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Report due on health of harbor’s salmon

Studies show good progress in containing contaminants from the Wyckoff site.

The research arm of the National Ocean and Atmospheric Administration intends to publish a 24-year study on the health of English sole in Eagle Harbor next month.

The report, by the Northwest Fisheries Science Center, is a good indicator of the progress made at the Wyckoff Superfund site since cleanup efforts began in 1993.

It shows a marked decrease in the amount of liver lesions on English sole in Eagle Harbor, but concludes that testing should continue into the future.

Mark Myers, who expects to publish the report next month in the Journal of Environmental Toxicology and Chemicals, has worked on the project since the first trawl of Eagle Harbor’s polluted bottom back in 1983.

“The decks were awash with pretty much pure creosote,” Myers said. “We would have to call the hazardous materials team these days – we were young and foolish back then. It was pretty disgusting, but scientifically it was a jackpot.”

Myers and his team found grossly contaminated soil, and found that 80 percent of English sole had liver lesions due to the pollutants.

The contamination was tied to the century-long industrial work at Bill Point, where logs were treated with creosote as a preservative.

NWFSC was funded by the EPA to conduct further studies in 1993 after an initial 54-acre cap was put in place beneath the waters of the harbor.

However, results were slow in coming and the EPA stopped funding the research group.

“We weren’t seeing a lot of dramatic changes in the first three years. The EPA, and all of us, were disappointed,” Myers said. “It was a short term study and [the EPA] kind of pulled the plug early. We didn’t see dramatic improvements until we had been there for five years.”

NWFSC continued to monitor the site without funding to document recovery efforts. Currently, the level of liver lesions in English sole has reached a low of 5 percent.

The report credits the closure of the Wyckoff facility and over 60 acres of capping done by the EPA and the Army Corps of Engineers for a reduction in the amount of toxins affecting marine life.

“It’s certainly improved drastically, Myers said. “ They still have seepage problems, but for about the last eight or nine years the prevalence of the lesions has remained low.

“Personally it feels good to have been involved from the beginning. We identified the problems and we’ve been involved in mediation measures, and it’s good to see things improve dramatically.”

The NWFSC will continue to work in the harbor, trawling the water each year to document the health of English sole.

“When you monitor a site such as this you have to continue doing it because there could be changes that are occurring and you really don’t know if the improvements will have positive effects,” Myers said. “We’ll keep this up every year, as long as I’m around. We regard it as our responsibility and have ever since recovery efforts began.”

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