Washington State Boosts Funds to Halt Toxic Pollution

The Washington Legislature appropriated $2.1 million statewide to pay for an Urban Waters Initiative in three areas of the state: the Lower Duwamish Waterway, Commencement Bay in Tacoma and the Spokane River. The funds will be used to help find and stop toxic pollutant sources that have found their way into the Spokane River.

The Department of Ecology and the Spokane Regional Health District plant to work together on the project.

Businesses and industries from Spokane and the Spokane Valley will get onsite technical assistance, pollution-prevention advice and education to control and prevent toxic pollution from reaching the Spokane River or the Spokane Valley-Rathdrum Prairie aquifer.

Of the dedicated funding, $540,000 was budgeted for hiring one “local source control specialist” for each of the three areas included in the initiative. About $180,000 will pay for a source control specialist in Spokane, under an agreement with the health district.

"This project will make the current cleanup effort of Spokane’s urban waters more effective," said David Swink, director of the Spokane Regional Health District’s environmental public health division. "It will allow us to provide more tools to keep our water clean and protect the public’s health."

Another $980,000 is dedicated to beefing up Ecology’s staff and resources in Spokane to provide extra help to find the sources of the toxic chemicals. Two new and one existing position in Ecology’s Spokane office will work closely with the source-control specialist hired by the health district.

A series of technical reports completed in 2005, concluded that the Spokane River has elevated concentrations of polychlorinated biphenyls and dioxins/furans. In addition, the concentrations of polybrominated diphenyl ether (PBDEs or flame retardants) in the fish are the highest in the state. Further, the Spokane River carries historic mining waste that includes heavy metals such as arsenic, cadmium, lead, and zinc.

While scientists understand the sources of some of these toxic substances, others, such as PBDEs, remain a mystery. Finding the sources is the first step toward stopping them.

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