Resources : Q&A

Puget Sound is beautiful. How could it be in trouble?
The Puget Sound region extends from the crest of the Cascade Mountain Range to the Olympic Mountains, and from Olympia north to the Canadian border. Stormwater pollution carried into freshwater streams, rivers, lakes, and wetlands, and into the saltwater of Hood Canal, the Strait of Juan de Fuca, and Puget Sound has a negative impact on the health of those waters and the animals that live in them. Government is regulating industry, but the biggest challenges are problems we create individually – in our yards, with our cars and around our homes.

How do we know this?
The Washington State Department of Ecology estimates that millions of pounds of toxic pollution flow into Puget Sound each year – including petroleum, lead, and arsenic. Various studies also show that many Puget Sound animal and fish species suffering from high levels of toxicity are endangered, threatened or at risk.

What is stormwater runoff?
Stormwater is rain that is not absorbed into the soil. It runs over paved and developed surfaces (including lawns) and flows into storm drains that do not route to wastewater treatment plants. These storm drains dump untreated, polluted stormwater directly into natural waterways such as lakes, rivers, streams, ponds, and Puget Sound. In most areas in the Puget Sound region, stormwater and sewer systems are not connected together.

What pollutants does stormwater contain?
Stormwater can contain many pollutants. These include antifreeze, brake fluid, toxic copper and zinc from brake pads, exhaust particles, oil, pavement particles, tire particles, transmission fluid, fertilizer, moss killer, weed killers, pesticides, and bacteria from animal waste and broken septic systems.

Doesn’t pollution come from industry?
Factories and industrial plants do create pollution, but government regulations do much to help control those sources. In fact, most of the pollution that enters Puget Sound actually starts in our own neighborhoods: stormwater runoff carries the chemicals we use in our yards, the soaps and solvents we use on our cars, the bacteria from dog waste we don’t dispose of properly, and the oil from car oil leaks, into the Sound.

How does this problem affect me?
4.5 million people call the Puget Sound region home. When we eat shellfish and salmon from the Sound, or swim in its waters, we risk exposing ourselves to highly toxic chemicals. Many contaminants that are harmful to Puget Sound’s wildlife are harmful to us.

What is the problem with automobile leaks?
When it rains, stormwater runoff collects oil from paved surfaces, and much of this polluted runoff ends up in the Sound. The toxic compounds contained in oil have a deadly effect on most marine life. Although automobile oil leaks are only one source of petroleum in Puget Sound, they are indeed a serious issue – and they are the easiest of all petroleum sources to fix.

Why is car washing at home a bad thing?
At home, the dirty wash water and soap from your car go right into the storm drain. Oil, zinc, lead, copper and other toxic compounds are washed off your car and down the storm drain as well. These compounds, along with the surfactants found in all soaps, can kill aquatic wildlife. Even biodegradable soap can kill fish before it degrades.

How does fertilizer affect waterways? Isn’t fertilizer good?
Nutrients such as the phosphates and nitrates found in yard fertilizers can kill aquatic plants and animals. Any fertilizer that is not absorbed by your grass can flow off your lawn in rainwater runoff, and into local waters. In aquatic environments, fertilizers promote the excessive growth of algae, which uses up oxygen needed for fish and other aquatic life. Many lakes, nationwide, are slowly dying from lawn fertilizer.

What is a dead zone?
Oxygen-starved dead zones occur in coastal waters such as Puget Sound when pollution disrupts natural oxygen-creating processes. Several oxygen-depleted dead zones have developed in Puget Sound’s Hood Canal, and signs indicate that new dead zones are emerging in other parts of the Sound. This dangerous phenomenon leads to the suffocation of important food sources for fish and shellfish, it creates hazardous conditions for both plant and animal life, and it has serious ecological and economic impacts on the region. Polluted stormwater runoff is one factor in the development of dead zones.

Why doesn’t the public know about this?
Information about the health of Puget Sound is shared with the public through outreach efforts and the media. There are many organizations working to spread the message, but it’s sometimes hard to believe there’s a problem when Puget Sound looks so beautiful on the surface.

Is someone fixing this problem?
The good news is that we have the power to turn things around. Puget Sound Starts Here partners, government agencies, non-profit organizations and individuals are working to fix the problem. Each of us has a role in effecting change. Our individual actions have contributed to this problem, and we all must be part of the solution.

What is the Puget Sound Action Agenda?
It is a strategy for cleaning up, restoring and protecting Puget Sound by 2020, led by the Puget Sound Partnership.

How can I help?
We’re glad you asked! Here are some simple steps each of us can take to make Puget Sound healthier.

In Your Yard: Use fertilizers and pesticides sparingly or not at all. Compost is the best way to fertilize. Use chemical pesticides only as a last resort.

With Your Car: Use a commercial car wash and have fluid leaks repaired.

With Your Dog: Pick up dog poop, bag it, and place it in the trash (not in the yard waste bin).

In Your Home: From cleaning products to septic maintenance, be aware of how you care for your home. Use non-toxic products whenever possible.