Early Spokanites used the Spokane River as a sewer and even a garbage dump - rendering the water undrinkable. After decades of work and hundreds of millions of dollars, the rivers health is improving.
Early Spokanites used the Spokane River as a sewer and even a garbage dump - rendering the water undrinkable. After decades of work and hundreds of millions of dollars, the rivers health is improving.
I entered 35 W Main with the goal of acquiring some of the “real-world experience” that employers and graduate school admissions offices are always asking for. Though many undergraduate interns make copies and get coffee, at the Riverkeeper I worked on projects alongside Jerry and Jule that allowed me to engage with the Spokane River firsthand.
The Spokane Riverkeeper, along with the North Sound Baykeeper, and others floated Hangman Creek from Tensed, Idaho to Kentuck Trails Road in Washington, Coeur d’Alene on Earth Day Weekend 2017. Along the way we encountered great beauty, incredible restoration efforts, and vast pollution problems.
During the summer of 2016, the Spokane Riverkeeper monitored water temperature in the Spokane River and Hangman Creek. The study was conducted to examine which areas of the watershed may contain unsuitable water temperatures for native Redband Trout and exceed Washington State's water temperature standards of64F (18C). Not surprisingly, much of the Hangman Creek main stem and the Spokane River above Sullivan Road exceeded these temperatures. Surprisingly, many tributaries of Hangman Creek were much cooler than expected. Warning: This is a graph heavy post, but we wanted to get the data out there and will be following up with an in-depth report soon.
Spokane Riverkeeper has been hard at work over the past few months putting together comments (see link at bottom) on draft National Pollution Discharge Elimination System (NPDES) Permits for three dischargers on the Spokane River – City of Liberty Lake Waste Water Treatment Plant (WWTP), City of Spokane WWTP and Polychlorinated Biphenyls (PCBs), and Kaiser Aluminum, LLC. Our comments on these permits reflect the need for strong limits on pollutants entering our river.
A few weeks ago, we had the privilege of touring a Combined Sewage Overflow (CSO) tank currently being constructed underneath Pettit Drive (better known as Doomsday Hill). The City’s investment in multiple tanks similar to the one pictured below is preventing millions of gallons of combined sewage and stormwater overflow from ending up in our river. This project and ones like it are great news for the health of the Spokane
Rachel Fricke, a Spokane native who comes to us from the University of Southern California, is our Fall Intern. Below, she discusses our recent summer temperature findings.
For the past month, I’ve had the pleasure of running around the Spokane River watershed collecting and recording data from temperature loggers that were placed back in June. Why does Riverkeeper care about temperature? Though temperature is not a physical or chemical pollutant, it has a direct impact on the organisms inhabiting our river and its tributaries.
The majority of freshwater-dwellers are cold-blooded, meaning their internal body temperature aligns with the temperature of their external environment. Should these organism’s internal temperatures become too hot, their cells begin to die, eventually causing mortality. Redband trout, a prominent species in the Spokane River ecosystem, live and spawn at an optimum temperature of 57.2° F. They can withstand temperature variances of a few degrees, but will not occupy regions where water temperature is significantly higher than optimum.
Our summer loggers from the Spokane River showed that temperatures reached their highest (~83° F) at the Harvard and Barker Road bridge crossings. This makes sense because these locations are upriver from where groundwater from the aquifer – which is cooler than surface water – begins feeding into the river. Further downriver at TJ Meenach we recorded a high of 63°F – a habitable temperature for Redband.
On Hangman Creek, our loggers recorded significantly elevated temperatures. At the mouth, where Hangman flows into the Spokane, temperatures peaked at 79° F. Just downstream from Tekoa at Waverly we recorded our highest water temperatures from the entire watershed – a whopping 84° F.
Hangman’s banks in this region have little to no riparian cover, also referred to as streamside forestation. Plant growth alongside streams is essential for healthy stream temperatures as it shades creek water. Hangman Creek’s current conditions in the Waverly area leave creek water directly exposed to the Palouse’s intense summer sun and heat, resulting in heightened water temperatures.
Check back within the coming weeks for a comprehensive report of this year’s temperature and water quality data. For more information on Redband trout, the Western Native Trout Initiative is a great reference.
