Toxic Chemicals in Puget Sound photo identifier

Toxic Chemicals in Puget Sound


Everyone can take actions to reduce toxic threats in Puget Sound including Ecology, businesses, community groups, individuals, and federal, state, and local governments. Three key ways to reduce toxic threats are:

  1. Avoid using toxic chemicals in the first place—prevention is the smartest, cheapest, and healthiest approach to reduce the release of toxic chemicals.
  2. Reduce releases by helping people and businesses limit or manage the amount of toxic chemicals that enter the environment.
  3. Clean up contamination after toxics have polluted our air, land, and water. Cleanup is the most costly solution, but it is also necessary where contamination has occurred.

The best way to reduce toxic threats is to prevent contamination in the first place by limiting the many sources of toxic chemicals.

What Ecology is doing

Ecology is working on an array of projects to prevent contamination from toxic chemicals in Puget Sound and around Washington. For example, Ecology is working to carry out laws passed recently by the Washington State Legislature to:

Ecology’s Reducing Toxic Threats initiative focuses on prevention strategies including stronger policies at the state and federal level to protect the environment and consumers against toxic chemical risks. The initiative is also helping businesses avoid toxic chemicals and reduce releases, which protects both Puget Sound and worker health.

The department also is engaged in a number of other activities to reduce, control, and prevent toxic chemical pollution to Puget Sound.

Local Source Control
The local source control partnership focuses directly on assisting small businesses to prevent polluted surface water runoff from entering Puget Sound. The source control specialists work with local jurisdictions to address possible causes of pollution at the source of use. This approach is expected to save businesses money while protecting our state’s water quality. In Puget Sound, Ecology has provided funding to several cities and counties.

Seattle Public Utilities (SPU) and Ecology will coordinate hands-on workshops in and around Seattle addressing vehicle leaks. In 2012 and 2013, there will be about 100 workshops where participants learn how to detect oil and other fluid leaks, identify the sources of the leaks, repair common minor leaks, clean up spills, and properly dispose of auto fluids. SPU and Ecology will conduct post-workshop surveys to assess behavior change.

Pesticide Use Survey

Pesticides cause problems  when they reach water bodies they. The Toxics Assessment found that urban pesticide use was the leading source of copper. The Washington State Department of Agriculture (WSDA) will conduct a survey of typical urban pesticide use. WSDA will mail surveys to homeowners and complete in-person surveys of commercial and public applicators. Results will drive future education and outreach efforts.

Chemical Action Plans

These comprehensive plans identify, characterize, and evaluate all uses and releases of toxic metals, a specific toxic pollutant, or group of toxic chemicals. A chemical action plan is not legislation or state rule. Rather, an action plan recommends actions to protect human health and the environment. Ecology develops each chemical action plan in collaboration with other agencies and experts representing various business, agricultural and advocacy sectors. Action plans have been finalized for mercury, polybrominated diphenyl ethers (PBDEs), and lead. Ecology is currently developing a chemical action plan for polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs).

Creosote Piling Removals

Creosote pilings were identified as one of the leading sources of polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbon (PAH) pollution in Puget Sound. The Washington Department of Natural Resources is receiving a grant from Ecology to remove up to 400 derelict pilings from Hood Canal, which includes an abandoned railroad trestle in Quilcene Bay. In addition, Pierce County is receiving a grant to remove about 120 pilings along the shoreline of Chambers Creek.

Landscaper Accreditation Program

Ecology is funding a Landscaper Accreditation Program to reduce toxic chemicals and other pollutants from reaching Puget Sound. Currently, there are not enough land care professionals with practical knowledge about green infrastructure, restoration horticulture, and other sustainable practices. This program will help create a green sector of professionals focused on sustainable land care.

Roofing Materials Task Force

The Assessment identified roofing materials as a potential source of arsenic, cadmium, copper, zinc, and phthalates released to the Puget Sound basin. More studies will be needed to confirm that roofing materials are a significant source and if other pollutants also are involved. Ecology is engaging roofing manufacturers and installers about what current science does and does not tell us, why roofing materials are a concern, and how we are approaching information-gathering.

Sediment Phthalates Work Group

Stimulated by phthalate recontamination at sediment cleanup sites, the cities of Tacoma and Seattle, King County, Ecology and EPA voluntarily came together in 2006 to form the Sediment Phthalates Work Group. For 10 months, the work group met to better understand how phthalates are reaching Puget Sound sediments and related impacts to humans and animals. The group found that the largest source of phthalates reaching Puget Sound sediments comes when the toxic chemicals off-gas from plasticized PVC materials. They developed a summary of findings and recommendations in 2007.

Ecology also has established:

To reduce polluted surface water runoff, Ecology has also proposed changes to municipal stormwater permits. One of these changes would require the use of low impact development (LID), where feasible. LID mimics the natural environment so water can be taken up by trees or soak into the ground, reducing runoff. Other proposed permit changes would increase water quality monitoring and require more sites to reduce polluted surface water runoff.

Ecology also has made significant progress in reducing harmful wood smoke and vehicle emissions.

What you can do

We can all be part of the solution by:

  • Driving less. Vehicles are a major source of toxic chemicals from tailpipe emissions, brake pad and tire dust, and fluid leaks and drips.
  • Making informed choices about the products we use every day in our homes and gardens. Avoiding use of toxic chemicals is the best way to protect the health of Puget Sound, ourselves, and our families.
  • Keeping pollutants out of storm drains. Most water that enters storm drains flows directly and untreated to local lakes, rivers, streams, and eventually Puget Sound.

We can also actively support community organizations that work to clean up our waters and insist that our elected leaders make reducing toxic threats a priority. Find more tips about how you can help on Ecology’s Washington Waters - Ours to Protect website and on the Puget Sound Partnership’s site, Puget Sound Starts Here.

For more information, see the Potential Actions

Assessment of Selected Toxic Chemicals in the Puget Sound Basin

Assessment of Selected Toxic Chemicals in the Puget Sound Basin: 2007—2011

Focus on Puget Sound: Puget Sound Toxics Assessment

Frequently Asked Questions