are basically insulated foam board held together with tape and metal flashing on wooden platforms to improve insulation from the dropping temperatures outside. One trouble with these structures is that they could prove unhealthy since they could increase the exposure to toxic vapor at the site. 

The Department of Ecology lists the park as a toxic site because of its higher-than-usual level of gasoline, benzene, toluene, ethylbenzene and xylenes in the soils and groundwater from when the site was home to a gas station for decades until it closed in 1981. Exposure to the chemicals have been linked to cancer.

The site was partially cleaned up when the park was created and deemed safe for limited exposure by casual users of the park, but longer-term exposure by campers could prove to be a health concern, according to ecology reports. The creation of more insulated structures could increase levels of exposure to the toxic vapors for people staying in the hexayurts.

That news aside, Occupy protesters plan to construct a few of them to test their comfort. While those are in the works, a "school" was built about a week ago to provide an enclosed gathering space for talks, meetings and lessons. Another tent provides food storage and cooking facilities, while another is home to a web-cam studio that serves as an open mic for anyone who wants to voice their thoughts on the issues of the day.

"We are not a 'tent city,’ we are a protest movement," protester Zachary Payment said. "This is an occupation, not a camp. Sleeping is just something we do."

On that front, Occupy Tacoma has a few protests in the works. The next march is slated for Dec. 13, where protesters have plans to protest at City Hall in support of police and firefighters who are slated to fill the city's budget gap as well those other first responders set to be laid off around the nation because of the cuts to city, state and federal budgets caused by the lagging economy.