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September 10, 2007

Port of Seattle's Plans to Contaminate Puget Sound

It seems it's becoming de rigeur for some of Washington's public officials to pay lip service to cleaning up the environment. The mayor 's pronouncements on making Seattle the "number one biking city in the country" -- while quashing plans to put bike lanes in on Stone Way -- are but one example. Now the Port of Seattle's CEO, Tay Yoshitani, has set in motion a plan to pollute the Puget Sound with highly toxic PCBs from a dredging project to create shipping lanes.

PCBs are polychlorinated biphenyls, toxic chemicals used as fire retardants in the 1970s. They are so toxic and so long-lived that they are usually measured in parts per billion -- yet the port proposes to dump 9 pounds of them into the bay for an upcoming dredging project. The mud to be dumped would come from an area being studied for cleanup as part of the Harbor Island Superfund site.

The project has been approved by the Army Corps of Engineers, Washington State's Ecology Department, Environmental Protection Agency and Department of Natural Resources. That's tragic. PCBs are known to cause serious health problems, especially to children. And our region's salmon are so easily affected by the toxicity that warnings will go out cautioning us to limit our salmon intake. But the Orcas who feed on those salmon aren't going to be able to heed the warning, and many may die.

As usual, the decision is based on cost -- in this case, an estimate of $1.8 million saved by not disposing of the dredging material in a landfill. But how much will it cost in the long run if we allow the port authorities to contaminate our waters? I say the cost will be too high to accept.

Yoshitani has claimed to have the environmental health of Elliott Bay and Puget Sound as priorities. He's said he wants to make the area "green". More lip service. This project cannot be tolerated at a time when so much effort and expertise are being devoted to saving the sound.

Puget Sound is the subject of intense focus right now from a consortium of state and local agencies, tribes, scientists and businesses that is crafting a road map to ensure the health of its wildlife and the people who depend on it.


That means keeping PCBs out of the system, said scientists from the Northwest Fisheries Science Center, part of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.

Is anyone manning the wheel of environmental stewardship?

For starters, King County Councilman Larry Phillips says he's troubled by this dredging plan and would be in favor of having the county contribute money to dispose of the materials in a landfill, rather than in the bay. Port commissioners John Creighton and Alec Fisken have agreed with that approach. Now's the time to get the other port commissioners and their election challengers on the record with this issue because tomorrow will be too late.

This is what one might call the "moment of truth" for the Port of Seattle. If we want real accountability from those on the commisssion we'd better let them know there are consequences for their actions. Election season makes everything glare just a little more sharply.

Posted by shoephone on September 10, 2007 at 02:32 AM in Environment, Policy, Washington Culture | Permalink


Thanks for reporting on this; I hadn't seen the PI article. And kudos to the PI for reporting it. I'm so glad to see the scrutiny now on the Port activities.

As usual, key decisions affecting human health and environmental health are being made without the evidence examined. Everyone's in such a rush to get business done. This is tragic.

I put a call into Commissioner Edwards. He's running for re-election now on a platform of Cleaning up the Port and Keeping us Moving. The PI article mentions that Alec Fisken and Bob Creighton favor putting the most contaminated material in a landfill. Edwards' stance isn't mentioned. Perhaps he will be open to reconsidering if he is now favoring dumping this in the Bay.

Posted by: Noemie Maxwell | Sep 10, 2007 8:38:01 AM

From the PI article:

The EPA is investigating to what extent the mud at the bottom of the waterway should be cleaned up and is expected to make a decision by 2010. In the meantime, the EPA "doesn't want to slow down other projects, such as (ship channel) dredging," Sanga said.

Kinda wish they'd hurry that up a little. I suppose it's possible that the dredgings can be relocated safely, but given how polluted the Sound is already, I'd rather err on the safe side.

Posted by: Cujo359 | Sep 10, 2007 9:10:49 AM

Noemie - If it weren't for some of the excellent reporting the P.I.'s Kristin Millares Bolt has been doing on the port these last few months, there's a whole lot of stuff we wouldn't have found out about.

It's a good thing we are still a two-newspaper town, considering the way the Times editorial board has been giving the port a free ride.

Posted by: shoephone | Sep 10, 2007 9:14:15 AM

Cujo - yep, that's our mighty EPA. The same outfit that declared the air at the WTC area to be safe for firefighters and rescue workers after 9-11.

Posted by: shoephone | Sep 10, 2007 9:17:42 AM

For Bush's EPA, the only thing "protected" is corporate profit. What they're being protected *from* is anything that might result from maintaining/improving the natural environment and the health-and-safety of our citizenry.

Posted by: Neal Traven | Sep 10, 2007 10:30:57 AM

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