Washington's Urban Water Initiative to Help Small Business Owners

The Washington Department of Ecology and the Spokane Regional Health District have been sending out inspectors to work with small business owners to help identify and reduce the amount of toxic chemicals entering the Spokane River.

The inspectors are working under a new program, the Urban Waters Initiative, which was funded by the state legislature in 2007 to look for potential sources of pollution to the state's most contaminated waterways: Commencement Bay and the Duwamish River in Western Washington, and the Spokane River.

Over the upcoming year, the program inspectors in Spokane will sample sediment and water in sewer and stormwater drain systems to help locate sources of the toxic chemicals that continue to add to the Spokane River's pollution.

The samples collected will be tested for heavy metals, polychlorinated biphenyls, flame retardants, dioxins, and furans. The chemicals are used in the manufacture of certain products or are produced during manufacturing processes.

Pollution to the river can happen when rainwater runs off roads, roofs, parking lots and other hard surfaces, carrying toxic chemicals with it. Storm drains and sewers can also carry pollutants to the river when people flush soaps, chemicals and other pollutants down drains, either inside or outside.

"When chemicals and toxic materials aren't stored and disposed of in the right way, they can leak or spill onto the ground. From there, they can contaminate water that eventually makes its way into the river," said Arianne Fernandez, Urban Waters program inspector at the Department of Ecology.

The Urban Waters program team will initially focus on small businesses in the Liberty Lake area. Specialists from the Department of Ecology and the Spokane Regional Health District will visit local businesses to:

• Identify possible sources of pollution.

• Discuss how to use best management practices to safely handle, reduce, reuse, recycle and dispose of potentially toxic materials.

• Help business owners understand the regulations and permits that are required to safely handle toxic materials.

• Help businesses to reduce or eliminate the use of toxics by using non-toxic or less toxic products and offering free technical assistance.

"Our goal with the Urban Waters Initiative is to pinpoint the sources of pollution and help change how chemicals and toxic materials are managed so they don't get into the river any longer," said Fernandez.

Inspectors will focus on helping to educate business owners about how to best manage toxic materials. But they are also authorized to take enforcement action if they find violations of storage and disposal regulations.

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