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Kevin Do and Tiana Nizamic



The Duwamish River has played a key role in the industrial history of the Seattle area.  Serving as a site for many industrial processes, its flow helps aid in transportation and power for many companies.  Its pristine nature and populated waters make it an important part of Seattle's commercial history.  The 5.5 mile stretch from South Seattle into the Elliot Bay makes it an ideal site for businesses to prosper.  Native fish such as the dungeness crab, soft-shelled clam, and perch once served large populations of natives as well as settlers.  Yearly migratory salmon, such as the mighty coho, make their trips here. 

Over the years, unregulated waste threatened the river's health due to lack of regulation. In addition, runoff from city streets has carried pollutants, such as oil from cars, to the river.  Declared a Superfund site in 2001, cleanup has been slow even though $70 million dollars had already been spent by 2006.  Sea-life concentrations of pollutants such as PCBs are still elevated, resulting in many detriments.

Cleaning up the river is a difficult task


Elliot Bay, a huge industrial port of Seattle

Pollutants in Native Sea Life

The level pollutants sampled from the native sea life in the Duwamish (crabs clams) showed that they contained 7 times more cancer causing agents than regular clean rivers.  Examples of these are PCBs, hydrocarbons, mercury, lead/heavy metals, pesticides, arsenic, and human feces. Migratory sea life (such as whales, salmon, and seals) consume the polluants and in turn carry them pollutants elsewhere. Hence, they are transferred to different parts of the food chain and different locations.
 Table showing elevated PCBs in native sea-life.

Pollutants in Salmon

Migratory salmon originating here have extremely high levels of pollutants.  As a result, consumption have been limited to 4 fish per month.  Low-income populations living around the Duwamish, who rely on salmon as part of their diet are less likely to follow these recommendations. Many Native American tribes, including the Muckleshoot and Suquamish, regularly fish in the river. In fact, a big seafood eater consumes 1 pound, 11 ounces of seafood daily. This results in an excess cancer risk, due mainly to PCBs, that is 30 times higher than the highest acceptable cancer risk. Salmon are part of a larger food chain resulting in bioaccumulation.

Pollutants and DNA changes

PCBs have caused the gill DNA of salmon to change.  Protein receptors fail to function and tumors form.  Abnormal cell growth occurs.  Bioaccumulation can be transferred along the food chain and similar long term effects can occur there.

PCBs affecting gill DNA of salmon.  Note the epithelial changes.


  • "River Lost? Decision time on the Duwamish" is an article that was published in the Seattle Post Intelligencer on November 25th, 2007. It was written by Robert McClure and Colin McDonald with photographs by Paul Joseph Brown. The text consists of three parts: Part 1. The Duwamish helped Seattle prosper. But along the way, it became one of the nation's largest and most toxic sites. Part 2. Critics say the cleanup plan doesn't do enough to protect local residents, wildlife and the environment. Part 3. A cautionary tale about a whistleblower who paid a steep price for his actions. Link:
  • The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) lists information on the health effects, laws and regulations for polychlorinated biphenyls (PBCs). The website discusses the circumstances of the ban of PBCs from consumer products and their release into the environment. Link:
  • The Duwamish River Cleanup Coalition is an organization dedicated to the restoration of the Duwamish River. In addition, their website provides information on how to get involved with the cleanup efforts. Link:
  • The City of Seattle, King County, the Port of Seattle and the Boeing Company are investigating a study on the extent of the contamination in the river and the risks to human health and the environment. The project is being overseen by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and the Washington State Department of Ecology. Link:
  • The Washington State Department of Health (Under a Cooperative Agreement with the Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry) published a document describing the risks of consuming fish from the Lower Duwamish in 2004. They also provide recommendations for the population. Link:
  • A study was conducted concerning the effects of the Duwamish River contamination on the gill DNA of fish. Differences were found in the functional groups of the DNA which lead to abnormal cell development. Link: Changes in Gill DNA

Current Events

  • January 19th, 2010 - The New York Times reports on the agreement set by the New York City school officials to assess the environmental risks posed by PCBs in school buildings. They want to come up with a plan for cleanups and reducing potential exposure. Link:

Letters and Op-Eds

Tiana's Letter to Bob Hasegawa

Kevin's Letter to Bob Hasegawa

Tiana's Op-Ed to the Seattle PI

Kevin's Op-Ed to the Seattle PI


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