By Tammy Maygra

The Columbia River Basin State of the River Report for Toxics is a summary of what we know about four of the most widespread toxic contaminants found in the basin. Although there are many other contaminates which have polluted the water. The four main toxic contaminates are, mercury, DDT and its breakdown chemicals, polychlorinated biphenyls, and PDBE or flame retardants and PCB's and its breakdown chemicals and polybrominated diphenyl ether.

We know that these toxins are hazardous to all life and have been found in areas of the Columbia River Basin, but what we don't know is how much contamination is in all areas of the Basin as there has been no comprehensive study done to determine

whether the toxins have increased or decreased over time. This lack of information is crucial in determining the direction of protecting the ecosystem and in which areas we need to address first, when formulating a direct plan.

Many other contaminants are found in the Basin, including arsenic, dioxins, radionuclides, lead, pesticides, industrial chemicals, and newly emerging contaminants such as pharmaceuticals in wastewater, there is no direct data at this time on the levels of the toxins throughout the Basin but should be addressed as these groups continue their studies and direct actions.

Energy-related sources are responsible for mercury in and outside of the Basin. Mercury pollution comes from sources outside of the Basin by wind currents which deposit the toxins in the Basin which is harder to identify and correct. Contamination of the watershed from local and regional sources are major contributors to mercury in the Basin. States within the Basin continue to issue warnings about eating fish because of the high levels of mercury.

The pesticide DDT and PCBs have been banned since the 1970s, which have lowered the levels in the environment. Regrettably, these chemicals are still in the environment and continue to pollute the Basin' from many different sources, for example storm-water and agricultural runoff and hazardous waste releases. In many instances, DDT and PCB still exceed levels of safety, and the amount of fish consumed has advisories in every state throughout the Basin.

The presence of mercury, DDT, PCBs, and PBDEs in the following species: juvenile salmon; resident fish such as sucker, bass, and whitefish, and sturgeon. Birds of prey like osprey and bald eagles whose diets consist mostly of fish. Along with Mink and otter who are aquatic mammals who also depend on fish and clams for their diets and the sediment-dwelling shellfish which is a food source for many aquatic species.. These species are used to study the levels of toxins in the Basin and determines if progress is made in reducing the toxins.

There have been some steps to address the toxin issue. In 2005, EPA joined other federal, state, tribal, local, and nonprofit partners to form the Columbia River Toxics Reduction Working Group to better coordinate toxics reduction work and share information reducing revenue waste and redundant activities.

Meanwhile, there are many ongoing efforts to reduce toxics in the Basin. Some examples include erosion control efforts in the Yakima Basin; Pesticide Stewardship Partnerships in the Hood River and Walla Walla Basins; PCB cleanup at Bonneville Dam; legacy pesticide collection throughout the Basin; and investigation and cleanup of the Portland Harbor, Hanford, and Upper Columbia/Lake Roosevelt contamination sites. These and other combined efforts have reduced toxics over the years, but we still need to further reduce toxics to make the Basin a healthier place for all species of life.


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