Wednesday, June 10, 2009

When the Rain Came

For most of us in Eastern Washington a rainstorm means a nice cool drink for our lawns and gardens. For pollution detectives Ted Hamlin and Arianne Fernandez, the rain sets them into motion. They need samples. Hopping into their mobile lab they head into the storm, collecting water from storm drains. They’re looking for toxic chemical hot spots resulting from our urban environment.

As members of Ecology’s Spokane Urban Waters team, Ted and Arianne are trying to figure out where the toxic chemicals are coming from that pollute our lakes, creeks, rivers and streams. When rainwater hits hard surfaces like rooftops, parking lots, and roadways it washes into nearby ditches, swales, and storm drains. It’s not just rainwater, though; the water picks up a variety of pollutants on the way. In Spokane, this stormwater is funneled through an underground system of pipes that include storm systems, sanitary sewer, and Combined Sewer Overflow (CSO). This matrix of pipes allows our team to target specific areas within our urban environment while sampling.

The Spokane team isn’t just looking for anything. They’re trying to pinpoint the source of some of the most worrisome pollutants in the river: lead and other heavy metals; polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs); PBDEs (or fire retardants); dioxins and furans. Some of the pollution is a legacy of historic land use practices, others are chemicals found in consumer products, and others are commonly used in business or industry today.

Rain dances are not the only thing in the team’s repertoire. Together with Spokane Regional Health District’s local source control specialists, they’re helping local businesses to prevent hazardous chemicals from making their way into the river.

So if you see Arianne and Ted out sampling in the rain or working with businesses in your neighborhood remember these pollution detectives are working to improve our river and our community.

The Spokane River Urban Waters Initiative is just one way we are
Reducing Toxic Threats in Washington State.

For more information on other environmental improvements in the Spokane region visit our Spokane River page.

You can see an animation of a CSO system at the City of Bremerton’s CSO’s explained webpage.

Ecology's Urban Waters Team deploys
the mobile lab to sample stormwater
and sediments and perform site visits with
local businesses.

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