Cleaning the toxic habitats of the Puget Sound

EarthCorps members carry a creosote piling to a nearby boat for removal.

Member group EarthCorps is leading an ambitious effort to remove creosote-contaminated debris from the beaches of the Puget Sound. Creosote has long been used as used as a wood preservative, and contains over 300 chemicals that, together, are effective at preventing decay, but can also be harmful or toxic to marine species. Polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs) are the chemicals of most concern. Exposure to PAHs is lethal or severely harmful to herring, juvenile salmonids, and other species that are important parts of the food web for orcas, salmon, and birds. Exposure to creosote through direct contact, or even through vapors emitted on hot days, can also threaten human health. Unfortunately, thousands of derelict creosote pilings remain in the Puget Sound, many of which break up and distribute tons of debris onto beaches.

With RAE’s support, EarthCorps is partnering with the Samish Nation, SeaWorld Busch Gardens Conservation Fund, and the Washington Department of Natural Resources to remove massive amounts of this debris. In the past, efforts to remove such debris have involved loading the material onto trucks, meaning that only beaces accessible by road could be cleaned. However, the Samish Nation donated a boat and expert pilot to the removal effort, allowing EarthCorps to reach previously inaccessible beaches. Their crews have removed an estimated 400,000 pounds of toxic debris in recent years.

EarthCorps, RAE, and their partners are through this project improving water quality in the Puget Sound for the benefit of local communities as well as its fish and wildlife, including the region’s iconic killer whales.

Check out our 2018 Accomplishments Report to learn more about the Impact of the RAE Alliance.

Sarina Katz is the communications and outreach manager at Restore America’s Estuaries.

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