Will Tender, a student at Redlands College, interned for us this summer. He volunteered his time hauling heavy loads of garbage and helping with our water quality monitoring program. I asked him to write a short summary of what he did this summer (that's him in the blue PFD). This summer I was given the opportunity to be an intern for the Spokane Riverkeeper. Throughout the experience I learned a lot about the Spokane River and Watershed. Pretty much every day I was in the field, working right beside the river. We rafted the river about once a week picking up several hundreds of pounds of garbage each day. Days we didn’t raft we would take groups out alongside the shore to pick up trash, go on water quality runs, place temperature loggers into the Watershed to help monitor the health of various spots on the river, as well as a variety of other tasks.
Rafting at least once a week for 3 months gives you a newfound respect and appreciation for the river. It really showed me that preservation should be taken very seriously, as something so beautiful and natural should be protected from industrialization and unnecessary pollution.
The other aspect of this experience that really altered my views was how the Riverkeeper wants people to use the river. Initially, when I began this experience I wasn’t sure the program’s stance on public usage. I thought that public usage was potentially a primary source of pollution. I came to find out that a good deal of the frequent rafters and tubers are very respectful of the river and strive to protect it. A really cool aspect of the Riverkeeper is how supportive they are of the public users, and how the program not only supports, but encourages everyone to experience the river.
Overall this opportunity opened my eyes to what goes into monitoring and protecting nature as a whole. There are so many different components that need to be addressed, and so many different players that need to be factored into the equation. This internship has been a real mentality changing experience, and I am grateful for the opportunity.
Here is our most recent Justice Lunchbox featuring Jerry White, Spokane Riverkeeper discussing the work he and Jule Schultz do regarding nonpoint source pollution on Hangman Creek and other Spokane River tributaries.
Spokane City Council takes the Courageous Stand to Call for Stop to Oil Train Traffic over our Spokane River and through Spokane, WA
This past Monday, Jerry White, our Spokane Riverkeeper, gave testimony at the Spokane City Council meeting regarding a resolution (2016-0056) in response to the recent oil train derailment and fire in Mosier, Oregon. The resolution was passed and can be read in full below. Last Friday, 16 cars from a 96-car train transporting highly flammable Bakken crude oil derailed in the Columbia River Gorge city of Mosier, Oregon. Four of the cars then caught fire sending massive amounts of smoke into the air. About a quarter of Mosier residents were evacuated, as well as 100 students from the local school that stands only 200 feet from the site of the flaming oil. Union Pacific Railroad and the city of Mosier agree that the damage from the crash could have been even more catastrophic if the wind speed had been at the usual 25 mile per hour rate that afternoon.
Jerry began his testimony by explaining that the Union Pacific Railroad has “pushed aside the derailed oil tanker cars and begun running train traffic while the burnt cars continue to smolder.” Voicing his grave concern for this reckless and unacceptable behavior, he continued to explain that the evacuated families had not yet returned home and measures had not yet been taken to clean up the spill when Union Pacific made this decision. In conclusion Jerry made clear that “the Spokane Riverkeeper stands with the city of Mosier and their Columbia River, and supports their request for a temporary halt in train traffic.” As a community voice for the river, Jerry and all of us here at the Center for Justice support this resolution and find it to be a reasonable short term response to an industry that appears to be out of control and out of touch with the norms of corporate and community responsibility.
In the end, the Spokane City Council, under the leadership of City Council President Ben Stuckart, took a courageous stance and passed Resolution 2016-0056, calling for the halt to oil train traffic through our city and over our river. We thank them for their leadership and vision in the face of this issue.
Read Jerry’s full testimony below:
"It has come to our attention that in Mosier, Oregon the Union Pacific Railroad has now pushed has aside the derailed oil tanker cars and begun running train traffic while the burnt cars still smoulder. This is happening before many evacuated families have even returned to their homes. We know that oil reached the river, leaving state officials to initiate clean-up efforts. This reeks of a “business as usual” ethos on the part of Union Pacific that is absolutely unacceptable. This is particularly outrageous in light of the fact that we do yet understand the nature of the derailment. The Spokane Riverkeeper stands with the city Mosier and their Columbia River, and supports their request for a temporary halt in train traffic. Under 49 U.S.C. 5121(d), the United States Department of Transportation has the authority to declare an emergency prohibition of future oil train shipments through Mosier until it is proven to be safe for renewed rail traffic. We understand that Oregon’s Senators Jeff Merkley and Ron Wyden, Governor Kate Brown and Representatives Earl Blumenauer and Suzanne Bonamici released the following statement today calling for a temporary halt to oil train traffic in Columbia River Gorge Saying that, and I Quote, “They (the people of Mosier, Oregon) deserve to know that the causes of this derailment have been both identified and fixed, and there should be a moratorium on oil train traffic until they get those explanations and assurances” This terrifying incident is a mere warning of the catastrophic risks that huge segments of our community have been demanding action on for months. In light of proposed oil by rail facilities on Washington’s West side, Spokane will continue to bare the risk of oil fires in our river, spills in our community, in our river and over our drinking water. We bare the risk while the Union Pacific and Burlington Northern Santa Fe Railroads reap the profits of this traffic. This is in, and of itself, is outrageous. As a community voice for the river, I absolutely support this resolution which is a sane and reasonable short term response to an industry that appears to be out of control and out of touch with the norms of corporate and community responsibility."
Find the full resolution by City Council in the link below:
For additional information on the train derailment, check out these links:
Spokane Riverkeeper is dedicated to protecting and restoring the health of the Spokane River Watershed. The Spokane Riverkeeper River Partners Program celebrates the value added to our community and economy by the Spokane River. Quality of life and the health of the economy and local businesses are related to the health of the environment. The River Partners Program provides an opportunity for businesses to become involved with the Riverkeeper program and increases the community awareness of the integral role of the Spokane River to our city. The program helps broaden and diversify the support base for Spokane Riverkeeper and creates an attitude of community stewardship towards the Spokane River. Businesses who join the Spokane Riverkeeper River Partners Program sign a pledge agreeing to the following statements:
In addition to signing this pledge, program members are connected with other Riverkeeper partners and receive media exposure for their businesses at Riverkeeper events as well as regular Riverkeeper updates.
Spokane businesses who are among the first to participate in the program include Numerica Credit Union, Silver Bow Fly Shop, FLOW Adventures, Kizuri, Ammonite Ink, and River City Brewing. Members have the opportunity to engage with the Riverkeeper program in four different areas:
The wellbeing of the environment is directly linked to wellbeing of the economy and the community in general. Jake Krummel, the Downtown Market Manager for Spokane Numerica Credit Union, stated that “The health of our local watersheds has a direct impact on the health of our community and our local environment. The advocacy and education efforts of the Spokane Riverkeeper showcase the importance of keeping our river clean, and are something Numerica is proud to support.” Participating in the Riverkeeper River Partners Program is an excellent way to protect the Spokane River, grow a business and contribute to increasing the quality of life in the Spokane community. To become a partner, please contact Jerry White at (509) 835-5211 or Jerry@CforJustice.org.
The Spokane Riverkeeper recently submitted oral comments to Ecology regarding their new fish consumption rule. Although the rule is improved from previous versions, it is still lacking. Standards for mercury, PCB's, and Arsenic are still too high and the inclusion of variances, increased compliance schedules, and and intake credits further weaken the rule. Read on for the full story:
Oral Comments on WDOE Proposed Fish Consumption Rule – April 6, 2016
The following comments are made with regards to the proposed Washington Department of Ecology Fish Consumption Rule. These comments were prepared by the Spokane Riverkeeper and read by myself, _______________ on behalf of the Spokane Riverkeeper. The Spokane Riverkeeper is a project of the Center for Justice, and we are an affiliated member of the Waterkeeper Alliance. We work to protect and restore the world’s waters so that they are healthy and usable by communities that interact with them. As such, the Spokane Riverkeeper’s stated mission is keeping the Spokane River Fishable and Swimmable.
The rule change that the Washington Department of Ecology (Ecology) has proposed takes several steps in the right direction, but falls short in helping us keep our Spokane River “Fishable” for the public.
These comments are made with the idea that we should be working towards the ultimate elimination of discharge to the nation’s rivers. Ecology’s proposed rule-making should help us get there. Please do not provide provisions that stall our progress, or avoid the tough work of getting our public waters fishable and swimmable. Thanks for the opportunity to comment.
(For the readers reference if you need -see http://www.ecy.wa.gov/programs/wq/ruledev/wac173201A/1203ov.html for comparison)
EPA/ comparison of proposed WDOE rule and EPA recommendations:
WDOE info on Variances:
We attended the Spokane River Forum Conference last week and learned tons about the unique watershed we work so hard to protect. One talk stood out for me though and I wanted to share it with you. John Covert of the Washington State Department of Ecology presented on the relationship between our summertime water use and the flow of the Spokane River.
In the Spokane area we get our water from the massive 10 trillion gallon Spokane Valley-Rathdrum Prairie (SVRP) Aquifer which extends from Lake Coeur d'Alene north to Lake Pend Oreille and west to Spokane. What's interesting about this is that the river also receives water from the aquifer starting from downstream of the Sullivan Road Bridge. This cold influx from the SVRP aquifer to the river is what makes our river a great place for our native Redband Trout and to cool off in the heat of summer. The drought of 2015 allowed scientists to explore the relationship between our water use from the SVRP aquifer and River levels.
This summer was the hottest and driest on record in Spokane. Summertime river flows were the lowest on record for much of the summer. It was so dry that the Post Falls dam (yellow dot on map), which usually begins to draw down Lake Coeur d'Alene after Labor Day instead continued to discharge a relative trickle (500 cfs, red line on graph below) into the river throughout September and October. This had never happened before and allowed us to see a fascinating pattern (see graph below). Amazingly although the flow over Post Falls dam remained steady, the river began to rise at the gage in downtown Spokane (pink square on map above). Where is the extra water in the river coming from?
The explanation of this lies in the graph below. As the City of Spokane (dark blue) decreased their pumping rate the river (green) began to rise. Near the end of August the City of Spokane began to decrease their pumping rate, eventually reducing it about 70 cubic feet per second (cfs). The river began to respond in early September, eventually gaining about 90 cfs! This is approximately 13% of the river flow. Aquifer wide pumping decreased about 166 cfs during this period. Due to this reduction in pumping, the aquifer levels actually rose 0.5 ft (6 inches), resulting in more aquifer water discharging to the river. Comparing the maximum air temp (light blue) with the city pumping rate (dark blue), shows that during hot periods pumping increases.
These data show that decreases in water use increase the flow of the Spokane River. I suspect the variations in pumping rate are due to the typical summertime uses, such as lawn watering, which does not return water to the river. Most importantly, we have never seen such clear data on how personal water use choices affect our Spokane River. As summertime river levels continue to drop due to decreasing snow pack (another amazing and scary talk at the conference) and municipal water use continues to grow, our choices regarding water use will have even larger impacts to our river.
For Immediate Release: January 19, 2016 Media Contacts:
Jerry White, Jr, Spokane Riverkeeper (509) 464-7614
Rick Eichstaedt, Center for Justice (509) 464-7607
Mike Petersen, The Lands Council (509) 838-4912
Adrienne Cronebaugh, Kootenai Environmental Alliance (208) 667-9093
Coalition of Conservation Groups, Industry, and Municipal Government Challenge Hatchery Permit for Impacts of PCBs to the Spokane River
Challenge seeks a permit that requires PCB testing and participating in regional PCB task force
SPOKANE, WA–Last week, a coalition of conservation groups consisting of the Spokane Riverkeeper, The Lands Council, the Kootenai Environmental Alliance, and the Lake Spokane Association, along with the Inland Empire Paper Company and the City of Coeur d’Alene filed a challenge to the Washington State Pollution Control Hearings Board of a pollution discharge permit issued by the Washington Department of Ecology for the operation of a fish hatchery on the Little Spokane River.
The appeal raises concerns about the permit’s failure to adequately address impacts of the hatchery to water quality in the Spokane River, particularly impacts from toxic polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs). While hatcheries do not produce PCBs, a 2006 report raised concerns about the presence of PCBs in hatchery fish food, its impact on PCB levels in fish tissue, water quality impacts in the hatchery water discharge, and impacts to PCB levels in the Spokane River.
