The Spokane River is plagued by persistent bio-accumulative toxins that adversely affect water quality and human health. One of these toxins, PCBs (polychlorinated biphenyls), enters the river through stormwater at a rate higher than all other sources combined. PCBs affect aquatic life and—through fish consumption—impact public health. PCB exposure, which occurs from eating certain Spokane River fish, can cause skin rashes, cancer, liver disease, immune deficiencies, neurological and behavioral complications, and reproductive and endocrine system problems. In addition, for more than a century, our community has lived with a legacy of mining waste consisting of lead, arsenic, cadmium, and zinc originating from Idaho’s Silver Valley. These contaminants can lead to serious health problems in humans. Exposure to heavy metals through contact with beach soils can lead to childhood lead poisoning, nervous system and kidney damage, and cardiovascular disease.
To protect public health, improve water quality, and enhance stewardship of the Spokane River, The Lands Council educates economically-disadvantaged, ethnic communities and underprivileged youth about the health risks of toxic contamination. We do this by spending time on the river, collecting surveys, posting and distributing health advisories, staffing informational tables at community events, and delivering educational presentations. We’re also working hard to involve these folks in river clean-up and tree planting activities throughout the watershed.
The Lands Council is also implementing “green infrastructure.” Storm gardens and engineered bioswales (landscape elements designed to remove silt and pollution from surface runoff water) are an environmentally-sound, successful, and cost-effective means of capturing and treating PCB-contaminated stormwater runoff on-site – ultimately improving Spokane River water quality. Built between the sidewalk and street, storm gardens feature native plants and “biochar” – activated carbon, produced from crop and seed-milling residue – that has been shown to be effective at removing PCBs and heavy metals from stormwater. Storm gardens help take PCBs out of the hydrologic cycle, prevent them from entering the Spokane River, and recharge our aquifer.