Department of Ecology Progress on 6PPD Pollution of our Waterways
By Kirk Kirkland
Coho salmon photo from WA Dept of Fish & Wildlife
Coho salmon returning to rivers and streams often die before they can spawn. A toxic tire dust, 6PPD, washes down street drains and poisons our suburban creeks from Spanaway Lake to Chambers Bay, adding to die-off.
For the last three years Clover Creek Council and Tahoma Audubon have asked our County Councilmembers to add better filtering systems to drains on Clover Creek. The creek has several branches, one of which drains Spanaway Lake. Another branch begins near Canyon Road and the most critical one begins north of 112th.
Situated mid-county, 112th Street has a high volume of traffic. Other branches of the creek crossing Pacific Avenue have previously improved drains. Replacing a drain can cost over a million dollars as additional land is needed between the road surface and the drain pipe. In many cases the water now flows directly into the creek. Funds for these improvements are available from a county surface water fee collected from residents in Parkland and Spanaway.
At the present rate of improving the remaining 14 drains in the watershed, fish runs are likely to collapse before the last drain is replaced.
Department of Ecology is identifying practices that reduce stormwater pollution and are testing their effectiveness to capture and prevent stormwater from transporting 6PPD-quinone to surface waters (rivers, streams, and Puget Sound). In California, the state passed legislation that put the tire industry on notice that this problem needed to be researched. The legislation did not specify a time period or set a ban on tires still using this chemical.
David Troutt with the Nisqually Indian Tribe asked Governor Inslee to place this issue on his legislative agenda for this session. At this time in early February, we still do not have a bill number. Tahoma Audubon has this issue on our legislative agenda and we also will return to the county council and request continued funding to replace street drains in urban areas this spring.
The Department of Ecology (DOE) has been dragging their feet in producing preventive legislation after being asked to study the issue. So far, their list of changes focuses on stopping the tire dust from getting into the creeks. It is a classic case of allowing industry to export the environmental cost of using 6ppd in tires onto the state and local governments. If we want to have fish runs, it doesn't have to be this way.
Filtering road runoff with a bank of engineered soil mixes and plants reduces pollutants entering stormwater infrastructure and the receiving waters.
Reducing stormwater pollution: DOE suggests that counties identify stormwater-management approaches to capture and treat 6PPD-quinone and tire debris before it reaches streams. DOE has updated guidance for local governments to use, however the DOE did not ask the legislature to fund counties for drain replacement.
Reducing sources of 6PPD: DOE suggests researching alternate chemical preservatives that could replace 6PPD in tires, and DOE encourages more testing of these chemicals to make sure they are actually safer. DOE also hopes there will be ongoing funding from the state Legislature to expand our efforts to reduce harmful impacts from this toxic tire-related chemical.
These suggestions will not help struggling fish runs win the race against time. There are not enough uncontaminated fish runs still out at sea to continue returning upstream to spawn year after year.
The best way to resolve this issue is to negotiate a date by which the tire industry will produce a tire free of 6ppd. Of course a new chemical might be needed and require more testing.
Instead of more testing, a step backward in time might be possible. Why not use the former tire formula that did not use 6ppd and did not kill fish run in the rivers of the Pacific Northwest? Sometimes the old solution is better than yet another new untested formula.