Monday, September 28, 2009

What are Elliott Bay sediments telling us?

Photo of Ecology crew on Elliot Bay taking sediment samples

We have a health checkup of sediments in Puget Sound’s Elliott Bay. It shows a glimmer of success in the heart of Puget Sound. Our news about this work is getting some traction with a few Puget Sound media outlets.

The just-out science shows that levels of toxic chemicals in Elliott Bay sediment — including mercury, lead, tin, PAHs and PCBs — are decreasing. Plasticizers (phthalates) and zinc are increasing. Fish tumors are declining in English sole, however these same fish are experiencing other, different health problems.

We are seeing healthier populations of benthic invertebrates, the tiny life that lives in the sediment.

What can we think of all of this variety of news? Is our environmental cleanup, source-control, permitting, inspections helping? Are we doing enough of the right things to save Puget Sound?

After the news hit the Internet today, Jay Manning, Ecology’s director emailed all Ecology staff to say: “We have more to do, without a doubt, and we will never be done, but I think it is so important that we all take a moment to savor a significant accomplishment, to realize a return on investment and to recognize the efforts of our staff and other contributors to the massive effort of restoring Puget Sound. I encourage you to share this information with others. Environmental protection is difficult work. Restoration is even harder. But it is happening in Elliott Bay, and if we can do it there, we can do it across the rest of Puget Sound.”

Through the Urban Waters Initiative, several of Ecology’s programs have aligned their source control and cleanup efforts in Elliott Bay/lower Duwamish and Commencement Bay to reduce toxic chemical pollution from stormwater runoff and other sources. These actions are meant to reduce toxics entering the bays and prevent re-contamination of sediments at sites that have been cleaned up or are in the process of being cleaned up.

Ecology′s Environmental Assessment Program is supporting the initiative by assessing marine sediment quality throughout urban bays in Puget Sound, beginning with Elliott Bay and adjoining waterways of the lower Duwamish River in 2007.

That’s what this new study is about.

These bay-scale assessments assist environmental managers in determining whether collective localized cleanups and source control improve conditions over a wider area.

Efforts to reduce toxic chemicals in the environment are important because some chemicals persist in the environment long after they are released, build up in the food chain and can affect the health of fish, sea mammals and bottom-dwelling creatures.

So why does this matter?

Changes in sediment health provide us clues about whether environmental regulation, source control, or localized cleanup efforts have created bay-wide improvements. While some sediment contaminants are declining in Elliott Bay other levels of contaminants have remained the same or have increased despite our efforts to reduce them

We have more difficult work ahead to control the sources of contaminants that are increasing, such as plasticizers and zinc. This baseline work helps us learn if our strategies are working and what future investments we need to make to restore and protect Puget Sound

See the news release: Elliott Bay sediment check-up shows progress (9/25/09)

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