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A recently funded study at the Puget Sound Institute will look at the impacts of emerging contaminants on juvenile Chinook salmon. Photo: Roger Tabor/USFWS (CC BY-NC 2.0)

New federal and state funding to study toxics in Puget Sound

The Puget Sound Institute (PSI) and its parent organization the Center for Urban Waters (CUW) are the recipients of more than $3.2 million dollars in grants this month from the Environmental Protection Agency and the Puget Sound Partnership. The funds will go toward understanding and reducing emerging threats from toxic chemicals in Puget Sound.

The grants — six in total — will support projects based at our labs at the University of Washington Tacoma. These include:

  • Two grants totaling approximately $940,000 (with combined federal and state funds) to study the occurrence and impacts of contaminants such as pharmaceuticals and personal care products found within the White-Puyallup and Stillaguamish watersheds (led by PSI’s Andy James).
  • Three studies receiving a combined $1.3 million dollars to continue research into the management and effects of the highly toxic chemical derivative 6PPDQ from tires (led or co-led by CUW’s Ed Kolodziej). 
  • Approximately $1 million dollars from the EPA to study innovative ways to remove and destroy PFCs from wastewater (led by PSI Director Joel Baker).

The research builds on earlier work coming from the lab including the discovery of 6PPDQ, a chemical from preservatives in automobile tires that has emerged as a threat to coho salmon and other species. These field studies are being supported through a $999,911 grant from EPA and will focus on the occurrence of the chemical in the South Sound and in King County. In the South Sound, Ed Kolodziej is working with tribal and community partners to look at the impacts of the chemical on small watersheds especially important to tribal nations. “This work will help to define how roads, tires, and humans are polluting ecologically and culturally sensitive watersheds with 6PPDQ and similar previously unprioritized contaminants,” according to a summary of the award. Kolodziej will also work with Jen McIntyre (WSU-Puyallup) and John Hansen and Justin Greer (USGS) to investigate the impacts of spring storm events on sensitive juvenile coho salmon, a potential emerging salmonid health issue ($152,000 from the Puget Sound Partnership). Kolodziej’s team will receive an additional $160,000 from EPA for a 6PPDQ-related project in collaboration with King County.

Andy James and his colleagues will address information gaps associated with a class of chemicals known as “CECs,” or contaminants of emerging concern, that are increasingly being discovered in the waters of Puget Sound. In many cases, these chemicals — ranging from opioids to birth control pills and cancer drugs — have unknown impacts but could pose significant threats to aquatic species by affecting reproductive or neurological function. James will receive $571,109 from the EPA to study the occurrence and impacts of these contaminants that may be affecting juvenile Chinook in the White-Puyallup and Stillaguamish watersheds, and an additional $289,000 from the Puget Sound Partnership to model population level impacts on exposed salmonids.

A sixth study will receive $999,992 from the EPA to look at new ways of isolating and destroying perfluorinated chemicals (PFCs) in municipal wastewater. The project is led by PSI Director Joel Baker in collaboration with colleagues from UW Tacoma’s new Civil Engineering program, with Aquagga, Inc., a Tacoma-based engineering firm that was formed within the Washington Maritime Blue incubator, ETC2, a chemical engineering firm in Portland, Maine, and the City of Tacoma Environmental Services group. PFCs are a class of so-called “forever chemicals” that tend to remain in the environment without breaking down naturally. They are used in many products such as packing materials and textiles because of their ability to repel water and oil, but they can also accumulate in the bodies of animals that inadvertently consume them.

More details about the funded projects are available below.

Enhanced watershed monitoring and toxicological analysis of CECs

PI: Dr. C. Andrew James, Puget Sound Institute

Award amount: $571,109

Funding source: EPA

This project addresses key information gaps associated with the occurrence and impacts of CECs in Puget Sound. In collaboration with the Department of Ecology, enhanced CEC monitoring data will be collected in the White-Puyallup and Stillaguamish watersheds through the deployment of passive samplers in critical habitat for out-migrating juvenile Chinook salmon. High Resolution Mass Spectrometry and non-target analysis will help identify priority CEC locations. Secondly, the project will develop Qualitative Structure Activity Relationship (QSAR) models to improve our understanding of ecotoxicology related to chemical exposure, building on recent developments in in vitro toxicity assessments and advances in computer science. This project is part of a larger, ongoing program focusing on understanding the occurrence and impacts of CECs on aquatic organisms, and those that consume them. It will build on existing work and inform other projects going forward by filling key monitoring gaps and elucidating exposure-effects relationships. 

Modeling population-level impacts from Contaminants of Emerging Concern exposures to endangered salmonids

PI: Dr. C. Andrew James, University of Washington Tacoma                  

Co-PI: Dr. Ruth Sofield, Western Washington University

Award amount: $360,000 (This is a shared award with $289,000 going to UW Tacoma. These EPA funds are distributed by the Puget Sound Partnership.)

The objective of this proposed project is to develop and apply a modeling framework that will evaluate the population-level impacts of CEC exposures on Chinook salmon.

