Category Archives: contaminants

Fraser pollution and sockeye decline

In this Globe and Mail article, yet another suggestion that exposure to in-river contaminants may be a factor in the survival of Fraser River salmon:

Among the endocrine disrupting ingredients identified in the Fraser were industrial chemicals, pesticides, compounds with a carbon-metal bond, pharmaceuticals and “several estrogen-like compounds,” the report says.

It states that data are insufficient to evaluate the impact of endocrine-disrupting compounds, but notes reports from First Nation fishermen that salmon are smaller on average, increasingly have blotchy skin and of one male sockeye that had ovaries, are cause for concern.

Fraser and Bristol Bay sockeye runs compared

This article regarding a proposed open-pit mine in AK has a few insights into the Fraser River watershed, including this assertion that could suggest foci for conservation actions:

Mining, pulp mills, agriculture, forestry, roads and other development in the Fraser River watershed all cause water pollution and regular violations of water quality standards for copper, zinc, lead, cadmium, chromium and many other pollutants toxic to salmon.

Flushed chemicals reach orca habitat in less than 4 days

Live-blogged notes from a UW Water Seminar talk by Rick Keil’s student Brittany Kimball

Spicing Up the Sound: Cooking Spices and Aberrant Chemicals in Puget Sound and How They Get There
Sound Citizen collects water samples from around the region to understand the transport of common household chemicals from human sources into the marine environment.  An added benefit is that the educational message is positive (e.g. associated with holiday cooking), in contrast to typical discouraging environmental news.  With funding primarily from Washington Sea Grant, the undergraduate-driven project provides citizen scientists with kits for collecting water samples (about 40-75 kits returned per month since December 2008).

Analysis measures concentrations of: spices (27), solvents, perfumes, endocrine disruptors, and (soon) soaps and more.

Oregano — spikes in early May due to spring growth

Linalool — a scent from flowers (also common in household products) peaks naturally in June/July

Cinammon — can differentiate between cooked and metabolized (trans-cinnamic acid); based on 2007 data from treated sewage effluent peaks ~4 days after Thanksgiving (thyme also peaks 4 days after)

Vanillin — both natural and synthetic (ethyl vanillin, 4x more flavorful, so common in candy); peaks on memorial day, Christmas, Thanksgiving, Valentines day, 4th of July, Labor day; natural vanillin peaks during winter holidays (when real vanilla extract is used) while synthtic peaks during summer (possibly due to mass consumption of ice cream).

Chemicals in personal care products (e.g. musks, other fragrances…) and industrial products (e.g. insecticides, fertilizers) are detected about as commonly as spices in the samples.  Lawn care chemicals peak in summer, while ibuprofen and estrogens peak in winter (a function of runoff and overflow from sewage treatment plants?).

With the new mass spectrometer, we can measure oleic acids (olive oil soaps), steric acids, and more…

Don’t miss our high school action projects on Feb 3-4.  Student posters will be presented then at Mary Gates Hall.

Contaminant deposition in NW National Parks

Dixon Landers

2002-2008 WACAP study ocused on high-elevation and remote systems with lakes as precipitation collectors.  We weren’t supposed to inform fluxes to Puget Sound, but we may have discovered that the snow that melts into our inland sea starts out contaminated!  Data sources are snow samples, sediment cores, fish samples, lichen, and water.  We looked at broad suite of volatile organic compounds, metals, and nitrogen from the Arctic to Texas.  In WA we sampled Olympic, Rainier, and N Cascades Parks (vegetation and snow only).


  • Mean whole body fish [DDT]sum = 1-4ng/g, pretty uniform across PS parks (implying global, not local sources), but well below toxicity thresholds.  [Hg] are among highest of all Western Parks; sediment cores show increase in Hg in recent years, probably due to global sources.

Atmospheric deposition of POPS to Georgia Basin

Marie Noel

PCBs are transported through the atmosphere in both gas and particulate phases.  In Great Lakes and Baltic Sea, the majority of aquatic PCBs come from atmospheric transport.  Transport from Asia to BC takes 2-10 days.  One sampling site at Ucluelet as reference for Saturna Island samples (gas (86% of PCBs, 63% PBDEs), particulate (porportionally more heavy congeners), and rain phases).  PCB heavy congeners dominated by tri and tetra; PBDEs by tetra, penta and deca.

