Pollution Threatens River's Health

An article from The Astorian shares new data on toxic compounds in the lower part of the Columbia River:

VANCOUVER, Wash. - New data on contamination in the Lower Columbia River show concentrations of pesticides, industrial compounds and flame retardants between Portland and Longview, Wash., that rival those in Seattle's Puget Sound.

According to the two scientists in charge of testing at six sites from Point Adams, just east of Hammond, to Warrendale, about 140 miles upriver, the levels of some toxics detected in river sediment and fish tissue in the most industrialized stretches of the Columbia could be compromising the health and eventual survival of juvenile salmonids.

The Lower Columbia River Estuary Partnership announced results of recent toxics monitoring tests Monday, kicking off a three-day conference on the river's health. The data were collected by the U.S. Geological Survey and National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration with the help of $1.6 million from the Bonneville Power Administration.

A final report on the monitoring data will be available in August.

After 20 years of participation in the National Estuary Program, a federally funded environmental protection effort, the lower Columbia River habitat continues to suffer from decades-old applications of the banned agricultural pesticide DDT (dichloro diphenyl tichloroethane), restricted industrial insulators and lubricants (PCBs) Polychlorinated biphenyls, and chemical compounds PAH (Polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons), found in petroleum and its byproducts.

These contaminants are known to bioaccumulate, or grow in concentration, as they move up the food chain from microbes on river sediment to fish and eventually birds in the river's ecosystem. Scientists are also concerned about the impact the contaminants could have on humans who eat the river's fish.

The Columbia's contamination has been in the spotlight since last summer, when the Environmental Protection Agency declared the entire river one of 28 "Great Water Bodies" in the country, a designation that brings heightened federal attention and clean-up funding potential.

LCREP is now asking Congress for $2.3 million from the 2008 budget to continue monitoring toxics in the river system. LCREP Director Debrah Marriott said additional research would be needed to fully understand and correct pollution problems and create a "cleaner, healthier Columbia."

"The Willamette is a major source of agricultural and industrial discharge on the Lower Columbia," said Marriott. But other sources on the lower river and in the entire Columbia River Basin, stretching up to Idaho and into Canada, contribute as well, she said.

"Stormwater discharges, industrial discharges, seafood processing plants, air deposition and hazardous waste sites are all contributing to pollution along the mainstem Columbia River," said Marriott. The new data will help LCREP "assign additional responsibilities" to agencies charged with protecting clean water and wildlife, she said.

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