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Study tracks pollutants in waterways

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By Bill Sheets
Herald Writer
Published:
OLYMPIA -- There's more information now than ever about how pollution gets into Puget Sound and other waterways of Western Washington, thanks to a recently completed five-year study.
The variety of pollutants and the number of ways they get into the water is great, according to the "Assessment of Selected Toxic Chemicals in the Puget Sound Basin," a study begun in 2006 by the state Department of Ecology and the Puget Sound Partnership.
The partnership is an agency created by the Legislature to bring together various groups to work on ways to improve the health of the sound and other waterways.
The study focused on 17 chemicals known to be the most prevalent in the sound, their sources and how they get into the water. The study covered all of Western Washington's waterways in a 12-county area, including the Strait of Juan de Fuca, Possession Sound and Admiralty Inlet in addition to Puget Sound.
Most of pollutants are byproducts of everyday life, making it difficult to attack the problem with laws and regulations, the study found.
Vehicle exhaust and wood smoke leave polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons on the pavement, which are washed into the water by rain. Creosote-treated wood leaks the substances into the water as well.
For example, petroleum-related compounds from motor oil drips and leaks from our cars and trucks, as well as routine fuel and oil spills on land and to the water.
Copper, which interferes with the sense of smell of salmon, comes from urban pesticide use, brake pads and boat paint.
Phosphorus comes from lawn fertilizers.
The Puget Sound Partnership plans to use the information to build on some actions already taken, such as efforts to control copper from getting into the water. It also plans to step up efforts to remove creosote-treated wood pilings, and focus on preventing oil spills, including drips and leaks from motor vehicles and boats.
Gerry O'Keefe, Puget Sound Partnership executive director, said the best way to help salmon habitat is to keep toxic substances for getting into the water.
"Without clean water, preserving habitat doesn't have a lot of value," she said.
For more information about the study, go to http://tinyurl.com/watertoxins.
Bill Sheets: 425-339-3439; sheets@heraldnet.com.

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