PUBLIC HEALTH ASSESSMENT
LOWER DUWAMISH WATERWAY
SEATTLE, KING COUNTY, WASHINGTON
A number of community health concerns related to the LDW were expressed during community interviews and outreach activities. Specific individual health concerns identified during community interviews and outreach activities are addressed individually below.
1. Are the salmon in the Duwamish River site safe to eat?
An evaluation of both chinook and coho salmon tissue data indicates that eating salmon caught from the river is no different from eating salmon caught from other areas of Puget Sound. Salmon are a migratory fish and contaminants present in salmon tissue are assumed to have originated from sources outside of the LDW study area. However, salmon were evaluated in this public health assessment because they are harvested commercially from the LDW and are consumed by recreational and subsistence populations.
This assessment indicates that people who eat large amounts of salmon caught in the LDW could have a small increased risk of adverse health effects. This risk would be of most concern for pregnant women or women considering pregnancy. However, this risk may be completely offset by the benefits of eating salmon, particularly for some consumers who may have poor nutritional alternatives to this resource. Because the contaminant levels in LDW salmon do not appear to be any different from other areas of Puget Sound, the issue of exposure through consumption of salmon must be dealt with across all of Puget Sound. PCBs are the primary contaminant of concern in salmon found in the LDW and across Puget Sound. DOH is currently evaluating PCB consumption of Puget Sound fish. This evaluation is being done separately from this health assessment.
2. Is seafood from markets safe to eat? How do we know? How is it regulated?
Washington residents should continue to eat fish as part of a healthy diet. The Washington Department of Agriculture inspects seafood for wholesale processing. Their method is called the Hazard Analysis Critical Control Point plan. It applies to wholesalers and ensures safety regarding storage temperatures, species specifications, ingredients and potential allergens, and cross-contamination. It does not include testing for chemicals. Most wholesalers buy fish from reputable commercial fishers that do not harvest in the Duwamish River, however, anecdotal information obtained from a PH-SKC focus group with Vietnamese elders revealed that people may catch fish in the Duwamish and sell it to local markets. This report has not been verified. For more information contact Jim Pressley at the Washington State Department of Agriculture at (360) 902-1860.
The Washington Department of Health (DOH) monitors shellfish growing areas. Shellfish harvesting is only permitted in areas with no past history of industrial uses. The Lower Duwamish Waterway is closed for commercial shellfish harvesting as is the King County shoreline, except for Vashon-Maury Island. DOH conducts inspections of wholesalers of mollusk and shellfish. Shellfish are inspected for biotoxins, not chemical contaminants. These shellfish should be safe to eat if the grocer keeps them refrigerated and does not store them at room temperature.
Local health agencies are responsible for inspections at the markets. The local health agency does not test for chemicals but does rely on state certification tags for biotoxin safety indicating that the product comes from an approved source. Public Health Seattle and King County (PH-SKC) conducts inspections at markets four times a year. PH-SKC checks to see that seafood products sold in markets come from an approved source. If the seafood does not come from an approved source, the market receives a hold order, is expected to comply with voluntary removal, and signs a waiver to destroy the product. The market is not fined and this process primarily operates on the honor system. For more information on local health inspection policies contact Leonard Winchester of PH-SKC at (206) 296-9842.
The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) inspects samples from commercial fishing and packaging plants. The FDA also conducts the Market Basket Survey through which food products from the grocery store are randomly inspected. Food products need to be shipped over state lines for the FDA to have jurisdiction, otherwise the state is responsible for food safety inspections. For more information contact Sue Hutchcroft at the FDA at (425) 483-4983.
All things considered, it would be wise to ask your local grocer where he buys his product. If he does not provide a satisfactory answer, you may want to do your shopping elsewhere.
3. Will it be safe to harvest seafood from the LDW site when it is cleaned up?
The potential for uptake and bio-accumulation of contaminants varies depending on the type of fish/shellfish and the amount and type of contaminant. As the cleanup of the LDW site progresses additional sampling will be conducted to verify that cleanup actions are effective. It should also be noted that a number of upland sources have also been identified as potential sources of LDW contamination. These potential sources will be addressed by Ecology throughout the LDW site cleanup.
