Our mission is to protect the habitat of Puget Sound tidelands from the underregulated expansion of new and intensive shellfish aquaculture methods. These methods were never anticipated when the Shoreline Management Act was passed. They are transforming the natural tideland ecosystems in Puget Sound and are resulting in a fractured shoreline habitat. In South Puget Sound much of this has been done with few if any meaningful shoreline permits and with limited public input. It is exactly what the Shoreline Management Act was intended to prevent.

Get involved and contact your elected officials to let them you do not support aquaculture's industrial transformation of Puget Sound's tidelands.

Governor Inslee:

Tuesday, December 24, 2013

DOH and 2009 Sediment Testing in Poverty Bay

The Chinese have stated geoduck shipments from the west coast contained elevated levels of Arsenic and paralytic shellfish poisoning toxins. In the short term a significant number of employees have tragically had their Christmas plans disrupted. The geoduck industry is facing the first market collapse from which it may or may not recover. Agencies may have been able to prevent the current crisis had different decisions been made. Whether those decisions were influenced by the very industry now in crisis is an unanswered question.

1997 - Batelle's sediment study
In 1997 a study by Batelle/Marine Sciences Laboratory in Sequim showed elevated levels of Arsenic, Lead, Mercury, Cesium and Cadmium buried in deeper sediments between Maury Island and Federal Way, peaking at a depth near 2 feet. The Department of Health was made aware of this study as early as December 2, 2007. In an email discussing sediments and geoduck harvesting it was noted:
"In the study by Dr. Crecelius, one of the core samples (number 6) was taken off shore in the exact area of the Dumas Bay Geoducks studied.  The results indicated that at sediments above where Geoducks burrow (live), and through which they are extracted, are significantly higher concentrations of chemicals tested for (e.g., lead; arsenic; PCB; DDT).  These peak values were at sediment depths ranging from ~33cm to ~75cm.  Geoducks typically are at depths of ~90cm."
At the time it was felt a Health Consultation dated April 18, 2007 had sufficiently answered the question. In that Consultation, performed prior to subtidal harvesting of geoduck in the area, and associated sediment disruption, it was determined there was no risk to consuming geoduck harvested from these tracts.

2009 - Department of Health Consultation on sediment ingestion
On March 24, 2009 the Department of Health published a Health Consultation entitled "Federal Way and Des Moines Beach Sediment Evaluation, Pierce and King Counties Washington." That Consultation, focused on whether there was a risk to the public from contaminated sediments considered whether harvesting geoduck in tracts 10400 and 09950 added a risk. In that Consultation it stated:
"It is difficult to determine whether sediment quality is or will be impacted by harvesting operations at these sites. Thus this evaluation will focus on potential health impacts for direct human contact with metal-contaminated sediments through recreational and other types of activities that exist at the shorelines of these sites."  
Due to that "difficulty" a critical decision of what studies to consider and variables to consider was made. Instead of looking at what risk there may be to re-introducing the sediments and contaminants during subtidal geoduck harvesting which are in turn filtered and retained by geoduck remaining, then harvested at a future date, or which may be ingested by any other marine species in the area, the studies considered sediment samples which:
"..were collected within the top 2 to 5 inches of sediment in 1995, 1998, 1999, 2003, and 2006."
Rather than including whether non-harvested geoduck (or other species) would filter/absorb contaminants, then be harvested and sold for consumption, the study instead focused on:
 "...the potential health hazard to children and adults by ingestion of contaminated sediments." (i.e., eating sediments during "recreational beach use.")
As a result of reviewing the studies which only looked at the upper sediments and whether those sediments would be ingested by the public during recreational use, the Department of Health's "Public Action Plan" was stated this way:
"DOH is available to review sediment and/or tissue data from certified shellfish area sites in the future if data become available."
Past and current data and executing the Public Action Plan
Data which was available showing the elevated levels of metals/toxins in deeper sediments which  may have been important was seemingly overlooked. The "difficulty" in determining whether subtidal geoduck harvesting disturbed sediments moved the focus of the 2009 Consultation away from ingestion of geoduck to ingestion of sediment. Now, China's statement that elevated levels of Arsenic have been found in geoduck from this area indicate additional data has become available. Seven years later DOH is now reviewing sediments and tissue data, as they stated in their "Public Action Plan."

On the surface and below
On the surface it appears impacts on the safety of geoduck and other marine species from subtidal harvesting may not have been considered completely. Scientific studies can be difficult sometimes. Below the surface lies an unanswered question of whether undue pressure may have been placed on the agencies responsible for ensuring shellfish harvested from Puget Sound is safe to consume. Politics can sometimes be messy, or in this case, gooey.


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