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Spokane River Toxics Outreach

What Are We Doing? The Lands Council just wrapped up its tenth successful season of outreach to homeless, low income, and ethnic communities on Spokane River toxics. From 2003 through 2012, we completed approximately 5,500 surveys, distributed roughly 10,600 health advisories, and educated over 16,700 individuals in the greater Spokane community! These activities are part of our larger, multi-year goals of building public awareness of the health risks of PCBs in Spokane River fish and heavy metal contamination in beach sediments; reducing human exposure to toxics and protecting public health; encouraging participation in the river clean-up process; and enhancing overall community stewardship of the Spokane River.

Why Are We Doing This? PCBs (polychlorinated biphenyls) and heavy metals (lead and arsenic) can cause serious health problems in humans. PCB exposure, which occurs from eating fish from certain areas of the Spokane River, causes skin rashes, cancer, liver disease, immune deficiencies, neurological and behavioral complications, and reproductive and endocrine system problems. Exposure to lead and arsenic through contact with certain beach soils of the Spokane River can lead to behavior and learning problems and reduced growth in children, nervous system and kidney damage, and cardiovascular disease.

Who Are We Targeting? We reach out to homeless and low income communities, as well as recent ethnic populations (Slavic and Hispanic). These folks tend to be frequent users of the river and its resources, have less access to mainstream media for health risk information due to language, social, and other barriers, and in some cases, have cultural or traditional ties to fishing and recreating in the river.

How Are We Doing This? The Lands Council employs a variety of tactics. Our dynamic outreach specialists--native language speakers in the ethnic communities--educate folks one-on-one. We spend time on the river, collect surveys, post and distribute health advisories, staff educational tables at community events, deliver presentations, put on fish cleaning demonstrations, network with social service agencies, homeless shelters, and community organizations, and participate in workshops and conferences.

What Have We Learned? The surveys that we've collected over the past 10 years have given us data on three communities so far: the Slavic community, the Hispanic community, and the greater Spokane community (focusing on homeless and low income individuals). A few general trends have surfaced:
Overall river usage is rather high.
The most popular recreation sites include Boulder Beach, Riverfront Park, People's Park, and Riverside State Park.
Fish consumption is decreasing and/or staying relatively low.
Many survey respondents report having health concerns about the Spokane River.
Knowledge of river contamination and health concerns is not necessarily changing how people use the river.

Please refer to the graphs for more details:
  • Graph: Fish Consumption in Greater Spokane Community (Focusing on Homeless & Low Income Populations)
  • Graph: Knowledge of Spokane River Toxics in Greater Spokane Community (Focusing on Homeless & Low Income Populations)
  • Graph: Percent of Slavic and Hispanic Communities Eating Spokane River Fish
  • Graph: Percent of Slavic and Hispanic Communities Indicating Knowledge of Spokane River Toxics
  • Graph: Sources of Spokane River Toxics Information, as Reported by 2012 Survey Respondents
  • Graph: Percent of Survey Respondents Visiting Selected Sites Along Spokane River, 2012 
  • Graph: Spokane River Use Frequency, July-August 2012
  • Graph: Percent of Survey Respondents Reporting Selected Uses of Spokane River, 2012
  • Graph: Types of Spokane River Fish Eaten, Slavic Community (2012)
  • Graph: Ways of Preparation of Spokane River Fish, Slavic Community (2012)
  • Graph: Parts of Fish Eaten, Slavic Community (2012) 
What's Next? Our work to make selected communities better-informed, more involved, and more vocal in the river clean-up process will resume. We also expect to plant several thousand native trees along or near the Spokane River and Hangman Creek, participate in the Annual Spokane River Clean-up, and educate underprivileged kids about the Spokane River watershed.

How Can People Protect Themselves? According to the Washington State Department of Health, to reduce exposure to PCBs, (1) eat no fish from the Idaho border to Upriver Dam; (2) limit consumption to one meal per month of all fish caught between Upriver and Nine Mile Dams except largescale sucker, which should not be eaten; and (3) eat two meals per week of rainbow trout and yellow perch, one meal per week of mountain whitefish, two meals per month of largemouth and smallmouth bass, and one meal per month of brown trout and largescale sucker caught between Nine Mile Dam and Long Lake Dam. PCBs accumulate in the skin, fat, organs, bones, and juices of fish. If you must eat the fish, remove and/or avoid eating these parts. To reduce exposure to heavy metals in beach soils (found primarily between Plantes Ferry Park and State Line), avoid muddy soil that can cling to shoes or clothing, avoid breathing dust, and wash your hands and face, especially before eating.

Important Links:

Project Contact: Kat Hall at khall (at) landscouncil.org, 509-209-2403

This project is funded through a grant from the Washington State Department of Ecology. While these materials were reviewed for grant consistency, this does not necessarily constitute endorsement by the department.

Spokane River Toxics Community Outreach 

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