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Toxic Runoff is Primary Source of Pollution in Puget Sound Waters

The majority of the pollution in the Puget Sound region is caused by a rainwater runoff, totaling 14 million pounds of toxins entering the Puget Sound water each year. In order to preserve and restore the clean air, water, and natural areas that make Washington a great place to live, it is necessary to solve the issue of runoff rainwater.
People Impacted
$ 81B
Potential Funding
I have this challenge
the problem
Nature and Context

Waterways like Puget Sound, Commencement Bay and the Skagit River give us places to enjoy nature, fish and hike. Our waterways are central to our food source, and our local economies. But toxic runoff, the number one source of pollution to Puget Sound, is threatening the health of our water.

Despite progress made to reduce certain chemicals in the last decade, many toxins are present and pose a threat. Existing methods track specific chemicals of known concern. Until recently, however, there was no way to find out what other potentially harmful compounds might be present in the water (Science Daily).

Symptoms and Causes

Every time it rains, millions of gallons of toxic runoff wash into Puget Sound and our lakes and rivers, spreading poisons that threaten our health, environment and economy. The most common delivery pathway toxic chemicals take to reach Puget Sound is through polluted surface runoff — also known as stormwater. Rain hits roofs, roads, developed areas, and other hard surfaces and runs into storm drains. It then goes mostly untreated into lakes, streams, and rivers that drain to Puget Sound (Department of Ecology).

Targeted chemicals of concern

Scientists assessed the relative hazards posed by target chemicals in the assessment report. Results of the hazard evaluation suggest that the following chemicals are most likely to be found at concentrations of concern:

  • Copper, used in brake pads and boat paints.

  • Mercury from fluorescent light bulbs, dental fillings, and other sources.

  • Polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs), from legacy products and some current paints and dyes.

  • Polychlorinated dioxins and furans (PCDD/Fs), compounds formed during combustion.

  • The pesticide DDT (and its metabolites DDD and DDE).

  • Polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs) from petroleum, creosote, and wood combustion.

  • Bis(2-ethylhexyl) phthalate (DEHP), a plastic additive.

Petroleum-related compounds from motor oil drips and vehicle leaks account for slightly less than two-thirds of the total estimated initial release of petroleum-related compounds.

Other chemicals studied in the assessment, such as PBDEs and many that have yet to be studied, are also present at levels of concern, but hazard thresholds for most compounds are lacking (Department of Ecology).

the impact
Negative Effects

The Puget Sound Partnership has stated that inaction will: ultimately place a much higher burden on all of us – both economically, in health costs from exposure to toxic substances, and environmentally, in the loss of the stunning and vibrant life of Puget Sound, the economic engine for our state. Declines of fisheries, both commercial and recreational, have impacted all of Puget Sound. The alternative to the decentralized approaches of pollution and flood control like rain gardens and low impact development are expensive treatment plants like Brightwater ($2B) or allowing the Sound to die.

Economic Impact

The budget for the 2019-21 Biennium makes significant investments in critical environmental work. The operating budget includes new investments in clean energy, preventing and reducing toxic threats, and protecting and restoring Puget Sound, including $5.2 million in Puget Sound protection and recovery (Department of Ecology).

Success Metrics
  • Regulate expanded testing to include a new 'non-targeted' approach, where researchers screen samples from multiple regions of Puget Sound to look for other concerning chemicals.

  • Reduce and monitor the sources of toxic chemicals entering Puget Sound.

  • Further study how new and previously unstudied chemicals are effecting wildlife and human health in surrounding area.

  • Reduce dependency on toxic chemicals and transition companies to environment friendly alternatives at rate that would be environmentally impactful.

who benefits from solving this problem
Organization Types
  • Department of Ecology

  • Environmental Protection Agency

  • Washington State Government

  • Companies that benefit from or operate on the Puget Sound

  • Scientists/researchers

  • Washingtonians

  • Environmental Activists

financial insights
Current Funding

The Department of Ecology submits a budget every other year that proposes funding to address the growing need for Puget Sound Protection and Recovery.

Ideas Description

Local Strategies

South Central has identified two related local priority strategies: restoring Local Toxics Control Account funding under the Model Toxics Control Account (MTCA) and keeping toxics and excess nutrients out of waste streams. Skagit and Stillaguamish and Snohomish are also considering related local strategies (PSP).

Green Design

Governmental and non-governmental green chemistry and green design initiatives such as EPA’s Design for Environment Program help evaluate and promote products and process alternatives that are cost effective and safer for the environment (PSP).

Local Source Control Programs

Educate and assist small businesses with compliance with environmental laws and with preventing polluted runoff from entering Puget Sound and other water bodies (PSP).

Encourage companies to understand and regularly evaluate potential environmental threats, and improve where they can be more sustainable. Envirosite WorkBench combines years of environmental data expertise and innovation to provide you with a flexible web-based delivery platform that is dynamic, customizable, and with reporting available 24/7. WorkBench reports gather data from over 1,700 current databases to provide you with environmental data and reports all in one location.

Community Wildlife Habitat program

The future of Puget Sound's environmental landscape increasingly depends on the stewardship of community members. The National Wildlife Federation's Community Wildlife Habitat program addresses these concerns while promoting environmental stewardship, and engaging communities in activities that identify, restore, connect, and protect natural habitat areas that are critical to threatened fish and other wildlife populations.

The Puget Sound has an amazing diversity of habitats that support thousands of species of fish and wildlife. However, changes to the landscape and native habitat—primarily as a result of human activity—have put many of these species at risk. Home to already-imperiled salmon, orcas, and shorebirds, the Puget Sound could be further jeopardized by intensified storms, floods, drought, rising sea levels, and disappearing snowpack brought on by climate change. Such stressors point to the urgent need to restore and protect the land and waters of the Puget Sound (NWF).

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