This editorial will appear in Tuesday’s print edition.
The latest reports on the health of Commencement Bay and Tacoma waterways offer at least two valuable lessons when it comes to the environment:
• It is possible to make significant progress even on sites so terribly polluted that they get on the federal Superfund list.
• And ongoing, aggressive prevention efforts are needed to keep a site from becoming polluted all over again.
The reports from the state Department of Ecology and the City of Tacoma are mostly positive, painting a picture of continuing improvements on most fronts while reminding us that turnaround efforts still have a long way to go.
In Commencement Bay, levels of some cancer-causing chemicals and such toxic metals as arsenic, lead, mercury and copper are lower. And researchers are finding healthier populations of the bay’s version of the canary in the coal mine – the sediment-dwelling creatures that provide food for other marine life.
But the news isn’t all good. Higher levels were found of phthalates, which are used in making plastics flexible and are all but ubiquitous in modern life, being found in everything from building materials and toys to detergents and pill coatings.
As for the city’s Thea Foss and Wheeler-Osgood waterways, efforts to control stormwater runoff is having an “amazing” effect by reducing levels of contaminants, said Lorna Mauren, manager of the Public Works Department’s surface water group, in an interview with The News Tribune’s Mike Archbold. The city’s had success tracing pollutants back to their source and preventing them from continuing to flow into the waterways.
Another tactic has paid off, too: The city cleaned out its stormwater drain system, removing sediment that can leach out when it rains. That’s greatly reduced the levels of lead and other toxic chemicals that enter the waterways.
If the city weren’t being aggressive with stormwater entering the Thea Foss Waterway, the state wouldn’t be enjoying as much success with Commencement Bay. The health of the two are inextricably linked.
Doing a better job of controlling stormwater runoff throughout the region will be necessary if Puget Sound is to move from “recovering” to “healthy.” It’s the major challenge facing those charged with saving the Sound for future generations. It will require more emphasis on low-impact development, monitoring and runoff management at the state and local level.
Each of us can do our part, too, with simple things: like not dumping harmful liquids down storm drains and cutting down on the amount of fertilizer and pesticide we use in our yards (see box below). The challenge of cleaning up Puget Sound pollution is too big for anyone to sit on the sidelines.
For more ideas on what individuals can do to decrease stormwater pollution, go to the Puget Sound Partnership’s website here.