Scientist shares expertise with Puget Sound pollution

If you want a good idea of what kinds of pollution are lurking in Puget Sound, and whether to worry about them, talking to Lincoln Loehr would be a good place to start.

Loehr has accumulated decades of experience as a scientist and marine policy expert. The Mukilteo resident has been sharing that expertise by volunteering with the Snohomish County Marine Resources Advisory Committee, where he was first appointed to serve in 2008.

In that capacity, Loehr has helped analyze reams of data from mussels collected along the shoreline. That information has led him to conclusions about the key role storm water runoff plays in carrying pollutants into Puget Sound, as well as the effects of creosote-coated pilings on the marine environment.

“I try to follow the numbers and look critically at them if they do not make sense,” Loehr said. “For all of us — citizens, governments, industry — it makes sense to be working with good information.”

Loehr gained notoriety for questioning state Department of Ecology claims that the amount of toxic chemicals flowing into Puget Sound through storm water runoff exceeded the amount of the Exxon Valdez spill every year. By pouring over the data, Loehr determined the actual amount is only a small fraction of that — and convinced the state to redo the study.

“I walk the shoreline. I don’t recall any oil rings around the bathtub here,” he said. “None of that was adding up to a giant oil spill.”

In general, Loehr is skeptical of drawing easy conclusions about man-made pollution. He’s fond of pointing out how in other communities, elevated bacteria levels on the shoreline have been traced back to shorebirds relieving themselves.

By day, Loehr works at law firm Stoel Rives LLP’s Seattle office as an environmental compliance analyst.

His lifelong love of the ocean grew from a boyhood fantasy, sparked by books and television, into a professional career.

“By the time I was in fifth grade, I knew I wanted to go into submarines,” he said. “By the time I was in seventh grade, I knew I wanted to go into oceanography.”

He did both.

Now 65, he grew up in Los Angeles and moved north in the 1960s to attend the University of Washington.

After earning a bachelor’s degree in oceanography, he served 20 years in the Navy, first on active duty and later as a reservist. His active-duty work involved diesel submarines.

In the late 1970s, he earned a master’s degree at the UW in the graduate school of public affairs.

That varied background has made Loehr a useful addition to Snohomish County’s Marine Resources Advisory Committee, whose 11 appointed members make recommendations to local governments about marine issues.

“He really brings a level of skill and expertise that adds to the knowledge base and the ability of the MRC to do certain projects,” said Kathleen Herrmann, a county employee who helps coordinate the committee’s work. “We’re really lucky with all of these skilled community members.”

Ideally, the committee should represent a balanced cross section of business, recreational, conservation and environmental interests. It includes representatives from local and tribal governments.

In 2011, Loehr and other committee members contributed 1990 hours of volunteer work. The committee also oversaw 1,243 volunteer hours on projects to conserve Port Susan, the body of water between Camano Island and the mainland.

Noah Haglund: 425-339-3465; nhaglund@heraldnet.com.

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