Chemical pollution in the air and in the water is a huge problem all over the world.

photos M. Noonan

Unfortunately, Orcas today are still being harmed by chemical pollutants that were banned from use years ago. Although no longer in use in most products, PCBs remain a major toxin in some coastal waters. Leaking out from waste dumps, PCBs accumulate in higher and higher concentrations as they work their way up the food chain. As a result, they tend to adversely affect top predators like orcas the most. Necropsies of some recently deceased orcas that have washed on shore have revealed high very high concentrations of these dangerous chemicals in their tissue.

What is Being Done

Salmon are deeply intertwined in the geography, history and culture of the Pacific Northwest. In the last decades, however, wild salmon runs have declined sharply as a result of a many factors, including water pollution.

Luckily, restoration is happening in urban areas like Seattle. Actions such as planting trees to prevent heat pollution of a creek and performing DNA tests on fecal coliform to determine whether pets are the cause of unhealthy waters are currently taking place throughout the city. Restoration also means visiting businesses with advice on stormwater pollution prevention. It involves collecting household hazardous waste and being careful of what enters storm drains.

All of these steps are being taken in Seattle. Some address the few streams within city limits that still have, or could have, salmon runs. Others address the waterways that pass through Seattle.

Additional water pollution is created at shipyards. Currently, shipyards are regulated by the Clean Water Act and in Washington by the State Water Pollution Control Act, both of which are carried out by the state Department of Ecology. The department operates a waste discharge permit program for discharges to surface and groundwater, sewers and storm drains, and issues both state permits and National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System (NPDES) permits. Such permits help to keep the emissions of shipyards under check.

What You Can Do

photo M. Noonan

We can avoid further contamination of the environment by first being aware of what we put down the drain. Many communities have alternative dumping sites for toxic chemicals like oil, bleach, batteries, and others. If your community doesnt have these options, you can always write a letter to an area representative voicing your concerns. After all, pollution doesnt just affect marine animals, it affects all of us. The air we breathe, food we eat, water we drink, and even the noises we hear are all affected by pollution. Like anything else, education is the first step.


Content provided by Canisius College students under the direction of Michael Noonan, PhD.