Monday, April 28, 2014

Seattle's nasty little PCB habit

We like to blame our PCB problems on a large corporation that makes sophisticated machines or another large corporation that's known for wood products.  Since our salmon and orcas are contaminated with PCBs and these big businesses have effluent pipes, they seem like a logical target.  But when we do the right studies, we find most of the PCBs in our water come from somewhere else.

Who's the PCB villain?  Who is responsible for most of the PCBs that find their way into Puget Sound?  Us.  We are the bad guys.  From the Lake Washington study:
"Approximately 70 percent of the tPCB load to Lake Washington comes from local tributary watersheds around the lake and their stormwater runoff." 
This is not unique to the Lake Washington watershed in the Seattle area, similar results were found in studies of the Spokane River and Puget Sound in Washington, and San Francisco Bay, Chicago, and Toronto.

How do we pollute Puget Sound with PCBs?  Numerous, on-going, diffuse urban sources such as flaking paint or abraded joint caulks used in concrete surfaces and consumer products like paint and printer ink.  Thanks to the PCB loophole, we can actually buy PCB-contaminated products and we can contribute to PCB pollution through disposal of apparently-benign things like printed documents.

We're going to have to look close to home to figure out how to solve our PCB problem.  Can we give up important life-affirming substances like yellow ink with up to 50 ppm PCBs?

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Ray Kinney:The other 30%? Are returning anadromous fish responsible for contributing PCB' gathered from the ocean? Some alaskan lakes have been found to be contaminated by returning fish. The Oregon Fish Consumption Rate change process involved trying to decide whether or not to include salmon and Pacific lamprey consumption as being at risk for contaminant uptake by humans, especially native americans and others that eat a lot of fish. It was decided that fish retyurning from the ocean were not to be included because they probably did not have increased levels of contaminants as a result of contamination from the state of Oregon. If 70% appears to be coming into the ocean from rivers contaminated by these sources, should we not (for regulatory purposes) also include these food sources as being contaminated by terrrestrial sources?