Toxic contaminants have been released into the Puget Sound and its watersheds for decades by human activities. Concern over the possible harmful effects of these pollutants in the ecosystem led to the creation of Washington’s Pollution Control Commission in 1945, almost 30 years before the federal Clean Water Act. The Puget Sound Water Quality Authority was established in 1985 to address pressing water quality issues, and by 1989 monitoring and assessment of water quality in Puget Sound had begun with the Puget Sound Ambient Monitoring Program (PSAMP). Scientists continue to monitor a variety of toxic contaminants in Puget Sound ranging from persistent contaminants such as PCBs and flame retardants to lesser known Contaminants of Emerging Concern.
-- Source: Puget Sound Science Review
The Toxics in Fish Implementation Strategy is a recovery plan that will guide funding and activities to reduce the impacts of toxics contaminants on marine fish and the humans that consume them. A final version of the plan was published in May 2021.
A 2019 report from the Puget Sound Ecosystem Monitoring Program presents an overview of selected recent monitoring and research activities focused on toxic contaminants in the Salish Sea.
A 2017 report from the Puget Sound Ecosystem Monitoring Program presents an overview of selected recent monitoring and research activities focused on toxic contaminants in the Salish Sea.
The Lower Duwamish Waterway in Puget Sound was designated a Superfund cleanup site in 2001. Its legacy of contamination predates World War II and the waterway continues to pollute Puget Sound through stormwater runoff.
In the 1970s and 1980s, research from a division of NOAA's Montlake Lab suddenly and irreversibly changed the way scientists and the public viewed the health of Puget Sound. Their discoveries of industrial toxics in the region's sediment-dwelling fish led to the creation of two Superfund sites, and new approaches to ecosystem management across the Sound. The man at the forefront of this research was Dr. Donald Malins, featured here as part of the Puget Sound Voices series.
Researchers are looking at the forces of discrimination that worsen the environmental health risks for some communities.
Years of struggle have led to reduced pollution and a stronger sense of community in the Duwamish Valley. As cleanup efforts there continue, environmental justice has come front and center for the area's diverse populations.
An update to state rules regarding the cleanup of toxic pollution is expected to bring more attention to factors like race, ethnicity and income within populations that live near contaminated sites.
The search for why large numbers of spawning coho salmon have been dying in Puget Sound's urban streams goes as far back as the 1980s and culminated this year with the discovery of a previously unidentified chemical related to automobile tires. We offer a detailed timeline for the discovery.
Environmental engineers and chemists at the University of Washington Tacoma have identified a mysterious compound implicated in the deaths of large numbers of coho salmon in Puget Sound. The chemical is linked with a rubber additive commonly used in tires and is thought to kill more than half of the spawning coho that enter the region's urban streams every year.
Modern automobile tires are a complex mixture of chemicals, all used together in different ways to give tires their structure and properties, including riding comfort, safety and long life. Chemicals from tire wear particles are now thought to be responsible for the deaths of large numbers of coho salmon returning to spawn in Puget Sound streams.
Many creeks and waterbodies in Puget Sound may look pristine, but most face serious threats from stormwater pollution. A new study at Soos Creek shows how mud-dwelling bugs, traditional chemistry and digital "heatmaps" can be used to track stormwater impacts and identify the most polluted areas. Scientists and planners hope that this may one day lower the price tag on costly stormwater fixes.
High levels of mercury and other toxic chemicals are showing up in seemingly remote and pristine parts of the Puget Sound watershed, the result of atmospheric deposition. Scientists talk about a “dome” of pollution hanging over urban areas, leading to a never-ending cycle of persistent compounds working their way through the air, onto the land and into the water.
A 2019 article in the Journal of Wildlife Diseases looked at trace element concentrations of heavy metals in the livers of harbor seals that died and stranded in the San Juan Islands. The study indicated exposure to trace elements (naturally occurring, human-introduced, or both) in the Salish Sea; however, the study reports that trace element toxicity is not a major threat to harbor seal health.
The federal Clean Water Act of 1972 was designed as a logical step-by-step approach to clean up the nation's waterways. Most people acknowledge that the law has been effective in reducing pollution, but industrial and environment groups tend to be on opposite sides when discussing whether regulations and permits adequately protect water quality. These 10 elements of the Clean Water Act (CWA) focus on how the law applies to Puget Sound.
Chemicals, disease and other stressors can increase a salmon's chance of being eaten or reduce its ability to catch food. We wrap up our series on the Salish Sea Marine Survival Project with a look at some of the lesser-known, but still significant factors contributing to salmon declines in the Salish Sea.
Researchers are analyzing the harmful effects of creosote-treated wood pilings on Pacific herring and shellfish in Puget Sound. Studies show that piling removal projects can ease the impacts, but only if carefully done.
Pacific herring exposed to stormwater in Puget Sound show some of the same effects as fish exposed to major oil spills. Symptoms include heart and developmental problems.
State agencies tracking pollution levels in Puget Sound have discovered traces of oxycodone in the tissues of native bay mussels (Mytilus trossulus) from Seattle and Bremerton area harbors. The findings were presented at the 2018 Salish Sea Ecosystem Conference in Seattle.
