Water Quality Improvement Project
Spokane River Area:
PCBs

Introduction

The Spokane River and Lake Spokane violate the water quality standards for the presence of polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs) in several segments. These segments are on the state Water Quality Assessment (303[d]) list of impaired water bodies.

The Spokane River contains elevated levels of polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs) in surface water, sediments, fish tissue, and in effluents being discharged to the river. The Washington State Department of Ecology (Ecology) first documented PCB contamination in fish tissue two decades ago, and numerous investigations by Ecology and others have been conducted to evaluate the extent of the contamination.

 In 2009, the Washington State Departments of Health and Ecology issued a revised Health Advisory for Spokane River Fish Consumption. Please see the health advisory for more information on preferred fish to be eaten, proper amounts, and proper preparation methods. In addition, please refer to the Washington State Department of Fish and Wildlife fishing regulations along the river. Certain segments of the river are designated catch and release only.

The Spokane Tribe of Indians have water quality standards for PCBs in the Spokane River below Lake Spokane (also known as the Spokane Arm of Lake Roosevelt) that are more than 95% lower than Federal standards, based on a higher fish consumption rate.

To learn more about PCBs and their health effects, please see the Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry’s (ATSDR) fact sheet. (http://www.atsdr.cdc.gov/tfacts17.html)

Why this matters

Polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs) can be toxic to fish and wildlife that live in or use a contaminated water body. In the past, PCBs were used as coolants and lubricants in electrical equipment, such as transformers and capacitors. In 1977 the United States banned the commercial manufacture of PCBs  because they build up in the environment and can be harmful to humans and wildlife. Certain PCBs continue to be inadvertently produced as by-products in some manufacturing processes, such as the production of pigments. These PCBs can be present in consumer products and can be subsequently introduced into the environment through everyday use. PCB exposure can occur if you:

  • Eat food, including fish, meat, and dairy products that is contaminated by PCBs.
  • Drink PCB-contaminated water.
  • Breathe air near hazardous waste sites that contain PCBs.

Status of the project

In May 2011 Ecology completed a PCB Source Assessment Study. This document, originally published as a draft PCB total maximum daily load (TMDL), provides the technical underpinnings for a PCB reduction strategy. Rather than develop a TMDL for PCBs, Ecology is pursuing direct actions to lower PCB loading into the Spokane River. Because establishing a TMDL with wasteload allocations can take many generations to meet and may take a decade or more to establish, Ecology feels that taking steps to reduce toxics immediately is more effective at achieving the desired water quality goal. This direct-to-implementation strategy, a component in the overall Toxics Reduction Strategy for the Spokane River, will in part require emphasis on identifying and reducing PCBs at their source(s) in the watershed.

In January 2012 the collaborative Spokane River Regional Toxics Task Force (SRRTTF) was established to “characterize the sources of toxics in the Spokane River and identify and implement appropriate actions needed to make measurable progress towards meeting applicable water quality standards for the state of Washington, state of Idaho, and The Spokane Tribe of Indians, and in the interests of public and environmental health.” The Task Force’s unique approach towards reducing toxic compounds is intended to result in more effective and immediate improvements to water quality. The SRRTTF activities include:

  • Developing technical studies needed to understand identify the sources of toxics.
  • A public education and engagement component to advance the region-wide understanding of toxics issues.
  • A best management practices implementation plan.
  • A long-term monitoring plan.
  • Recommendations for the development of a Spokane River toxics point and non-point source reduction plan.

Funding is provided from a combination of private and public sources.

In the summer and fall of 2011 NPDES permits were issued for all Washington wastewater dischargers, including the new Spokane County wastewater treatment facility. These permits require that performance-based PCB limits be established within the first permit cycle and require participation in the regional task force. NPDES permits for all Idaho wastewater dischargers are expected to be issued in early 2013.

If Ecology determines that the Task Force is failing to make measurable progress toward meeting applicable water quality criteria for PCBs, Ecology would be obligated to proceed with the development of a TMDL in the Spokane River for PCBs, or determine an alternative to ensure water quality standards are met.

Please check this web page for opportunities to learn more and get involved.

Technical information

Note: unless otherwise specified, the following documents are Ecology publications.

Spokane River PCB Source Assessment, 2003-2007
https://fortress.wa.gov/ecy/publications/SummaryPages/1103013.html

PCBs, PBDEs, and Selected Metals in Spokane River Fish, 2005
https://fortress.wa.gov/ecy/publications/SummaryPages/0603025.html

Spokane River PCB TMDL Stormwater Loading Analysis: Final Technical Report (EPA-commissioned report)
https://fortress.wa.gov/ecy/publications/SummaryPages/0703055.html

Quality Assurance Project Plan: Total Maximum Daily Load Study for PCBs in the Spokane River
https://fortress.wa.gov/ecy/publications/SummaryPages/0303107.html

Spokane Tribe of Indians Water Quality Standards (Spokane Tribe of Indians publication)
www.spokanetribe.com/upload/FCKeditor/Final%20Revised%20Water%20Quality%20Standards.pdf 

Liberty Lake Source Trace Study Regarding PCB, PBDE, Metals, and Dioxin/Furan - A pilot project for Spokane Basin Source Tracing
https://fortress.wa.gov/ecy/publications/SummaryPages/1004027.html

Spokane River Urban Waters Source Investigation and Data Analysis Progress Report
https://fortress.wa.gov/ecy/publications/SummaryPages/1204025.html

 

Related information

Spokane River Toxics Reduction Strategy
https://fortress.wa.gov/ecy/publications/SummaryPages/1110038.html

Dissolved Metals TMDL Report
https://fortress.wa.gov/ecy/publications/SummaryPages/9949.html

Toxic Cleanup Program's Site Information for the Spokane River
www.ecy.wa.gov/programs/tcp/sites/spo_riv/spo_riv.htm
Includes cleanup efforts associated with PCB-contaminated sediments.

Washington Department of Health Publications:

WRIA 57: Middle Spokane Watershed Information (Environmental Assessment Program web site)
www.ecy.wa.gov/apps/watersheds/wriapages/57.html

 

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Last updated December 2012
  Water resource inventory area (WRIA) 57 map, Washington State.

PROJECT INFO

Location:
WRIA: #57 (Middle Spokane)
County: Spokane

Water-body Names:
Spokane River
Lake Spokane

Parameters:
PCBs

# of TMDLs: ---

Status:
Under development as a direct-to-implementation project

Contact Info:
Adriane Borgias
Phone: 509-329-3515
Email: Adriane.Borgias@ecy.wa.gov

Eastern Region
Department of Ecology
4601 N Monroe Street
Spokane, WA 99205-1295