This fall, we’ve already had multiple times to see and talk about Puget Sound sealife – orca visits, salmon runs, seal pups, even the Seacrest octopus controversy. There’s new information today about something that affects them all, and more, and us: Puget Sound pollution. One visualization is in “Diver Laura” James‘s photo above, pointing out cigarette butts strewn on the seafloor; she took the photo near the Fairmount Creek stormwater outfall off Harbor Avenue, in about 20 feet of water. Discarded cigarette butts are washed off sidewalks and streets when it rains, go into storm drains, and wind up here, leaching toxic chemicals into the Sound. Just one source of pollution, of course – one among, unfortunately, many. To help understand what’s happening in and to the Sound, the state has just launched a new website – described in this news release:
The Washington Department of Ecology (Ecology) has boiled down a 300-page report into a new, user-friendly website that explains what we currently know about toxic chemical pollution in the Puget Sound region.
The website links what’s known about toxic contamination in Puget Sound to ongoing efforts to keep the contaminants out of the nation’s second-largest estuary. The site draws attention to actions that individuals, businesses, community groups and federal, state, tribal and local governments can take to help reduce toxic threats to the sound.
The science comes from the Puget Sound Toxics Assessment, a multi-year, multi-agency effort that Ecology and the Puget Sound Partnership, the state agency leading and coordinating the recovery of Puget Sound, started in 2006. The intent of the assessment is to better understand:
The sources – or human-related objects and activities – from which toxic chemicals are initially released to the air, land and waters in the 12 counties bordering Puget Sound.
The different routes or pathways these pollutants take to reach Puget Sound.
The potential harmful effects toxic chemicals have on people and the environment.
The site is at ecy.wa.gov/puget_sound/toxicchemicals/index.html. It includes a frequently asked questions section about the comprehensive toxic chemical investigation.
Instead of a single culprit or industrial source for toxic chemical pollution, Ecology and the Partnership found most contaminants come from many scattered, spread out and hard-to-control sources across the region.
They reach the environment mostly through polluted surface water runoff that flows off our 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 also are used in some way by most of the 4.5 million people living in the Puget Sound region. Key chemical sources include:
Copper from urban pesticide use, brake pads, and boat paint. Copper directly harms salmon and other fish by interfering with their sense of smell needed to avoid being eaten by predators, navigate back to their natal streams to spawn and to find mates.
Petroleum-related compounds from motor oil drips and leaks from our cars and trucks, and minor fuel and oil spills.
Copper, cadmium, zinc and to a lesser extent phthalates from roofing materials. Phthalates are a group of chemicals commonly found in plastics.
Polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs) from creosote-treated wood, wood smoke and vehicle exhaust. PAHs are known to harm fish.
Rob Duff, program manager for Ecology’s Environmental Assessment Program said: “Our environment is resilient but the relentless input of toxics into our waterways adds stress that can’t be measured one contaminant at a time. Everyone has a stake in the health of Puget Sound and we all are part of the solution. By making informed choices about the products we use in our homes and gardens we can cut toxics off at the source.”
Duff said Ecology is working on an array of projects to prevent and control contamination from toxic chemicals in Puget Sound. These include:
Carrying out the law to phase out copper and other toxic materials in vehicle brake pads after two years of negotiated work with the brake manufacturing industry, automobile part distributors, environmental groups and other interested parties. More at ecy.wa.gov/news/2012/350.html.
Working with Seattle Public Utilities to reduce petroleum-related pollutants on our roads, driveways and parking lots. Ecology is helping sponsor nearly 100 new, hands-on auto leak prevention workshops in 2013. Participants learn how to properly dispose of auto fluids, detect and repair fluid leaks and clean up spills. More at seattle.gov/util/environmentconservation/myhome/preventpollution/cartips/.
Entering into 19 partnership contracts with local health agencies and public utility districts to help small businesses save money and prevent polluted runoff from entering Puget Sound. Local source control specialists have conducted more than 10,000 free, voluntary on-site visits to help firms properly manage, store and dispose of hazardous materials. More at ecy.wa.gov/news/2012/276.html.
Providing a grant to the Washington Department of Natural Resources to remove up to 400 creosote-treated wood pilings, a significant source of polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbon (PAH) contamination, from Hood Canal including an abandoned railroad trestle in Quilcene Bay.
Creating a roofing materials task force to bring together manufacturers and installers to better understand the current science and information about roofing materials. This task force is helping design a study to refine information about what is being released from roofing materials in the Puget Sound basin.
“These are the kind of innovative, big-picture actions we need to see if we want to restore Puget Sound,” said Anthony Wright, executive director of the Puget Sound Partnership.
The Partnership’s 2012 State of the Sound report shows that regional efforts have slowed the decline of Puget Sound, and there is an increase in healthy shellfish beds and restored estuaries. However, progress is not sufficient to meet 2020 ecosystem recovery targets.
“If we want to see a swimmable, fishable, diggable Puget Sound in our lifetime, we must accelerate our actions,” Wright said. “We must work to fix this situation and not pass the problem on to the next generation. The more we wait, the greater the cost.”