In early 2016, scientists at NOAA made headlines when they reported finding 81 different man-made chemicals in the tissues of juvenile chinook salmon in Puget Sound. Among those chemicals were drugs such as cocaine and Prozac.
This was the first time scientists had made these findings for the region’s salmon, but it has been well-understood that marine waters the world over are becoming an alphabet soup of rogue chemicals. In varying degrees, these chemicals are settling into the bodies of every species analyzed in Puget Sound, including humans.
Many are pharmaceuticals that pass through sewage treatment plants. Others, such as flame retardants (also known as PBDEs) can bind to the dust and blow out to sea. Some simply persist in the environment and pass through the food chain. Often these chemicals occur in vanishingly small traces, sometimes in the parts per trillion.
The big question, scientists say, is not whether these chemicals are in the environment, but which of them are the most dangerous. Could something in such trace amounts cause harm? And what happens when more than four million residents of the region all contribute to the problem?
That is the topic of our latest story in Salish Sea Currents. Christopher Dunagan reports on some of the effects of chemicals known as contaminants of emerging concern. The story covers a range of contaminants, from pharmaceuticals like Prozac and birth control to industrial chemicals. Some of the findings are surprising — tiny amounts of birth control in the water can actually change the sex of some fish species — and in other cases the ramifications are unknown but potentially disturbing. Take a read and you will never look at wastewater and our chemically-dependent culture the same way.
Watch for updates and stories from the 2016 Salish Sea Ecosystem Conference in the Encyclopedia of Puget Sound this week. We are sending ten science writers to Vancouver to cover important findings from the conference that will be published throughout the year as part of our Salish Sea Currents series. If you want a sense of what is happening during the week, our writers and others will be posting to Twitter using the hashtag #SSEC16. You’ll also be able to identify us by the signature #EoPS. See you in Vancouver!
Salish Sea Currents is a new online series featuring the latest science from the 2014 Salish Sea Ecosystem Conference. Join us as we report on some of the key issues driving Puget Sound recovery.
The magazine-style series is housed on the Encyclopedia of Puget Sound and is developed in collaboration with the Puget Sound Partnership with funding from the EPA.
Eric Wagner kicks things off with a story on the region’s declining seabird populations. Close to a third of the birds in the Salish Sea are classified as species of concern, and some scientists believe this may hold clues to the overall health of the ecosystem. Later, in August, we’ll have reports on why so many of Puget Sound’s salmon are dying young, as well as a look at current efforts to restore the region’s eelgrass. Each month through December, we’ll bring you new stories, along with related media and interviews with leading scientists.