Thursday, March 22, 2012

Around the Sound: Port Angeles Harbor open house recap

By Hannah Aoyagi, Public Involvement Coordinator, Toxics Cleanup Program

graphic by Hannah Aoyagi
graphic by Hannah Aoyagi
Last week, Ecology’s Port Angeles cleanup team held an open house to share the results of a major study of contamination in Port Angeles Harbor. Project manager Connie Groven presented the main findings of the study, condensing over 1,000 pages of reports into one slide show (available in PDF or PowerPoint).

The audience asked a number of questions about the results and how the study was done. They also raised some concerns over who would pay for cleanup and whether the harbor would be recontaminated by continuing sources of pollution. These are some of the major questions that came up...

Why is wood debris a problem in the harbor and how much is there?

Wood debris from log rafting, pulping, and other activities cover about 25% of the harbor bottom. We do not know the average depth of woodwaste and cannot estimate a total volume. What we do know is that wood debris degrades habitat for bottom-dwelling creatures, and decomposition releases sulfides and ammonias, which can further harm them.

Who will pay for harbor cleanup?

The parties responsible for the contamination—we refer to them as Potentially Liable Persons, or PLPs—must pay for the cleanup.

What is Ecology going to do to prevent recontamination after the harbor is cleaned up?

One of the three main recommendations of the study is to do “source control.” This means identifying possible sources of recontamination and finding ways to prevent those pollutants from reaching Port Angeles Harbor. We don’t have all the answers yet, but source control will be one of our major goals for cleanup.

Will biomass burning proposed at the Nippon Paper Industries USA plant recontaminate harbor sediments with dioxins?

Past sources produced far more pollution than modern, regulated biomass cogeneration plants, which must meet federal health standards for air emissions. Before the 1970s, air and water pollution were not regulated, so untreated wastewater and boiler ash deposited dioxins directly into the harbor. Also, facilities like the Rayonier Mill burned salt-laden wood, which produced much higher levels of airborne dioxin.

It took decades for contaminants to build up in the sediments to their current level. Several of the sources that produced the contamination found in harbor sediments no longer exist. Remaining sources are regulated in a manner that is much more protective of human health than in the past.

More information on biomass burning

Reminder: The comment period for the Port Angeles Harbor Sediments Investigation reports runs through May 22nd!

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