Whidbey Island waters to be dyed red for shellfish study

The study will help scientists evaluate the affects of a sewage spill on shellfish safety.

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WHIDBEY ISLAND — Red dye will be released into the waters around Whidbey Island on Monday morning to study how a sewage spill could impact shellfish.

Scientists with the state Department of Health and Food and Drug Administration will add the dye to treated wastewater from the Oak Harbor Clean Water Facility. They will track the dye’s movement to see how it would affect shellfish beds in Saratoga Passage and Penn Cove.

The fluorescent dye, called rhodamine, is nontoxic and not harmful to people, marine life or the environment, according to DOH.

Waters around Whidbey Island may appear red for about 24 hours during the study.

The city of Oak Harbor built a $150 million wastewater treatment plant to replace an aging facility. The plant opened in January 2019. Even with increased capacity, the new treatment plant is in need of costly improvements. During a rainstorm in February 2020, a sewage overflow dumped about 1 million gallons of untreated sewage into Puget Sound.

Sewage spills can make shellfish unsafe for human consumption. The commercial shellfish industry in Washington state was valued at $150 million in 2013.

The dye study was originally scheduled for 2019, but delayed by technology issues and again in 2020 and 2021 due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

The study is a partnership between the DOH, FDA, the Department of Ecology, the city of Oak Harbor, Island County and local shellfish growers.

Information from the Whidbey News-Times was included in this report.

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