PORT GAMBLE — State health officials have lifted a shellfish-harvesting closure on two miles of Port Gamble Bay beach acquired by the county as part of the Kitsap Forest and Bay Project.
Len O’Garro, a state toxicologist, said clams and oysters from that area — on the west side of the bay, south of the mill site — were found to contain traces of arsenic, a naturally occurring substance; dioxin furan, commonly associated with mills; PCBs, or polychlorinated biphenyl, a manmade substance used as a lubricating oil, hydraulic fluid and other industrial uses; and carcinogenic pH, a byproduct of burning.
The toxic levels, measured mostly in parts-per-million, did not give health officials concern for commercial and recreational harvesters, whose average consumption rate is one to two seafood meals per week. But seafood has traditionally comprised a large part of the diet of the S’Klallam and Suquamish peoples, who consume a half-pound to 1.1 pound of shellfish per day. “We are recommending that they do not eat [west bay shellfish] at the higher Tribal rate,” O’Garro said.
“That’s only a recommendation. We can’t control how much shellfish that Tribal members consume. But we want Tribal members to understand that, at the lower Tribal consumption rate, there is some risk. At the higher rate, the risk is much higher.”
Port Gamble S’Klallam Tribe Chairman Jeromy Sullivan said his government advises Tribal members to harvest from different locations, including Port Gamble Bay. “But not all from the bay, because we still have concerns about the bay,” he said. “While we feel great about the opening [on the west side of the bay], we’re still concerned about how much we eat from the bay, period. That’s the message we’ve given.”
The Port Gamble S’Klallam Tribe reserved, in the 1855 Treaty of Point No Point, the right to harvest shellfish and finfish in their historical territories, which includes Hood Canal and the Strait of Juan de Fuca north to the San Juan Islands.
The news of the closure lift came as Pope Resources, which owns the town of Port Gamble, readies to clean up the site of the former mill, which operated from 1853 to 1995. Pope has a cleanup agreement with the state Department of Ecology.
Jon Rose, president of Olympic Property Group, the real estate arm of Pope Resources, said cleanup should begin by July 2015, pending permits.
According to Rose, here’s what you’ll see beginning next year: All business tenants of the mill site will be gone by May. Removal of pilings and an old dock will come first, followed by intertidal dredging to remove wood waste and other debris. A layer of sand will be placed to contain any waste that could not be removed. Cleanup should be completed by 2017 or 2018, Rose said.
The lifting of the shellfish harvest closure will not affect Pope Resources’ cleanup plans. Paul McCollum, director of the Port Gamble S’Klallam Tribe’s natural resources department, said the area now deemed safe for shellfish harvesting is “a little bit on the southern fringe” of the area to be dredged. “Most of it is not in the cleanup area,” he said.
‘They’ve always been clean’
Rose said the lifting of the closure confirms what he’s believed all along: that the bay is healthier than it is given credit for.
“It’s great that Port Gamble Bay shellfish are safe to eat even without needing any environmental cleanup,” he said. “They’ve always been clean.”
Rose said the harvest closure was imposed as a precaution after concerns were expressed about the health of shellfish near the mill site. OPG could have had the closure lifted earlier if it had funded tissue sample studies, but the company decided to focus its money elsewhere.
“It never needed to be closed,” Rose said.
McCollum said the Tribe did its own tissue samples around the time of the closure, and then again in 2010. The 2010 results were “still a little bit worse than in 2002 or 2003,” he said.
The health of shellfish from west Port Gamble Bay far exceed the state’s current standards. But what’s “healthy enough” is being argued throughout the Puget Sound region, all the way to Gov. Jay Inslee’s office.
The federal Clean Water Act requires states to have current and accurate Water Quality Standards. The standards set pollution limits for wastewater dischargers.
The state Department of Ecology is now in its rule-making process to adopt new human health criteria in its Water Quality Standards for Surface Waters.
Those who depend on fish want the state to toughen its pollution and clean-up standards to allow for the fish consumption rate to be raised to 175 grams a day. The rate is currently 6.5 grams a day, or one fish meal a month. Industries oppose tougher water quality standards, arguing that tougher standards won’t make a difference in the health of fish.
Sullivan, the S’Klallam Tribe chairman, is not convinced the bay’s overall health is good enough. He’s dived for geoduck and at 30- to 35-foot depth noticed pockets of really fine material that’s collected there. Step in it and you sink to your knees.
Geoduck there has “really been impacted by whatever it is. Unfortunately, that’s not going to be dredged,” he said. He’s found unhealthy looking geoduck there, brown with black spots.
“We have the same concern throughout the whole bay,” he said. “We want it to be healthier.”
How shellfish on west Port Gamble Bay measure up, according to the state Department of Health
Clams: .017 ppm to .020 ppm
Oysters: .015 to .022 ppm
Clams: .020 ppm
Oysters: .030 ppm
Clams: .030 ppm
Oysters: .030 ppm
Clams: .020 ppt*
Oysters: .020 ppt
*= parts per trillion