New Report Sheds Light on Toxins in Puget Sound

The Washington Department of Ecology (Ecology) has published a preliminary report that estimates the amounts of toxic chemicals that are getting into Puget Sound and where they are coming from.

One finding of the report is that "surface-water runoff"
from land is generally the largest contributor of toxic chemicals to the Sound.

Surface-water runoff, according to the report, includes stormwater, groundwater that discharges into rivers and streams, and many different hard-to-trace sources of pollution from the land with no obvious points of discharge.

"This report makes it clear there is much more to learn, and these preliminary findings are not surprising," said Josh Baldi, who is Ecology Director Jay Manning's special assistant for Puget Sound.

David Dicks, executive director of the Puget Sound Partnership said:
"Studies such as this move us ahead by providing information about the amount of toxic chemicals contributed by various sources. Substantially reducing that amount is one strategy to help recover the Puget Sound ecosystem."

"Control of Toxic Chemicals in Puget Sound, Phase 1: Initial Estimate of Loadings" sets an initial framework for the Puget Sound Partnership, Ecology, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and other partners to recommend policy actions that will reduce and control releases of toxic chemicals.

Besides the surface-water runoff finding, the report also says that toxic chemicals, including certain flame retardants now banned in Washington, reach Puget Sound from polluted air. It says that while overflows during wet weather from older combined sewer/stormwater collection systems may produce harmful local effects, the overflows contribute relatively little to Puget Sound's total toxics problem.
Also, the report says that oil spills directly into surface waters in the Puget Sound watershed during the past six years were a relatively small source of toxics compared with the amount of oil that reaches Puget Sound from surface runoff. The report recommends that the state do more work to estimate the amounts of toxic pollution getting into the Sound from other pathways.

"We've done a lot of work to prevent oil spills, but the potential of a catastrophic oil spill still poses a significant threat to the health of Puget Sound," Ecology's Baldi said. "Runoff is like a slow-moving oil spill - I think this report is telling us we need to be as diligent about preventing contaminated runoff from getting into Puget Sound as we are about preventing oil spills."

The Phase 1 report marks the state's initial attempt to formally document toxic substances that are entering Puget Sound, Baldi added.
"We'll use this work to better control and ultimately prevent toxic pollution. We've got a heck of a lot of work ahead to refine these estimates."

Ecology prepared the report in collaboration with a steering committee that included representatives from several Ecology programs, EPA, King County and the Puget Sound Partnership.

Ecology, EPA, NOAA (National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration), and the Washington Department of Fish & Wildlife have already started several of the eight planned Phase 2 toxics loadings projects to be completed by summer 2008. In addition, Ecology is sketching out the scopes of work for several Phase 3 projects. In total, the three phases will support policy decisions by Ecology, the Puget Sound Partnership, and their partners.

The report is a very early step to inform the Puget Sound Partnership's "Action Agenda" due out in September 2008. The Partnership, created by the 2007 Legislature, is charged with restoring the environmental health of Puget Sound.

The report is posted on Ecology's Web site.

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