Sampling, Occurrence, and Toxicity of 6PPDQ and Related Chemicals

PI: Dr. Ed Kolodziej, UWT Center for Urban Waters

Award amount: $999,911

Funding source: EPA

To address knowledge gaps in understanding the toxicity of 6PPD-quinone and additional tire-derived chemicals observed in roadway stormwater, this project proposes to:1) Improve storm sample collection and capacity via remote or passive sampler development;2) Characterize 6PPD, 6PPDQ and other PPD-quinone concentrations and dynamics in key small watersheds of the Puyallup, Nisqually, Deschutes, and deep South Sound.3) Evaluate individual tires with high or low 6PPD content for their ability to leach tire-derived chemicals and cause or explain acute and sub-lethal toxicity. 4) Compare the relative pollution potential and toxicity of subsurface tire reefs in the Puget Sound and above-surface tire embankments in freshwater systems from tire-derived chemicals. This work will help to define how tire rubber chemicals are degrading water quality and contributing toxicity in small, tribally prioritized watersheds across the South Sound. Relative to the greater Seattle area, very little monitoring of roadway runoff, 6PPDQ,and related CECs has occurred in the South Sound although tribal partners have consistently observed stormwater-linked mortality events in coho salmon in several ofthe watersheds we are proposing to study. This work will help to define how roads, tires, and humans are polluting ecologically and culturally sensitive watersheds with 6PPDQand similar previously unprioritized contaminants. By integrating chemical analysis and toxicology data, this study will help protect ecosystems by allowing for data driven management of legacy tires, stormwater and roadway runoff events.

Cutting the chain: Innovation to destroy PFCs in wastewater 

PI: Dr. Joel Baker, Puget Sound Institute

Award amount: $999,992

Funding source: EPA

This project combines two innovative technologies, foam fractionation and hydrothermal alkaline treatment, to remove and destroy PFCs (perfluorochemicals) from wastewater, providing a critical tool to reduce PFC loadings to the environment. We will target isolating and destroying PFCs present in the filtrate produced during solids dewatering, a common process at all secondary wastewater treatment plants. The pilot-scale technology demonstration at the Tacoma Central WWTP will be paired with bench-scale treatability studies and rigorous, fundamental research experiments conducted to elucidate reaction mechanisms, evaluate matrix effects, and to confirm that no harmful byproducts are formed. By leveraging existing wastewater infrastructure, this innovative treatment process represents a significant opportunity to permanently prevent PFCs from entering the environment. 

Impacts of Spring Storms on Juvenile Salmon Health in an Urbanized Watershed

PI: Dr. Jen McIntyre, Washington State University, Puyallup Research & Extension Center

Co-PIs: Dr. John Hansen, Dr. Justin Greer, US Geological Survey, Western Fisheries Research Center, Dr. Edward Kolodziej, Center for Urban Waters

Award amount: $397,000 (This is a shared award with $152,000 going to the University of Washington Tacoma. These EPA funds are distributed by the Puget Sound Partnership.) 

This project will assess the potential for spring storms to induce URMS in juvenile coho salmon in watersheds exposed to roadway runoff. Acute and sublethal impacts of 6PPDQ and water quality in Miller Creek will be assessed during spring storms with substantial impacts of roadway runoff.  

Multi-Criterion Decision Tool to Address 6PPD-Q / Tire Wear Particles 

PI: Jenee Colton, MEM, King County

Co-PI: Dr. Ed Kolodziej, UWT Center for Urban Waters; Dr. Kathy Peter, UWT Center for Urban Waters

Award amount: $500,000 (This is a shared award with $160,000 going to the University of Washington Tacoma) 

Funding source: EPA

King County (KC) and University of Washington (UW) teams propose to use existing and emerging data to create a GIS tool that will identify road segments that are potential sources of toxic tire wear particle pollutants. These pollutants are conveyed to streams via stormwater and contribute 6PPD and 6PPD-Q to Coho waters, causing Coho pre-spawn mortality and adverse effects to other salmonids. The project will create a logical user interface to support clear decision-making for stormwater retrofits that remove tire-derived pollutants, benefitting salmon (and thereby many other species) by prioritizing locations for treatment and validating GIS-based observations. The tool will help KC prioritize locations where stormwater treatment will have maximum benefit to salmon and receiving waters and will build upon findings discussed in the “6PPD in Road Runoff: Assessment and Mitigation Strategies” report (Ecology 2022). KC will develop the GIS tool in collaboration with UW’s scientists involved in 6PPD-Q research. KC participates in the ECY-supported “6PPD sub-group” of the Stormwater Work Group and will incorporate emerging data from that group and collaborate with other entities doing similar work (e.g., Ecology, NOAA). Existing road and traffic attribute data will be selected for their potential to predict tire-derived pollutant input into Coho streams. The best-performing attributes will be used in our model to generate a heatmap predicting the highest concentrations of 6PPD and 6PPD-Q. The heat map will provide a relative ranking of the pollution potential of road segments in concert with salmon habitat in the associated receiving waters. Heatmap accuracy will be validated using stormwater sampling and analysis by the UW researchers. This validated heatmap will be incorporated into an open-source web-based tool for prioritizing stormwater retrofits. The tool will be scalable beyond unincorporated KC and adaptable to other jurisdictions and stakeholder inputs. 

Additional information about the grants is available at: