Preventing toxic pollution key for protecting Puget Sound, new scientific assessment shows

by Tim Flanagan on November 4, 2011

OLYMPIA – The Washington Department of Ecology (Ecology) and the Puget Sound Partnership (Partnership) have released the latest look at what’s known about toxic chemical pollution in the Puget Sound region.

The report, page titled “Assessment of Selected Toxic Chemicals in the Puget Sound Basin, viagra ” is an important piece of information in the effort to restore and protect the Sound.

The new toxic chemical assessment is the final component of a multi-year, multi-agency effort that started in 2006 to understand where toxic chemicals come from, how they get to Puget Sound and the potential harm they cause to people, fish and other creatures.

The overall effort was called for in the Puget Sound Partnership’s Action Agenda — the single playbook for prioritizing and focusing recovery and protection efforts for government entities and scientists, environmental groups, and business and agricultural organizations across the 12-county region.

While there are many chemicals in use today, the Puget Sound Toxics Assessment focused on 17 chemicals or chemical groups because they are commonly detected in Puget Sound, harmful to fish and other life and may represent how similar chemicals reach the Sound.

The report evaluated a variety of ways that toxic chemicals reach Puget Sound. These include surface water runoff — or stormwater — as well as groundwater releases, air deposition and wastewater treatment plant discharges.

Toxic chemicals come from many sources

Gerry O’Keefe, Executive Director of the Puget Sound Partnership said, “Ecology’s latest assessment highlights that if we want to protect vital elements of Puget Sound such as our orcas and salmon, we must prevent and remove toxic pollution. Saving Puget Sound is larger than any one entity can accomplish – but it is possible with the help of governments, corporations and other organizations working together through the Puget Sound Partnership. Everyone needs to be part of the solution.”

Overall the study found that toxic chemical pollutants come from many scattered and hard-to-reach sources throughout the Sound.

Ecology Director Ted Sturdevant said, “There is no single guilty culprit or industrial source. Most toxic chemicals are used in some way by all of us. They are in our homes and gardens. They’re produced when we develop land without adequate runoff controls, when we burn wood, when we drive and park our cars. We all share responsibility for finding solutions. If we want to protect Puget Sound, we need to find and use less toxic alternatives as we do our business and live our lives.”

Examples of key sources of toxic chemicals identified in the Puget Sound Toxics Assessment include:

  • Copper, cadmium, zinc and phthalates from roofing materials. Phthalates are a group of chemicals commonly found in plastics.
  • Copper from urban pesticide use, brake pads and boat paint.
  • Polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs) from creosote-treated wood, wood smoke and vehicle exhaust. PAHs are known to harm fish.
  • Petroleum-related compounds from motor oil drips and leaks from our cars and trucks, as well as routine fuel and oil spills on land and to the water.
Most toxic pollutants reach Puget Sound through surface water runoff

The most common way toxic chemicals get into the environment is through polluted surface water runoff that flows off of residential, commercial and industrial areas.

When rain hits roofs, roads, and other hard surfaces in developed areas, it picks up and carries toxic chemicals with it. This polluted water then runs into storm drains and goes, mostly untreated, directly into area lakes, streams and rivers, as well as Puget Sound.

Toxic pollutants can threaten environmental and human health. Most don’t break down easily, and they stay in the environment a long time. They can enter the Puget Sound food chain and wind up in the bodies of fish, seals, orca whales and people.

Many chemicals in polluted runoff, such as copper, directly harm salmon and other fish. Copper interferes with the ability of salmon to smell. They need their sense of smell to avoid being eaten by predators, navigate back to their natal streams to spawn and to find mates.

“We’ve learned that adult Coho salmon are dying prematurely in large proportions when they return from the ocean to spawn in Puget Sound urban streams,” said Jay Davis, an environmental toxicologist for the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service. “Although we don’t know the precise cause of these die-offs, the most likely explanation is toxic chemicals in stormwater runoff.”

State working to tackle chemical pollution problem

The state is working on the problem of polluted runoff. On Oct. 19, 2011, Ecology offered for public review and comment the next generation of proposed permits to increase environmental protections against polluted runoff in Western Washington, including Puget Sound. The proposed permits would require the use of low-impact development — which mimics the natural environment – where feasible. They would oblige local governments to regularly monitor stormwater and would extend runoff management requirements to smaller sites.

The Puget Sound Partnership’s O’Keefe applauded the Legislature for the important progress made to control many toxic chemicals in Washington. Measures include banning or reducing the allowable uses of pollutants such as:

  • Polybrominated diphenyl ethers (PBDEs) in flame retardants.
  • Copper in brake pads and boat paint.
  • Lead tire wheel weights.
  • PAHs in coal tar-based pavement sealants.
  • Phosphorus in lawn fertilizers.
  • Bisphenol A (BPA) in baby bottles.
Puget Sound Partnership working on next steps

The Partnership is responsible for leading the coordinated effort to save Puget Sound by setting recovery goals and holding entities, including Ecology, accountable for results.

O’Keefe said the Partnership will use Ecology’s toxics assessment to help establish prevention and cleanup solutions in the Action Agenda that:

  • Continue building on successes to control copper from getting into the Sound.
  • Expedite the removal of creosote-treated wood pilings.
  • Focus on preventing oil spills, including drips and leaks from motor vehicles and boats.

O’Keefe said, “Everyone can make a difference by making wiser choices about how we transport ourselves, choose and dispose of the products we use — even what decisions we make when it’s time to replace a roof or change our oil. Protecting Puget Sound starts with each and every one of us reducing and preventing toxic chemical pollution.”

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