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Clean water is a critical aspect of the health of the Puget Sound ecosystem. We impact water quality through the discharge of treated wastewater and runoff from our cities and farms that can introduce a wide range of contaminants into the environment. Scientists at the Puget Sound Institute work to understand and combat water pollution ranging from ‘forever chemicals’ such as PCBs and PFAS, to lesser-known Contaminants of Emerging Concern (CECs). We also support research into the impacts of excess nutrients (such as nitrogen and phosphorus) that can lead to eutrophication and low oxygen that can make it harder for marine life to survive.

What we study

Gloved hand holding a glass water collection sample with water in the background.

Contaminants of emerging concern (CECs)

Contaminants of Emerging Concern (CECs) come from every day products such as medications, cosmetics, pesticides, and detergents. Others are found in the plastic and rubber parts of cars, TVs, and computers. Researchers have found hundreds of CECs in Puget Sound and there is growing evidence that they are affecting the health of marine and freshwater species (as such, our concern about them being in the environment is “emerging”).

Projects and selected publications

This project will develop a population matrix model to analyze how exposures to CECs under different scenarios affects population outcomes and stable age distributions. The model will be applied to a highly impacted system, the Puyallup River, and a lightly impacted system, the Nisqually.

Contact: Maya Faber

Faber, Maya. (2023) Contaminants of Emerging Concern in Puget Sound: Screening, Prioritization, and Estrogenic Mixture Response Assessmen. WWU Graduate School Collection. 1229. https://cedar.wwu.edu/wwuet/1229

Contact: Maya Faber

James, C.A., Sofield, R., Faber, M., Wark, D., Simmons, A., Harding, L., O’neill, S. (2023). The screening and prioritization of contaminants of emerging concern in the marine environment based on multiple biological response measures. Sci. Total Environ, volume 886. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.scitotenv.2023.163712

Contact: Andy James

Tian, Z., Peter, K.T., Gipe, A.D., Zhao,H., Hou, F., Wark, D.A., Khangaonkar, T., Kolodziej, E.P., and James, C.A. (2020). Suspect and nontarget screening for contaminants of emerging concern in an urban estuary. Environmental Science & Technology, 54 (2), 889-901. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.scitotenv.2021.148826

Tian, Z., Wark, D.A., Bogue, K., and James, C.A. (2021). Suspect and non-target screening of contaminants of emerging concern in streams in agricultural watersheds. Science of the Total Environment, Volume 795, 148826. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.scitotenv.2021.148826

James, C.A., Sofield, R., Faber, M., Wark, D., Simmons, A., Harding, L., O’neill, S. (2023). The screening and prioritization of contaminants of emerging concern in the marine environment based on multiple biological response measures. Sci. Total Environ, volume 886. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.scitotenv.2023.163712

Red and blue graph on a computer screen.

Polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs)

Polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs) are persistent toxic chemicals that move easily between air, water, and land, lasting for decades in the environment including Puget Sound. PCBs bioaccumulate over time in people as well as aquatic and terrestrial animals, becoming more concentrated in organisms at the top of the food chain, like orcas.

Projects and selected publications

Contact: Andy James

Scientists, researchers, and managers are collaborating to share practical information, best practices, and lessons learned in order to address concerns related to toxic contaminants in the environment. Since PCBs are an active issue in many regional management areas, they are the initial focus of the Cross Program Contaminant Working Group.

Contact: Marielle Larson

Algae start blooming in a pond during summer months

Nutrients

Nutrients, including nitrogen and phosphorus, support the growth of algae and aquatic plants, which provide food and habitat for fish, shellfish and smaller organisms that live in water. Whether naturally occurring or the result of human activities, an excess of nutrients can cause problems in aquatic ecosystems including Puget Sound.

Projects and selected publications

Contact: Tim Essington

Contact: Andy James

UW Puget Sound Institute is collaborating with experts locally and globally to advance the science to inform how best to manage nitrogen, low dissolved oxygen, and the potential impacts on marine life in Puget Sound. Learn more.

Contact: Stefano Mazzilli

Puget Sound Integrated Modeling Framework

The Puget Sound Institute studies many aspects of water quality in order to support the development of holistic solutions. One example of a holistic evaluation of water quality is the Puget Sound Integrated Modeling Framework project which is focused on developing a complete watershed model to better understand how changes on the landscape might impact Puget Sound food webs.

Our labs

Based at the Center for Urban Waters in Tacoma, our labs include leading-edge analytical equipment that is advancing the scientific understanding of the harmful chemical 6PPD-Q, and many other trace compounds found in local waters.

Explore our labs.

The Center for Urban Waters in Tacoma, Washington