PCBs are the major contaminant of concern related to fish consumed from the LDW. While cleanup is expected to reduce PCB levels in both fish and sediment, it is likely to take many years before any appreciable decline is seen in fish. Measurable decreases in PCB levels are expected only for those fish species that are resident in the LDW.
4. When will the site be cleaned up?
The LDW is an enormous site (6 miles of river and shoreline area) and will require a number of years to clean up. The Environmental Protection Agency is the lead agency in terms of site cleanup activities. For specific questions regarding the time frame for cleanup or specific cleanup activities for the LDW site contact Allison Hiltner at EPA (206) 553-2140 or Ravi Sanga (206) 553-4092. Questions relating to upland source control activities should be directed to Rick Huey at Ecology at (425) 649-7256.
5. What species of fish/crab/shellfish are safe to eat (if any) in the river?
People who eat fish occasionally from the LDW are not likely to be exposed to chemical contaminants at levels of health concern. High-end (subsistence) consumption of fish from the river, however, is of concern. As a result, this health assessment has recommended meal limits for resident fish. Salmon from the LDW have contaminant levels similar to other areas of Puget Sound and have lower PCB levels than resident LDW fish.
6. Why are signs not posted at the river if there is a pollution problem?
DOH, PH-SKC, EPA, and Ecology are addressing this issue. There is an existing health advisory for urban areas along the King County shoreline, including Elliott Bay and the Lower Duwamish Waterway, but the advisory has not been well documented, communicated, or understood by potentially impacted populations. This health assessment recommends better communication of existing advisories (see page 58).
Yes. Childhood exposure to chemical contaminants associated with the LDW were evaluated at several public access areas (see page 35). There was very little risk to children playing at parks. It should be noted that the sediment near public access areas has not been well characterized, but worst-case exposure scenarios based on existing data did not reveal significant increases in health risk. Additional sampling is planned at public access areas in order to identify the potential need for cleanup. The new data gathered are not anticipated to significantly change the conclusion in this health assessment.
8. Is it safe to picnic at these parks?
Yes. See question 7.
9. Is it safe for habitat restoration workers to work along the riverbanks? If not, what precautions should they take to reduce exposure (gear)?
Exposure to chemical contaminants in LDW sediment through direct contact does not appear to be a significant public health concern. However, there are items such as debris, glass, and unstable rock and riprap materials that could represent a physical hazard for individuals involved in habitat restoration activities. Rubber gloves and boots would be appropriate protective attire to protect against physical hazards.
10. What are the "hot spots" along the river (particularly pertaining to marinas)?
EPA is currently in the process of identifying sediment "hot spots" along the LDW study area for early remedial action. Questions relating to sediment "hot spots" and early action activities should be directed to Allison Hilter at EPA at (206) 553-2140.
11. Is it safe to swim, wade, or to kayak in the river?
The King County Water Quality Assessment concluded that occasional swimming or recreation in the Duwamish River is not likely to result in chemical exposures that are of a health concern. However, there are combined sewage overflows that may contribute pathogens and viruses into the river that are a concern for swimmers. PH-SKC has an existing advisory warning against swimming near combined sewer overflows, especially after periods of heavy rain when untreated sewage may be present.
This assessment evaluated environmental contamination in the LDW using ATSDR guidance, guidance from state and other federal agencies including EPA and Ecology and primary literature sources. A description of the process is given in the Environmental Contamination section (see page 17) and the Pathways Analysis/Public Health Implications section (see page 22). In the case of the LDW, primary exposure pathways involve consumption of contaminated seafood and direct contact with contaminated sediments.
13. Is the river causing respiratory problems?
Contaminants associated with the river are not of concern for respiratory problems. However, the LDW is situated in the heart of a highly industrialized area with a number of air emission sources. Major sources in the area include industry, automobiles and airplanes, all of which can contribute to respiratory effects. Air emissions in this area are regulated by the Puget Sound Clean Air Agency. You can contact the Puget Sound Clean Air Agency at (206) 689-4040 or 1-800-552-3565, e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org, URL: http://www.pscleanair.org .