The appeal seeks measures that would require the hatchery to conduct the same type of monitoring and to participate in the Spokane River Regional Toxics Task Force (SRRTTF) in the same manner as other PCB dischargers, including Inland Empire Paper Company and the City of Coeur d’Alene.
“The Department of Ecology and the Environmental Protection Agency requires the cities and industries on the Spokane River to vigorously monitor their discharges for PCBs and to participate in a regional toxics task force,” said Jerry White, Jr., Spokane Riverkeeper. “We don’t want to shut down the hatchery,” said White. “We just want to make sure that all dischargers follow the same rules.”
“What we are after is parity,” said Mike Petersen, director of The Lands Council. “The other dischargers are spending a significant amount of money and time monitoring impacts and participating in the Toxics Task Force. It is not unreasonable to expect that the Fish and Wildlife do the same.”
“Communities on both side of the state are taking the problem of PCBs in the Spokane River seriously,” Adrienne Cronebaugh, director of the Kootenai Environmental Alliance based in Coeur d’Alene, Idaho. “That means every potential source of PCBs needs to take action to reduce and, if possible, eliminate PCBs.”
Once widely used in everything from electrical insulators to underwater paint, PCBs are now considered a long-lived pollutant associated with increased risk of cancer, reduction of immune function and impairment of the neurological development of fetuses. The family of chemicals, polychlorinated biphenyls, lasts for years in the environment. PCBs can concentrate in fat, and are passed along through the food chain when one animal eats another. PCBs are toxic in extremely small quantities. Current regulations prohibit PCB dischargers in quantities measured in the parts per quadrillion.
The Spokane Hatchery operated by the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife was built in 1934 and is one of the State's original hatcheries. It is one of the major Rainbow Trout facilities in the state. The facility also raises German Brown Trout, Eastern Brook Trout, Cutthroat Trout, Tiger Trout, and Kokanee Salmon.
The Pollution Control Hearings Board hears appeals from orders and decisions made by the Department of Ecology. The Board consists of three members, who are appointed by the governor and confirmed by the State Senate for staggered six-year terms.
Washington State has two approaches to protect the quality of the public’s water from agricultural pollution. Sadly, neither is functioning to provide the healthy, clean water that the public is entitled to. In one approach, the federal government provides funding that is made available through the counties and the State to fund voluntary programs to address agricultural water quality problems. In the second approach, the Washington Water Pollution Control Act gives the Washington Department of Ecology (WDOE) the authority to regulate farm practices that protect water quality. This authority was upheld by the Washington Supreme Court in the Lemire vs Ecology case in August of 2013. Ideally, participation by the agricultural industry in voluntary programs would work in concert with regulatory frameworks to re-enforce a culture of lawful behavior and practices that ensure public values are protected.
Within the regulatory process, Ecology identifies farm operations that are polluting the public’s water through citizens’ complaints and a Watershed Evaluation Process. They proceed with offering farm operations technical and financial assistance to correct their behavior and improve their practices via violation letters. If the behavior is not corrected, then punitive orders may be issued with associated fines. As a result of a Freedom Of Information request, we received data on the number of complaints, violation letters, warning letters, orders and fines levied by the Department of Ecology since the Lemire case was decided in August of 2013. We also received information on the types of pollution these violation letters addressed. These data show that Ecology's rarely uses their regulatory ability and agricultural pollution violations continue to go unaddressed in Washington State.
In the Eastern Region and the Spokane River Watershed, regulatory framework is in place but through inaction has become dysfunctional and counter-productive. For example, since the Lemire case in the Eastern Region, 74 complaints have been lodged with WDOE and 129 follow-up, violation letters that offer technical and financial assistance have been sent to farm operations that are violating water quality law. Astoundingly, no administrative orders have been issued nor fines levied. (To illustrate this pattern, see Figure 1 for comparison of Eastern Regional Office to Bellingham Field Office).
Further, records show that of those 129 problem cases identified by WDOE, only a single farm has corrected their behavior and cleaned up their operations. Inside the Eastern Region, the Spokane River tributary of Hangman Creek continues to have the worst water quality in the state (Figure 3). In this watershed our records show that out of 22 active pollution cases (since 2013) none have been corrected.
