Are the products we use in our daily lives affecting the endangered Southern Resident Orcas? That’s the question environmental toxicologists have been trying to answer. King County officials have identified what they are calling “chemicals of emerging concern” in the wastewater that is being released into the Puget Sound. Local scientists are trying to prioritize the most harmful substances for marine life as chemicals enter the sound at alarming rates.

In this blog post, we will explore the chemicals that are entering the Puget Sound, the effects these chemicals are having on the marine life, and what can be done to prevent the chemicals from entering the environment.

Headline 1: Chemicals Entering the Puget Sound

Hundreds of chemicals are being dumped into the Puget Sound, according to researchers like Ruth Sofield, a professor of environmental toxicology at Western Washington University. These chemicals are making their way into wildlife, whether it’s orcas or lower-trophic level organisms. James Meador, a recently retired NOAA Fisheries scientist, identified several hundred chemicals in the effluent that flows to the Sound. These chemicals were found in fish tissue specifically.

Headline 2: Effects on Marine Life

The chemicals deemed high-priority by researchers include antibiotics, antidepressants, and even makeup like lipstick and mascara. These chemicals can act like estrogens, impacting the reproduction of wildlife like chinook salmon, which are a food source for the endangered Southern Resident orcas. If the food source is unable to reproduce, then the orcas will have less food.

Headline 3: How Do They Enter the Wastewater Stream?

The chemicals enter the wastewater stream through pipes in our homes and businesses. Many of these chemicals are part of a stubborn category of chemicals called PFAS, or “forever chemicals”. These chemicals are called “sticky compounds” because they want to be in lipid or tissue, and can accumulate in fish and up the food chain to orcas.

Headline 4: What Can Be Done?

Scientists are urging the public not to pour old medications down the toilet, and to limit their use of unnecessary products like lotions or take medicines only when needed. They are also informing agencies of needed engineering improvements, as wastewater treatment plants are not currently able to remove chemicals like this. There are currently several laws in Washington that ban chemicals like PFAS in products, and King County has created a coordination group to try and tackle the issue.

In conclusion, the chemicals entering the Puget Sound are having a detrimental effect on the marine life, particularly the endangered Southern Resident orcas. It is important to be aware of the chemicals entering the environment, and to take steps to reduce their impact. We can all help by limiting our use of unnecessary products, taking medicines only when needed, and informing agencies of needed engineering improvements.