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Protecting Juvenile Chinook Salmon from PBDEs

Chinook salmon in the Snohomish Estuary are being exposed to a harmful contaminant called PBDE and it’s impacting their health. PBDEs are mostly banned, and the Everett Water Pollution Control Facility has worked to remove it from our wastewater, but more can be done.

Research has shown that young Chinook from the Snohomish Estuary have harmful levels of PBDEs in their systems. This contributes to the reduction of salmon population numbers which are a vital food supply for Southern Resident Killer Whales, can reduce the opportunities for fishing, and impacts cultural practices related to salmon.

Long Live the Kings, along with others, is asking the Washington State Department of Ecology to strengthen environmental protections against PBDEs and protect our Chinook populations. We have submitted a letter to the Department of Ecology as they review a permit that could be updated to include solutions that better protect salmon and other marine life.

WHAT YOU NEED TO KNOW

  • PBDEs are a class of flame retardant that are largely banned, but still exist on older products and certain industries have exemptions for continued use.
  • PBDEs are not being adequately removed from wastewater by industrial users or from the Everett Water Pollution Control Facility despite substantial efforts from the city wastewater managers.
  • PBDEs are ending up in our waterways and into aquatic species.
  • Research is finding harmful levels of PBDEs in young Chinook from the Snohomish Estuary.
  • Chinook are not accumulating as many PBDEs when they are higher upstream.
  • Chinook are listed under the Endangered Species Act and are an important food source for critically endangered Southern Resident Killer Whales.
  • A draft permit that could help strengthen environmental protections against PBDEs and other pollutants is up for review with the Washington State Department of Ecology.

DIG DEEPER INTO THE ISSUE

Recent research conducted by Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife in association with the Salish Sea Marine Survival Project has found a contaminant called polybrominated diphenyl ethers (PBDEs) in young Chinook salmon in Puget Sound. These contaminants in the Snohomish estuary have been linked to wastewater from the City of Everett Wastewater Treatment Facility. As the PBDEs accumulate in the juvenile Chinook salmon, it increases their susceptibility to disease, alters their hormone production, and decreases their chance for survival.

PBDEs are a long-lasting class of flame retardant used since the 1970s in consumer and industrial products including textiles, polyurethane foam, wire insulation, and plastics. By the end of 2013, the use of PBDEs in new products was largely phased out, but many older products and some new products continue to release PBDEs into the environment which make their way through our city pipes, through our wastewater treatment plants and eventually into our waterways and Puget Sound.

The City of Everett has been responsive and has demonstrated their dedication to protecting salmon through transparency and voluntary action. The Department of Ecology has also responded quickly and investigated the issue in more depth. Research from both parties has confirmed a PBDE “hotspot” near the City of Everett’s “015 outfall” in the Snohomish estuary and that PBDEs are originating from the City of Everett’s wastewater users and subsequently discharged into public waters by the City of Everett’s Water Pollution Control Facility.

Learn more about PBDEs and our research on their impact on salmon in the Salish Sea here.

We have submitted a public comment and are urging the permit to be strengthened by:

  • Ensuring a transparent and robust pretreatment program through specific requirements.
  • Using the City of Everett’s Water Pollution Control Facility to minimize PDBE discharge, especially during the Chinook outmigration period (February-July with the peak in April and May).
  • Assessing progress using ongoing Chinook sampling and analysis from the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife.
  • Investigating the potential for more advanced treatment to better control the discharge of PBDEs and other pollutants.
  • Minimizing costs associated with PBDE pollution being shouldered by the least willing to pay.

Read the letter we submitted for public comment.