This inaction has created a norm in which agricultural industry breaks the law with impunity and virtually ignores water quality concerns. Ultimately, this inaction has sent a clear message that actual protection of the public’s surface water is not a priority for WDOE and emboldened polluters with the message that absolutely no enforcement is forthcoming for violators. In our watershed, as across the State, lawful behavior has broken down and as a result, the public is knowingly being deprived of clean water, healthy fisheries and functioning ecological corridors that our rivers should deliver. As our campaign for clean water in Washington State develops, we will soon have ways that you can let your voice be heard. Citizens speaking for clean water are the most powerful tool we have to let our legislators know that the public demands action.
Our record breaking summer has finally ended and we have pulled our temperature loggers from the Spokane River, Hangman Creek, and the Little Spokane River (see map below). Although our water temperature program was small this year (8 locations), I think that we collected some very interesting data. I previously wrote on water temperature in the Spokane River through August, so I will primarily talk about Hangman Creek in this post. I've listed some of the highlights of our data below. Scroll down for more graphs and analysis of these data.
Our methods were simple. We placed our Hobo temperature loggers in 6" segments of white PVC tubing to shield them from the sun, secured them to a nearby tree with twine or cable, and submerged them in about 2-3 feet of water in a secluded location. The loggers read water temperature every 30 minutes, and aside from a two week hiatus, from July 15th to September 30th.
Our data showed temperatures in Hangman Creek exceed the state maximum for non-anadromous interior Redband Trout of 18 C (64 F). The graph below charts water temperature in Hangman Creek and the Little Spokane River, with temperature on the Y-axes in Celsius and Fahrenheit. The temperature at Waverly regularly exceeds 25 C (77 F), and on one day reached over 27 C (81 F)! Water temperature at the mouth of Hangman Creek was a bit lower, but remained mostly above the 18 C (64 F) mark for about a month. Interestingly, water temperature at Waverly tends to fluctuate more than at the mouth of Hangman Creek, possibly reflecting the lack of riparian buffer in the Palouse. Riparian buffer, the vegetated area along a stream, shades the creek. In the Palouse, riparian buffers have been torn out long ago in lieu of agriculture, leaving streams open to direct sunlight.
I monitored water temperature California Creek as well, which is a relatively intact stream (relative to upper Hangman ), with healthy riparian buffers in the lower portion of the creek. Water temperature here was much lower, and daily minimum temperatures fell below the 18 C (64 F)mark. Lacking any input from groundwater that I am aware of, California Creek's temperatures reflect the partially intact nature of its watershed. Lastly, Ian Townley, my colleague at St. George's School, monitored water temperatures in the Little Spokane River. Temperatures here were much lower than Hangman Creek during the hot summer months and never exceeded the 18 C mark. This is a reflection of the cold aquifer water running into the River and the intact nature of portions of this watershed.
Our Spokane River temperature data is graphed below, with water temperature and Spokane River flow on the left and right y-axes, respectively. As I wrote about earlier, the reduction of flow at Post Falls on 7/18/15 seemed to reduce the temperature at Island Trailhead. After the hot summer air temperatures ended, water temperatures reacted accordingly, dropping down by about 5 C (9 F) during the two week period we did not have loggers in the water.
Our water temperature studies this summer reveal temperatures in the Spokane River and Hangman Creek that are much too hot for our native redband trout. Trout, our "canary in a coal mine", indicate cool, clean water and a healthy ecosystem. The high water temperatures we found this year reflect the state of our streams and rivers in the Inland Northwest, which in many cases lack riparian buffers and other common sense measures that improve water quality. The health of our streams depend on reestablishing riparian buffers in areas they have been removed, most of which are areas of intensive agriculture.
an Aljazeera America Report
A note from the Spokane Riverkeeper: A huge thanks to our intern, Amy Shafer, for researching and writing this blog post. Her introduction to PCBs comes at a crucial time in Washington State for toxins in our waters. The EPA recently proposed an alternative water quality standard and Federal Human Health Criteria that is superior to Washington State's draft proposal. In the State's rule, the allowable cancer risk rate of those who consume fish from Washington State waters is raised from one case of cancer in one million citizens to one case in one hundred thousand citizens. This has implications for all people who catch and east fish in Washington State, especially those who consume larger amounts of fish, who are very young or are pregnant. The Spokane Riverkeeper supports the adoption of the proposed EPA rule which calls for the more protective 1:1,000,000 cancer risk rate. Please comment here or wait and watch our Facebook page and email blasts for the "talking point" highlights from Riverkeeper comments. Most people in the Spokane area are aware that the Spokane River is polluted. But what is it that’s actually polluting and harming the river and the animals in and around it? PCBs are toxic substances that are greatly affecting the Spokane River and pose a risk to human health.