14. What about aerial deposition from cement plants?
Aerial emissions from cement plants is regulated by the Puget Sound Clean Air Agency. You can contact the Puget Sound Clean Air Agency at (206) 689-4040 or 1-800-552-3565, e-mail: email@example.com, URL: http://www.pscleanair.org .
DOH is currently evaluating a cement plant located along the Duwamish River. For more information regarding this assessment, please contact Gary Palcisko toll-free at 877-485-7316 or 360-236-3377.
15. Are mortality rates higher for people exposed to contamination in the waterway?
In order to determine if mortality rates are higher for people exposed to LDW contamination, an exposed population needs to be identified, and compared to an unexposed population. In the case of the LDW site, census tracts could be utilized in an effort to define the potentially exposed population. However, it would be unclear as to what extent the population within the defined area comprised the exposed or potentially exposed population. This represents a significant barrier when addressing the mortality rates in people exposed to LDW contamination. The state Board of Health reports that the communities of South Park and Georgetown have higher mortality rates and decreased life expectancies when compared to city of Seattle as a whole. Though it has been theorized that the communities' proximity to heavy industry contributes to this trend, there are no studies in Washington State that confirm this theory. 
16. Is the water in the Duwamish site a source of drinking water?
DOH is not aware of anyone using the LDW as a source of drinking water. Drinking water is provided by the City of Seattle to industry and residences in this area. The city of Seattle obtains the majority of their drinking water from the relatively pristine Cedar and Tolt River watersheds. Drinking water is routinely tested to ensure that it is safe for human consumption.
17. Is it safe for pets to have access to the waterway?
This PHA does not specifically address pet exposures. Evaluation of human exposure to contaminated water and sediments at public access areas indicates very little risk. PH-SKC does advise humans not to swim in the river after heavy rain because of possible raw sewage discharge.
18. Is the water from the Duwamish a health hazard if it seeps into people's homes?
DOH is not aware of any residences along the Duwamish river that are being impacted by seeps from the river. Pathogens present in the water column, especially near CSOs following rain events, may represent a potential health concern for individuals using the river for recreational purposes such as swimming or SCUBA diving. Refer to response to question #12.
19. Is there enough data on fish/shellfish tissue to assess a health risk and is that data being shared?
While it is always desirable to have more information, DOH determined that sampling of some species of fish in the LDW such as salmon, English sole, and perch were adequate to support recommendations made in this health assessment to protect public health. There was a limited amount of Dungeness crab samples, but recommendations concerning crab consumption are based on red rock crab data. Shellfish are not well-characterized in the LDW, and this health assessment recommends additional sampling of these species.
The tissue data used in this health assessment have a variety of origins. The bulk of it comes from the Puget Sound Ambient Monitoring Program conducted by the Washington State Department of Fish and Wildlife, and the King County water quality assessment. These data are available to the public.
20. Are surface water, combined sewer overflows (CSO), and air issues being addressed?
A number of government agencies are involved with the monitoring, regulation, and management of the LDW site. The Washington State Department of Ecology Toxics Cleanup Program is the lead for addressing upland source control actions which could impact LDW sediment. Impacts to surface water that present no threat to sediments will be addressed by other Ecology programs and/or local agencies. In addition, Ecology issues National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System (NPDES) permits along the shoreline of the LDW. Combined sewer overflows have been evaluated by the King County Department of Natural Resources in a report entitled "Water Quality Assessment for the Duwamish River and Elliott Bay" dated February 1999. A number of documents are included in the water quality assessment and can be accessed at the following Internet URL address: http://dnr.metrokc.gov/wlr/waterres/wqa/wqpage.htm . Exposure to chemicals in surface water represents much less of a concern than exposure via ingestion of contaminated seafood. Air issues within the LDW study area fall under the jurisdiction of the Puget Sound Clean Air Agency.
21. What about occupational exposure to fishermen exercising their treaty rights?
Based upon the exposure assumptions used to evaluate this exposure pathway, exposure to contaminated sediments while tending fishing nets was not expected to result in adverse health effects. Exposure of tribal fisher people are discussed on page 34.
22. Is it safe to eat shellfish?
Two separate advisories concerning shellfish from the King County shoreline (including the LDW) exist. The PH-SKC advisory warns harvesters that shellfish harvested near urban areas along the King County shoreline are potentially contaminated, and the DOH Food Safety and Shellfish Programs advisory recommends against the consumption of shellfish from the King County shoreline except for Vashon-Maury Island. These advisories are based on potential biological and chemical contamination of shellfish due to proximity to urban areas. However, the extent of contamination in LDW shellfish is not actually known due to limited shellfish sampling. Shellfish from the LDW should not be eaten until more information is known about them.
23. Can people get cancer or leukemia from eating fish/shellfish from the river?
Certain contaminants present in LDW fish/shellfish are considered to be carcinogenic, or have the potential to cause cancer. The two major contaminants in LDW fish that can or may cause cancer in humans, arsenic and PCBs, are not associated with leukemia but have been linked to other types of cancer. The estimation of cancer risks utilizes science to the maximum extent possible, however, many assumptions are employed in this process. In general, estimated cancer risks associated with eating LDW fish are very low. Furthermore, the risk assessment methodologies used in this PHA are likely to overestimate the true risk of cancer.
- People who eat large amounts of resident (nonanadromous) fish caught in the LDW may be at some risk for adverse health effects. The primary health concern is the potential for adverse effects on the development of children following exposure in the womb. Exposure of the fetus to mercury and PCBs has been shown to impair learning and behavior during childhood. Levels of PCBs found in English sole suggest that consumption of this species, particularly by pregnant women, should be limited. Other bottomfish from the LDW (i.e., flounder) can also be assumed to contain high levels of PCBs. In addition to bottomfish, there is also risk associated with consumption of pelagic fish, namely striped perch, from the LDW. Though these fish do not contain levels of PCBs as high as bottomfish, they represent a slight risk to people who might frequently consume them such as anglers and subsistence populations. Limited sampling indicates that both red rock and Dungeness crab contain elevated levels of PCBs and mercury. In addition, Dungeness crab also contain elevated levels of arsenic although the percentage of the more toxic inorganic form is not known. Although it is not clear that the LDW can support a significant shellfish or crab harvest, people have been witnessed harvesting crabs from the LDW. Finally, Quillback rockfish, though not identified in the LDW, also contained high levels of PCBs, therefore, consumption of these fish from Elliot Bay should also be limited. Due to the fact that a subsistence fish consuming population can potentially consume significant amounts of resident fish from the LDW, consumption of resident fish from the LDW represents a public health hazard in accordance with ATSDR's conclusion categories.
- A health advisory from PH-SKC currently exists for urban areas along the King County shoreline warning about contaminants in bottomfish, shellfish, and crab. However, the health advisory has not been well documented or communicated to populations consuming seafood from the LDW. There is also a general advisory from DOH Food Safety and Shellfish Programs that advises against harvesting shellfish from all of the King County shoreline except Vashon-Maury Island due to biologic and chemical contamination associated with urban areas. The highest consumers of fish and/or shellfish from the LDW are from Asian/Pacific Islander and Native American communities. With the exception of Boeing Plant 2, signs warning against the consumption of these types of seafood from the LDW were not visible from the shoreline or from the LDW during site visits to the study area.
- The current PH-SKC advisory includes crab and bottomfish (e.g., English sole), which are among the most contaminated species consumed in the LDW. However, rockfish caught in Elliot Bay contain the highest levels of PCBs and are not considered to be bottomfish. DOH is currently evaluating the potential health risk associated with exposure to polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs) in fish throughout Puget Sound.