Sediment Quality in Puget Sound: Changes in chemical contaminants and invertebrate communities at 10 sentinel stations, 1989–2015
A 2018 report from the Washington State Department of Ecology presents results from 27 years of sampling sediments and benthic invertebrates at 10 long-term stations throughout the greater Puget Sound area every year from 1989 through 2015.
Researchers are trying to determine which chemicals in stormwater are contributing to the deaths of large numbers of coho salmon in Puget Sound. It has prompted a larger question: What exactly is in stormwater, anyway?
A 2017 report from the University of Washington summarizes current scientific knowledge on chemical oil spill dispersants and their potential impacts on shoreline habitats in San Juan County, Washington.
Formaldehyde is often used to control parasites on hatchery salmon and trout. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and the Washington State Department of Ecology conducted a joint study of formaldehyde concentrations in effluent from hatcheries in the Pacific Northwest.
A new study shows a surprising decline in some toxic chemicals in Puget Sound fish, while levels of PCBs increased in some cases. Scientists say the study shows that banning toxic chemicals can work, but old contaminants remain a challenge as they continue to wash into Puget Sound.
The Puget Sound Ecosystem Monitoring Program (PSEMP) is an independent program established by state and federal statute to monitor environmental conditions in Puget Sound.
New EPA-funded Implementation Strategies are designed to target Puget Sound recovery in the most direct and coordinated way ever conducted by state and federal agencies. We report on how these strategies will affect Puget Sound’s Vital Signs for years to come, and why you should care (a lot).
Drugs like Prozac and cocaine have been showing up in the region’s salmon. But these are just some of the potentially thousands of different man-made chemicals that escape into the Salish Sea every day, from pharmaceuticals to industrial compounds. Now the race is on to identify which ones pose the greatest dangers.
Efforts to reduce fire hazards over a half century ago have left an unintended trail of persistent environmental contaminants from flame retardant chemicals known as PBDEs. Bans and substitutes are still evolving.
New federal legislation, approved overwhelmingly by the U.S. Congress in December 2015 and signed into law by President Obama in June 2016, is designed to make sure that people and the environment are not harmed by new and old chemicals on the market.
Scientists are testing ways to use transplanted shellfish such as mussels to monitor toxic contaminants in Puget Sound.
Many of Puget Sound's Chinook salmon spend their entire lives in local waters and don't migrate to the open ocean. These fish tend to collect more contaminants in their bodies because of the sound's relatively high levels of pollution.
Researchers are proposing a shift in thinking about how some of the region’s most damaging pollutants enter Puget Sound species like herring, salmon and orcas.
Researchers are studying how persistent pollutants such as PCBs avoid settling to the bottom of Puget Sound. This article continues our coverage of new theories on the spread of toxic chemicals in the food web.
A 2016 paper in Environmental Pollution identifies dozens of pharmaceuticals and other compounds that are accumulating in Puget Sound fish such as salmon.
Runoff from rain and melting snow is one of the leading causes of pollution in Puget Sound. Here are selected facts related to stormwater, its prevalence, how it affects the Puget Sound ecosystem, and its environmental and economic impacts.
Contaminants of Emerging Concern (CECs) range from pharmaceuticals, personal care products and food additives to compounds used in industrial and commercial applications. These compounds are not typically removed from wastewater and are flushed into waterways throughout the world in significant amounts. This article describes how scientists are measuring the presence of these contaminants along with their potential impacts in Puget Sound, the Columbia River and elsewhere.
The Puget Sound Ecosystem Monitoring Program (PSEMP), along with partners from the US EPA Columbia River Program and USGS Oregon Water Science Center, have developed a framework for prioritizing monitoring of Contaminants of Emerging Concern (CECs) in the Pacific Northwest.
How does one of the West's busiest airports deal with extreme stormwater, and what does that mean for water quality standards in the rest of the state?
New research presented at the 2014 Salish Sea Ecosystem Conference shows that some of the greatest dangers to Puget Sound marine life come from our common, everyday activities. These pervasive sources of pollution are so woven into our lives that they are almost invisible to us, but it’s becoming impossible to ignore their effects.
Thousands of different compounds are produced and used as part of our daily lives. Examples include pharmaceuticals (NSAIDs, birth control pills, etc), personal care products (sun screen agents, scents, preservatives, etc), food additives (artificial sweeteners) and compounds used in industrial and commercial applications (flame retardants, antibiotics, etc). Advances in analytical methods have allowed the detection of many of these compounds in the environment.
The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency Region 10 and the National Marine Fisheries Service Northwest Region have released a report describing results from a series of technical workgroups about the potential effects of polybrominated diphenyl ethers (PBDEs) on Puget Sound and Southern Resident killer whales.
Scientists are using computer models to address complex issues in the Salish Sea like the rise of harmful algal blooms and the movement of toxic PCBs. LiveOcean, Atlantis and the Salish Sea Model are three systems that are changing the game for ecologists and other researchers.