PCB stands for Polychlorinated Biphenyls. These are two benzene rings with 1-10 chlorines attached to them. There are 209 different arrangements of chlorine on these structures and these are called cogeners. PCBs are chemicals that come from old electrical equipment and modern day dyes and pigments. They travel via the air and water, becoming attached to sediments and particles in the water of the Spokane River. They move through the food web of aquatic animals and make their way up the food chain to humans who are eating the fish from the River. PCBs were initially developed in 1929 and were used in several types of equipment because they did not break down, burn, or conduct electricity. They were made illegal in 1979 but the laws allowed some uses to continue under allowable levels of toxicity.
PCBs were originally used in many things. They were found in transformers, capacitors, lubricants, caulk, paint, lamp ballasts, florescent lighting, and even newsprint. When PCBs were made illegal these stopped being manufactured but those that were already in use were permitted to continue being used. In addition to these legacy manufactures, there are 70 known manufacturing processes that are inadvertently making PCBs that continue to occur because PCBs are made as a byproduct. The most well-known and studied of these processes is the making of dyes and pigments. PCBs have been found to correlate with brighter colors in paints, pigments, inks, and dyes so it is found in most colored papers, cardboard, plastics, and textiles. The PBCs get released into the environment through manufacturing, use, disposal, and recycling processes.
PCBs travel through the air until they are eventually deposited onto surfaces where they are then washed away through water and end up in areas like the Spokane River. They don’t dissolve in water and instead attach themselves to mud, organic particles, and sediments at the bottom of the river. The organic particles in the river are then consumed by invertebrates, which are generally at the bottom of the food chain. PCBs are stored in the fat of animals so when that animal gets eaten, all of the PCBs it consumed in its lifetime end up in the predator that ate it. This results in a higher concentration of PCBs in animals’ systems the higher up the food chain one goes. This process is known as bioaccumulation. By the time PCBs reach fish in the Spokane River, the amount of PCB in the tissue is dangerous to consume.
PCBs increase the risk of cancer and other health issues in animals and humans. Studies of people who have been highly exposed to PCBs have shown that PCBs cause skin rashes, immune disorders, liver disease, reproductive disorders, and neurological and behavioral problems, and cancer. While PCBs are dangerous for everyone, there are some people who are especially at risk. People are more likely to come in contact with PCBs if they work around contaminated equipment and materials, work in buildings with PCB materials or florescent light ballasts, or consume fish and seafood from contaminated waters. Small children are more likely to be affected by PCBs as they are still developing and growing and pregnant women who are exposed to high levels of PCB have infants who tend to show neurobehavioral problems. PCBs are stored in fat rather than blood and the human body absorbs it rather than secretes it. Because the body does not remove PCB from its system, the amount of PCB in an individual will increase with age. In 2014 PCBs were reclassified from “probable human carcinogens” to “human carcinogens” by the International Agency for Research of Cancer.
Experiments have been run throughout Washington to find the effects of PCBs on various animals that have been exposed to them. Fish, birds, and mammals such as sea lions, seals, and mink have shown negative effects of exposure to PCBs. They all had reproductive problems, poor muscle coordination, week immune systems, and deformities in their skin and skeletons.
