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Plan Aims to Reduce Toxins Reaching River

by Kevin McCullen
Tri-City Herald, May 13, 2010

A draft plan that aims to reduce the flow of toxic metals and chemicals into the Columbia River and its tributaries over the next five years is ready for public comment.

The Columbia River Toxics Reduction Working Group, which includes representatives from federal and state agencies, Native American tribes, industries and nonprofits, rolled out its proposals this week. They include a series of recommendations to cut the amount of toxic materials entering the Columbia River Basin.

Other parts of the plan aim to increase public awareness and boost monitoring of and research on the contaminants, said Marylou Soscia, Columbia River Toxics Reduction coordinator for the Environmental Protection Agency.

The plan intends "to serve as a catalyst for action and to recognize that the time is now to step forward and restore the Columbia River Basin."

Among substances in the river that pose a threat to people, fish and wildlife are mercury, DDT, PCBs and PBDEs, a class of flame retardant used in furniture foam, consumer electronics, wire insulation, back coatings for draperies and upholstery and plastics for personal computers and small appliances, according to the plan.

There also is a threat from farm pesticides and pharmaceuticals found in urban waste water. And a 2009 report completed for the toxics reduction group, The Columbia River Basin State of the River Report for Toxics, said the contaminants are affecting survival and productivity of endangered salmon stocks.

"There is a major salmon recovery effort under way in the Columbia River Basin, however there is little attention to toxics reduction or toxics assessment, although many scientists believe that salmon recovery cannot be achieved without reducing toxics in the water and sediment," the draft plan says.

Some of the contaminants' effects are documented in fish and wildlife, including those from DDT and PCBs, which were banned in the 1970s.

PCBs tend to concentrate in the fatty tissues of fish and animals and can be passed from mother to young. Though declining, they still exceed EPA human and ecological health concern levels in some areas, the 2009 report said.

Soil erosion from agricultural runoff is the main source of DDT. In May 2009, the state of Washington lifted an advisory against eating fish from the Yakima River Basin because of falling DDT levels.

"DDT and PCBs were banned over 30 years ago, but we are still finding them, and they are still a problem," Soscia said.

Mercury concentrations vary. They have been found in increased levels over the last decade in the eggs of osprey in the lower Columbia River, according to the 2009 report, and were high in fish collected at Brownlee Dam Reservoir on the Snake River.

"We did not realize the extent of pollution from sources other than agriculture and the impact of human medicines and hormones in fish. It's a concern," said John Harrison, spokesman for the Northwest Power and Conservation Council, one of 17 entities involved in the toxics reduction working group's steering committee.

The EPA is accepting comment on the draft action plan until June 25, and a final action plan is expected by late July. Comments can be sent to

The 2009 report is at

Related Pages:
Toxic Contaminants and Their Effects on Salmonids Morace, Johnson & Nilsen, Science Policy Exchange, 9/11/9

Kevin McCullen
Plan Aims to Reduce Toxins Reaching River
Tri-City Herald, May 13, 2010

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