PBDE deposition was higher than PCBs overall.   PCBs about same between sites, suggesting global sources.  ~50% of PBDEs are coming from local sources, and the increase above reference is mostly due to heavier PBDEs (tetra, penta, deca).  The point of origin is 20% from Asia; no north American sources can account for the coastal deposition in BC.

2004 deposition mass: 3.5 kg PCB, 20 kg PBDE (BDE 209 makes of 56%)

Duwamish contaminant in suspended sediments

Thomas Gries

We collected samples upstream of the southern boundary of the lower Duwamish clean up area and then compared with samples taken further downstream.   Background: focus on Harbor Island and a cleanup site at river mile 4.8, site selection and future load inluenced by sediment transport model and analysis report:

  • >95% sediment load from upstream
  • 50% fine suspended sediment passes through site

Upstream sampling at 6/1oth max depth was chosen to avoid upstream transport by salt wedge, but downstream of most point-sources.  Looked at 63 and 250 micon sediment size fractions. We saw high [PCB, dioxins, arsenic] in August, low in November and December.  Suspended sediment PCB loading may be lower than predicted.  Peak loading is associated with storm events.

PCB bioaccumulation model for Puget Sound

Jeff Stern

Mapping C flow through the food web can help us understand trophic strucure and species interactions and ass feeding guilds and which species may be most at risk from bioaccumulation.  Our model is a steady state partitioning (Arnot and Gobas, 2004; Condon, 2007) that uses Tim Essingtons trophic structure data, diet data from John Ruem (2006 UW thesis), and other parameters from many others.  Essington’s data show that biomass and diet change dramatically with depth strata.

Our simplified model for the central basin of Puget Sound yields 9 out of 10 estimates for species or feeding guilds that are within factor of 2 of field measurements.  We have almost no data for plankton and spiny dog fish in the central basin.


  • For every unit you reduce water concentrations of PCBs, you get a 0.7 unit reduction in tissues; this is a linear response for all species; for 50% reduction in loading you get about 55 picograms/l in tissues.
  • The ratio for sediment conentrations of PCBs is 0.3; taking out all PS hot spots will reduce tissue concentrations by only about 15%.
  • These ratios vary by species (benthic, pelagic); eg English sole is most affected by sediment concentrations.  (Scott thot: SRKWs are known to eat Dover Sole in non-summer seasons…)
  • Even in most optimistic scenario, tissue reductions are only likely to be 15-25%.

Simplified food web structure seems to do well in approximating carbon flows, so we believe we are accurately modeling transfer of PCBs, generally.  You can add complexity to understand specific species’ situations.  We also believe you’ll need different simplified model for each basin in the Salish Sea.  That means we’ll need data from each basin!  And it means that we’ll need more complicated (trans-basin) models for species with complex foraging behaviors, like killer whales.

Toxics assessment process in Puget Sound

James Maroncelli

Phase 1 of toxic loadings to PS initiated in 2006 by a coalition (PSAT+WA Ecology+…): realized that air deposition was an important pathway

Phase 2: spring 07 $300k from EPA, $300 from Ecology TPA, $55k NOAA funded all programs (because we established a framework for project prioritzation)

  1. Surface runoff
  2. Atmospheric depositino
  3. Permitted wastewater
  4. CSO discharges
  5. exchange with ocean
  6. exchange with contaminated sediments
  7. flux to/from biota


  1. residential areas contributed ~3/4 of loading
  2. permitted contributed <1%

Phase 3: hope to attain funding from national estuary, trying to align with action agenda, but didn’t want to wait in part because Norm Dix wanted to start fixing problems asap.  Year 1 projects focused on analyzing surface runoff, sediments, biota, including $310k from WA legislature on atmospheric deposition (via PSP).  First of these projects will report in June, 2009.

Phase 3, year 2: starting to use action agenda for guidance, PSP wanted an inventory of toxic chemicals by spring 2010 to inform second version of Action Agenda which is due in Sept 2010.  Projects: 3-6 may be funded, proposals due to EPA March 1; Transferring responsibility for toxic loading to PSP science panel.  Joel Baker says funding will be “pragmatic.”  Decision process for potential Oct 2009 funding is to be more formal and rely on recommendations of PSP Science Panel.

Toxics control web site (including loading data)