The Spokane Riverkeeper mission is to protect and restore the health the Spokane River watershed, and accomplishes that goal through collaborating, educating and when necessary litigating. In 2011 the Spokane Riverkeeper helped create the Toxics Task Force. Its job regarding PCBs is to identify sources of PCBs and reduce the amount of PCBs in the Spokane River. The Task Force is making efforts to consolidate data about PCB sources, transportation, and what becomes of them. They are working on finding the different sources that are involved in dispersal of PCBs through stormwater. They did a massive data collection during dry weather and they intend to do another collection later during a wet season. The Spokane Toxics Task Force is also trying to identify and reduce PCB production in consumer products where PCBs are a byproduct
Another way we have been trying to bring about change is through political arenas. The Spokane Toxics Task Force has worked for PCB restriction, encouraged purchase of low and non-PCB products for public use, and addressed the need to reduce inadvertently made PCBs. In June of 2014 the City of Spokane enacted an ordinance that had a preference for City purchases to be PCB free. We are also working on public outreach. Measures are being taken to educate the community about what PCBs are and the dangers that they bring about. One example is fish advisories that have also been created by the Washington Department of Health to let people know what fish is safe to eat and where in the river it can be caught from. (see image below). Additionally, all Washington Waterkeeper's are advocating for the most protective Human Heath Criteria as proposed in the EPA's draft rule. The Spokane Riverkeeper will be asking people to sign letters, and make comments in support of a very protective rule. Such a rule will help in the reduction of PCBs entering.
Being aware of health issues in the community is key to keeping yourself and your family healthy and happy. When you go to swim in the Spokane River you should be sure to wash off hands, feet, face, and toys before eating or leaving. If you eat fish from the Spokane River you should be sure to eat no more than the advised amount set by the Washington Department of Health.
We at Spokane Riverkeeper are doing all that we can to stop pollution of the Spokane River and keep our environment clean. We cannot do this alone though. You can also help your community by donating money or volunteering your time to help us out. The Spokane River clean-up was a huge success this year and we owe that to citizens of Spokane like yourself. Stay informed of what’s going on in your local community and take ownership for the beautiful environment around you. This river belongs to all of us, let’s make it something to be proud of.
Our guest author, Amy Shafer, is a senior at Gonzaga University studying biology and political science, with aims to work in environmental policy. She interns as a our PCB Outreach Coordinator.
The Spokane Riverkeeper is thrilled to announce that the 2015 Mike Chappell River Hero Award goes to Andy Dunau. Although we don't have strict criteria for selecting who receives the River Hero Award, we all agree that it is given to someone whose work helps preserve and protect the Spokane River. There is no doubt that Andy's work does just this, but before I explain further, I wanted to give a bit of history.
In 2011, the Spokane community lost a real hero when Mike Chappell, then director of Gonzaga’s Environmental Law Clinic and one of the driving forces behind starting Spokane Rivekeeper suddenly passed away. That year, we held Dirty Martinis for Clean Water a mere few weeks after Mike’s passing and while on stage we announced that starting next year we’d do something to recognize Mike’s legacy of work on Spokane River issues. Since then, we have honored Russ Nobbs, Steve Faust, and Twa-le Abrahamson.
Andy's tireless work for the river comes from a vision to connect the Spokane River with the city and people of Spokane. As he puts it, he wants the river to be part of our DNA. As the river becomes a driving force in our economy, he realizes the importance of connecting people to the river. He does this through convening people and groups to discuss river issues and creating individual opportunities to make a difference.
Andy's love of the river started with an opportunity to create the Spokane River Forum. His work heading the Spokane River Forum led him to understand that experiences on the river them lead people to love it. The Spokane River Forum acts as an information clearinghouse, distributing important technical documents, river news, and most importantly, the Spokane Water Trail. Essentially a "one stop shop" for all things Spokane River, the Spokane Water Trail is an online resource that provides recreationalists information on boat launches and facilities along the Spokane River. Andy doesn't just sit behind a computer. Since 2008 he has paddled the entire Spokane River and connected over 700 people to the River through river floats. He realizes he cannot do it all though and has worked behind the scenes to provide more access to the river, such as under the Division Street Bridge (see photo above).
Among his other accomplishments, Andy lists the increased communication between river advocacy groups and industry. "I wanted to make it safe to be in a room to talk about river issues" said Andy , alluding to the dialogue that he changed through the Spokane River Forum. "Mike Chappell taught me a culture of convening diverse groups, not to argue, but to communicate". Andy offers individuals a way to give back to the river now too. The Spokane River Forum coordinates volunteer opportunities for litter clean up, tree planting, and restoration days for individuals or groups.
The Spokane Riverkeeper would like to sincerely thank Andy Dunau for all he has done for our river.