What’s in our waterway? New site dives into Puget Sound pollution

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.”

17 Replies to "What's in our waterway? New site dives into Puget Sound pollution"

  • Robert November 9, 2012 (12:36 pm)

    Yes, what is the deal with people blithely tossing their cigarette butts? I see it all the time when people are walking down the street, or when they flick them out of their car windows. Do they think that the butts disappear? Thanks to the photographer for showing that they do end up somewhere.

  • marty November 9, 2012 (12:56 pm)

    Looks like a marijuana leaf in the photo…

  • Belinda Griswold November 9, 2012 (3:10 pm)

    Check out Laura’s videos on the biggest threat to Puget Sound: polluted runoff. Pretty amazing footage right off Alki: http://vimeo.com/51491938

  • Nemobean November 9, 2012 (3:37 pm)

    Cigarette smoking alone is disgusting and for the people who do have this habit WHY can’t they dispose of their butts properly!?!
    It’s bad enough of all the other litter we have and to add cigarette butts to it… how long does it take for them to go away? never?

  • Usually November 9, 2012 (3:47 pm)

    It’s not a pot leaf.
    One direct result of outlawing tobacco smoking indoors in public has been to move all the butts that went into ashtrays in the bar onto our sidewalks and streets and into our gutters. Bars should be held responsible for their patrons’ cigarette waste.

  • karenanne November 9, 2012 (3:58 pm)

    that’s what I thought too, Marty. it’s actually what I thought the arrows were pointing to, before reading anything. boo to butts. I pick them up all the time on my sidewalk. yuck

  • Mike November 9, 2012 (4:10 pm)

    Pardon me if I am wrong, but Cook Inlet, Prince William Sound, and Chesapeake Bay are all larger estuaries than Puget Sound. Nations 2nd largest Estuary is a little misleading off the bat.

    Stormwater runoff is a contributor to pollution in the sound, but it is just one of the many things that needs to be addressed moving forward. No. 1 thing is always source control…(everyone point the finger at themselves), we are getting better at learning from our mistakes, but far from having a pristine habitat outside our back doors.

  • The Original MB November 9, 2012 (5:18 pm)

    I don’t like that my hubby smokes, but damn am I happy he is the kind of smoker who wants others to be affected by his habit as little as possible. He makes sure he’s well away from people and doors when he smokes and he always puts the butts in his pocket. Now…if only I could get him to empty those pockets BEFORE they go into the washing machine!! It’s really not a big deal to just take them with you…butts everywhere = flat out laziness!!!

  • DiverLaura November 9, 2012 (6:09 pm)

    Mike makes a very good point and of course sets me up to say….

    If you have not done it already, everyone should come check out the Tox-Ick.org web site!

    7 simple actions that EACH of us can do to help reduce the flow of polluted run-off into our local waterways.

    We know there are LOADS more things you can do, but this is boiled down to direct simple actions that are easy to do and can make a big difference if we all partake on a daily basis.

    1) Scoop the Poop! (even if it doesn’t belong to your dog)

    2) Use little or no Fertilizers, Herbicides or Pesticides

    3) Wash your car at a commercial carwash

    4) Walk, Bike and Take public transit AND practice low impact driving techniques.

    5) Plant and Protect Native Evergreens & Native Shrubs

    6) Keep your car properly maintained (get that oil leak fixed!!)

    7) Keep water on site with Rain Barrels, Rain Gardens, Cisterns and Green Roofs.

  • KD November 9, 2012 (7:34 pm)

    No butts about it.. cigarette smokers are one of the most selfish groups out there. No need to respond(angry smokers), there is no defense, and you have no ‘rights’ like you always claim you do. My lungs take priority over your crap, and now thanks to the great photo, the Puget Sound inhabitants have to partake in second hand smoke too! That photo should be passed on to be used in national promo ads.

  • cjboffoli November 9, 2012 (10:27 pm)

    They should put a mandatory 10c refundable deposit on each one of those cigarette butts. If it didn’t motivate the less courteous smokers out there to mind their litter it would provide a new income stream for the industrious and/or the homeless.

  • DF November 10, 2012 (8:40 am)


    • WSB November 10, 2012 (9:02 am)

      DF – you have some erroneous information. First, Laura does not work in a “classroom setting.” She is a volunteer with a day job that as I understand it has nothing to do with any of this BUT spends pretty much every waking moment in a variety of educational endeavors OUT IN THE FIELD. As in, underwater, cleaning up junk like this (she sent some photos last night I will be featuring separately). As in, mentoring divers. As in, currently leading the stormwater-runoff campaign (which involves a lot more than cigarette butts). B. I am no defender of smoking – it killed my mother, via pancreatic cancer – but I don’t think you are familiar with our sponsor list (which has its own page, if you don’t want to run through the sidebar ads – https://westseattleblog.com/wsb-sponsors ). We have a grand total of one bar, not that bars are the only places where people go outside to smoke, but you have made this type of comment before and that’s what you have referred to. So it is erroneous to say WSB is sponsored by “many establishments (with) smokers out front.” Or anywhere else. Thanks! – TR

  • patt November 10, 2012 (12:37 pm)

    DiverLaura, Is there more Bad runoff now in “this economy” then say 15 years ago? Do you feel that some people think this little bit won’t hurt?
    Does it cost to drop off residential toxic stuff?
    Are there good sites to do it?

    The tax on cigs was to go to cleaning up the Sound, with fewer smokers have the revenues from it gone down or has the raise in taxes on cigs keep it even.
    Will we be done with both by 2020

  • patt November 10, 2012 (1:03 pm)

    Who are we blaming? Lets see , if I am in a closed room for a half hour with a smoking smoker I am pissed off and stinky. In the same room with a running car and I am dead.

    We are blaming the people we can walk up to and look in the face. Brave. Why don’t we be braver just look at our own face in the rear view mirror. walk, car pool, bike, don’t litter, don’t pour things down the drain.

  • DF November 10, 2012 (4:50 pm)

    I may be wrong, not a first for me :). However, was it not Laura who put together a campaign some time back which was a video inside with an audience about the toxic monster? If so that is what I was referring to. I smoked for years as I believe you also did and now do not an I guess I point my finger too often against those I use to smoke beside. That said the problem with smokers and the litter in creates will only increase as more folks move in. I would like to see a leader like Laura help out our community more by visiting these establishments and getting them to put ash trays out front. Go to the corner of Alaska and California NW corner on any give morning and you will see an example , Admiral between California and 42nd another. THE HORROR

  • Ajax November 11, 2012 (2:09 am)

    DF – Sounds like you are pretty passionate about this issue. Perhaps you could do what you are suggesting that Laura do. Not being an a-hole, but if we all acted on an issue that we feel strongly about, our communities would be much better places. Which reminds me that I need to get back to volunteering. Thanks.

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