the film

Toxics Found in Stormwater
Entering the Spokane River

by Staff
Environment News Service, March 5, 2009

SPOKANE, Washington - A team of water quality experts has started work in Spokane to investigate sources of toxic pollution entering the Spokane River. Now that a background study to find and eliminate toxic chemicals in the Liberty Lake storm drain and sewer system is finished, the Spokane Urban Waters Initiative team is ready to tackle the larger, more complicated Spokane area.

In Spokane, the Urban Waters program is a collaboration between the Washington Department of Ecology and the Spokane Regional Health District.

Results of the Liberty Lake pollution sleuthing effort are not yet available. In the meantime, more than 100 businesses are being contacted to be part of the effort in Spokane.

Specialists in the Urban Waters program will work with small and large business owners to help find ways to better manage hazardous materials that might be stored on-site or poured down the drain. The goal is to prevent them from entering the storm drains and sewer system that lead to the river.

Activities will be guided in part by sampling conducted in 2007 that confirmed stormwater outfalls are a pathway for toxic chemicals to enter the river.

A tributary of the Columbia River, the Spokane River flows for 111 miles through northern Idaho and eastern Washington. It drains a low mountainous area east of the Columbia, passing through the city of Spokane.

Heavily used for irrigation and drinking water, extensive farming and timber production take place in the Spokane River watershed. The lowered water levels in the river have resulted in an ongoing pollution crisis.

During the spring of 2007, the Department of Ecology conducted toxics monitoring from 14 City of Spokane storm drains discharging to the Spokane River.

The samples were taken and analyzed by the Department of Ecology's Environmental Assessment Program.

Researchers measured polybrominated diphenylether flame retardants, PBDEs, in stormwater as well as dioxins and furans, total organic carbon, and sediments from stormwater manholes.

The concentrations of both PBDEs and dioxins and furans appear to be typical for urban areas in Washington State, based on the little data available for comparisons, the state agency said.

More than half the samples collected contained the flame retardants. Dioxins and furans also were detected in several drains. On Monday, the Department of Ecology released the results of the 2007 sampling that augments data collected from previous studies.

Of the outfalls sampled, the highest amounts of toxic chemicals were found in stormwater outfalls east of Hamilton Avenue, in the area between the Spokane River and Trent Avenue.

This year, urban waters specialists will sample sediment and water in sewer and stormwater drain systems in Spokane to further pinpoint sources of the toxic chemicals.

"When chemicals and toxic materials aren't stored and disposed of in the right way, they can leak or spill onto the ground," said Arianne Fernandez, urban waters specialist at the Department of Ecology. "From there, they can contaminate water that eventually makes its way into the river. And that's what we want to prevent."

Pollution can reach the river when rainwater runs off roads, roofs, parking lots and other hard surfaces, carrying toxic chemicals with it. Storm drains and sewers can also carry pollutants to the river when people flush soaps, chemicals and other pollutants down drains.

Funded by the state legislature in 2007, the Urban Waters Initiative addresses potential sources of pollution to the state's most contaminated waterways - Commencement Bay and the Duwamish River in western Washington, and the Spokane River in the eastern part of the state.

While the goal is to educate business owners, the Spokane Regional Health District may refer severe violations of storage and disposal regulations to the Department of Ecology for enforcement action.

Related Sites:
Spokane storm drain sampling report

Toxics Found in Stormwater Entering the Spokane River
Environment News Service, March 5, 2009

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