- Salmon are not bottomfish and are not part of the advisory. Recent data indicate that contaminant levels in LDW salmon are similar to those found in salmon from other parts of Puget Sound. DOH is currently evaluating PCB exposure from consumption of salmon caught throughout Puget Sound. Exposure to PCBs in salmon and other fish can be reduced through preparation and cooking.
- Livers of English sole caught in the LDW contain approximately 25 times the amount of PCBs in muscle tissue. While there is no evidence that livers of fish caught in the LDW are consumed to any great extent, consumption of livers from resident fish caught in the LDW could substantially add to overall PCB exposure.
- The hepatopancreas organ in crabs concentrates PCBs. A seafood consumption study of Asian and Pacific Islanders in King County indicates that many people eat this organ when consuming crabs. Although sampling in the LDW is limited, data gathered elsewhere indicates that this organ can contain up to 10 times the amount of PCBs found in muscle tissue.
- DOH supports King County's existing advisory that warns of contaminants in shellfish, bottomfish, and crabs near urban areas of the King County shoreline. The DOH Office of Food Safety and Shellfish Programs has also issued a general shellfish advisory for the entire King County shoreline, except Vashon-Maury Island. This assessment further recommends the following advisory related to consumption of LDW fish.
- Consumption of any resident fish from the LDW should be limited to one 8 ounce meal per month (see table 10), and quillback rockfish from Elliot Bay near Harbor Island should be avoided. Women who are pregnant or considering pregnancy should pay special attention to these meal limits because PCBs and mercury, the contaminants which the meal limits are based, can impair development of the fetus.
- People who routinely eat fish in their diet should avoid eating any resident fish from the LDW to account for the fact that all fish, including those purchased at the supermarket, have some contaminants in them.
- Salmon is the preferred fish to eat from the LDW, but it should not be eaten every day especially while pregnant or considering pregnancy.
- The hepatopancreas of crabs should not be eaten due to the tendency for PCBs to concentrate in the organ.
- Livers from bottomfish caught in the LDW should not be eaten due to the likelihood of highly concentrated contamination.
- In concurrence with both PH-SKC and DOH Food Safety and Shellfish Programs, consumption of shellfish from the LDW should be avoided due to potential chemical and biological contamination.
- The abundance of shellfish within the LDW needs to be determined.
- Congener-specific analysis for PCBs is needed for a representative species from each of the various trophic levels of the LDW.
The public health action plan for the Lower Duwamish Waterway site identifies actions to be taken by DOH and other government agencies. The purpose of the action plan is to ensure that the public health assessment not only identifies public health hazards, but provides a plan of action designed to mitigate and prevent adverse human health effects resulting from exposure to hazardous substances in the environment. The following public health actions are based upon the recommendations outlined in this public health assessment.
- DOH will re-examine the consumption limits recommended in this health assessment pending new sampling and/or toxicological data.
- DOH will revisit all community groups previously contacted to present the conclusions and recommendations of the public health assessment.
- DOH will post signs.
- DOH will provide health education materials to various community groups to assist in communicating health messages. Educational materials will be translated into various languages and will be verified for technical accuracy by a translator.
- DOH will coordinate shellfish harvesting and safety education presentations, including showing a marine resource harvesting video in the community's native language, to those groups that requested harvesting information.
- DOH will conduct fish cleaning demonstrations to show the affected community how to reduce their exposure to contaminants in fish.
|Boulevard Park Library
12015 Roseberg Ave. S.
Seattle, WA 98168
|South Park Community Center
8319 8th Ave. S.
Seattle, WA 98101
Washington State Department of Health
Office of Environmental Health Assessments
Site Assessment Section
Washington State Department of Health
Office of Environmental Health Assessments
Site Assessment Section
DOH Designated Reviewer
Robert Duff, Manager
Washington State Department of Health
Office of Environmental Health Assessments
Site Assessment Section
ATSDR Designated Reviewer
Technical Project Officer
Division of Health Assessment and Consultation
Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry
ATSDR Regional Representative
Karen Larson, Ph.D.
ATSDR Region 10
Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry
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