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Washington state eyes action on toxics for orca recovery

Science - Orca © RKP -

A taskforce organised by Washington Governor Jay Inslee to protect the orca population has recommended the state take action to "prevent the use and release" of certain chemicals of emerging concern. These include flame retardants, phthalates and PFASs.

The recommendation came in a November report of the Southern Resident Orca Task Force, a group formed at the direction of a governor’s executive order from March 2018 to identify and support the implementation of a long-term plan for recovering the region's waning killer whale population.

The taskforce focused on toxic contaminants as one of three "key threats" to the endangered species, and set a goal to reduce exposures to orcas and their prey.

The taskforce's final report has recommended that the state "identify, prioritise and take action on chemicals" that threaten these animals. Specifically, it calls for the Department of Ecology to develop a list of priority chemicals and to pursue policies "to prevent the use and release of chemicals of emerging concern into Puget Sound".

The recommendation encourages the department to submit legislation requests in 2019 for new policies and action that can reduce the load of chemicals of concern, such as phase outs, disclosure requirements and assessment of safer alternatives, and to seek increased funding of existing programmes.

Contaminants of emerging concern named in the report include: flame retardants per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFASs), phthalates, bisphenols, nonylphenols (NPs), and chemicals used in tyres. Furniture, electronics, clothing and personal care products are identified as consumer products pathways for these substances' entry into the environment.

Further recommendations on toxics include:

  • accelerating the implementation of a ban on polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs) in state-purchased products;
  • speeding up the clean up of legacy contaminants like PCBs,  polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs), polybrominated diphenyl ethers (PBDEs) and PFASs; and
  • increasing monitoring of toxins in marine waters.

Governor Inslee said he would review the recommendations and roll out budget and policy priorities by mid-December.

In the coming year, the taskforce plans to "work to refine additional recommendations to ensure the state is on a clear path to working with partners and across boundaries to ensure a self-sustaining and resilient population" of orcas.

Another report will be issued in October 2019 on the progress made and outstanding needs.

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