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Recommendation: 30

Status: Underway

Identify, prioritize, and take action on chemicals that impact orcas and their prey.


Action 1

The Washington Department of Ecology should develop a prioritized list of chemicals of emerging concern that threaten the health of orcas and their food, and pursue policy and funding to prevent the use and release of these chemicals into Puget Sound. (The following groups of chemicals were identified as potentially important: flame retardants, per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances, phthalates, bisphenols, nonylphenols, medications, pesticides, and chemicals in tires.)

Action 2

The Department of Ecology should develop a plan to address pharmaceuticals, identifying priorities, pollution prevention, and wastewater treatment methods.

Action 3

Use new science to update toxicological information, and adjust plans and programs.

Implementation Details

  • The Department of Ecology should develop a prioritized list of the chemicals of emerging concern based on greatest benefit to Southern Resident orcas and their food. The department, with input and review from regional experts, including Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife and National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, should begin this prioritization process in 2018 and complete the list in March 2019.
  • It is important to note toxicological information is limited on many newly identified chemicals of emerging concern. This list will need to be periodically revisited to ensure new chemicals and new research are incorporated into efforts to decrease chemical exposure to Southern Residents and their food.
  • The Department of Ecology should develop a plan and pursue legislation and funding in the 2019 session to address control of those newly identified chemicals based on greatest benefit to Southern Residents and the food they eat. The legislative request should include funding to implement existing policies as well as identify new policies and actions to decrease the load of priority chemicals of emerging concern to Puget Sound (for example, phaseouts, disclosure, assessment of safer alternatives, and enhanced treatment). Given pharmaceuticals require a different control mechanism, the department should convene discussions about priority pharmaceuticals, source control, and wastewater treatment options. The plan will identify the most effective actions to decrease loading of priority chemicals to Puget Sound and will be completed by 2025.

Recent Progress


  • Working with the Puget Sound Partnership’s Puget Sound Ecosystem Monitoring program, the University of Washington’s Puget Sound Institute developed a framework for prioritizing chemicals of emerging concern to be used in statewide chemical action planning.
  • The Washington Departments of Ecology and Fish and Wildlife studied multiple Puget Sound rivers to identify where juvenile salmon are exposed to toxic chemicals so these sources could be addressed.
  • The Legislature funded the Products Replacement Program at $6.5 million ($5.1 million to Puget Sound) in 2021 to provide incentives to businesses to remove the worst chemicals through technology and infrastructure upgrades, best management practices, disposal programs, and the use of safer chemicals.
  • In 2021, the Legislature allocated $351,000 to the Department of Ecology to review data on paint fin waterways, prepare a report to the Legislature, and ban paints containing the highly toxic chemical Cyburtyne.
  • The Department of Ecology received $523,000 to work with the Department of Transportation, University of Washington, and Washington State University to identify areas affected by tire and other chemicals from roads and transportation infrastructure and the best way to reduce the toxicity to aquatic life. This includes developing a standard method to measure the chemicals. The department will submit a report in 2021. In addition, the Department of Ecology received $195,000 to assess potential toxic hazards of 6PPD from tires, other chemicals or chemical classes, and breakdown products used as anti-oxidants and/or antiozonants in tires and submit a memo to the Legislature by December 1, 2021.
  • The Department of Fish and Wildlife provided key science support for the Washington State Attorney General’s Office to settle its $90 million lawsuit against Monsanto Corporation, the company held responsible for the production and release of toxic polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs), the chemicals of primary concern for orca, Chinook salmon, and herring health. The Attorney General’s Office recommended the settlement be used for remediation.


The Legislature passed the Pollution Prevention for Healthy People and Puget Sound Act of 2019 to address harmful chemicals in consumer products. The law does the following:

  • Directs the Department of Ecology to identify consumer products that are a significant source of, or use, chemicals defined in statute, by June 1, 2020.
  • Directs the department to, every 5 years, identify five additional chemicals and consumer products that are a significant source of those priority chemicals, with the first process beginning June 1, 2024.
  • Directs the department to regulate consumer products containing priority chemicals, including restricting or banning their manufacture or sale, or requiring a manufacturer to disclose use of the chemical. Provides for public and legislative review of regulations before they take effect.
  • Authorizes the department to require manufacturers to provide information about their uses of chemicals in consumer products.
  • Provides for civil penalties for manufacturer violations of newly established rules.
  • The Legislature appropriated $808,000 in the 2019 budget and $1.5 million in 2021 ($1.2 in Puget Sound) to the department for ongoing implementation of the law.

In 2019, $4.7 million and $3.7 million were included in the Department of Ecology’s budget to prevent contaminants from entering the environment. This includes new authority for the department to prioritize chemicals harmful for species, develop chemical action plans, and ban chemicals in products.

More details may be found in the progress reports in the resources library.