Storm Drains with lots of trash coming outHumboldt Baykeeper addresses water pollution on a case-by-case basis, and provides information to encourage Humboldt Bay residents to take action to address the problem of toxics in our environment. 

Historic industrial activity continues to impact the Bay along with the health of local residents and the area’s economy. Dioxin, heavy metals, petroleum products, and other contaminants persist in areas where they were used in the past, and continue to enter Humboldt Bay through storm water and ground water discharges.  Humboldt Baykeeper works to stop this ongoing problem by seeking cleanup of these sites.

One focus of Humboldt Baykeeper’s Toxics Initiative is the past use of wood preservatives at dozens of lumber mills that once lined the shores of the Bay and its tributaries. The mills used the chemical pentachlorophenol (also known as "penta") which led to the release of contaminants such as dioxins and furans. Accidental spills and illegal dumping of these chemicals resulted in soil and water contamination. For example, the former Simpson Plywood Mill, and an adjacent drainage swale that discharges directly into Humboldt Bay, was heavily contaminated by dioxins and furans. Through Humboldt Baykeeper’s Toxic Initiative, this ongoing threat to Humboldt Bay was identified, and has been the subject of clean up activities to eliminate this source of dioxin.

In 2006, Humboldt Baykeeper petitioned the State Water Resources Control Board to add Humboldt Bay to California’s Threatened and Impaired Waters list under Section 303(d) of the Clean Water Act.  As a result,  Humboldt Bay was listed for dioxin

Humboldt Bay was listed as Impaired by PCBs under Section 303(d) of the Clean Water Act in 2002, based on levels of PCBs found in fish tissue. PCBs have been demonstrated to cause a variety of serious health effects, including cancer and serious effects on the immune system, reproductive system, nervous system, and endocrine system. For more info on PCBs and their health effects, click HERE

In 2012, a statewide survey of coastal fish found the highest mercury levels in Humboldt Bay leopard shark. In 2016, the California Environmental Protection Agency funded our Humboldt Bay Mercury Assessment to study mercury levels in fish and to identify communities most at risk of exposure. Phase I of this study was completed in 2018, and Phase II was funded in 2019. 

How we will prepare for rising sea levels is just beginning to take shape here in the Humboldt Bay region. Humboldt Baykeeper assessed sea level rise vulnerability for contaminated sites near Humboldt Bay. More than 300 contaminated sites are within 10 meters of current sea level, including more than 40 that are below 2 meters – the amount sea level is currently projected to rise by the year 2100.

On Nov. 10, the Humboldt Bay Harbor, Recreation, and Conservation District unanimously approved the environmental analysis and granted a permit to Union Pacific Railroad for cleanup of the former G&R Metals property on the Eureka waterfront. The site, located at 701 First Street, has been fenced off for years while being monitored and assessed in preparation for the cleanup.

Both the upland portion of the site and the adjacent intertidal mudflats in Humboldt Bay are contaminated by PCBs (polychlorinated biphenyls), metals, and PAHs (polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons) from decades of use as a metal salvage yard, which included metals reclamation from transformers, automobile dismantling and wrecking, storage of batteries, radiators, etc.

The District incorporated limited dioxin sampling in response to Humboldt Baykeeper’s comments on the project. Although this site is not a known or suspected source of dioxin contamination, sediment sampling conducted by the Regional Water Quality Control Board in 2007 found elevated levels adjacent to the site.  The sampling conducted as a result of the Harbor District’s actions will provide valuable information on dioxin levels in this portion of Humboldt Bay.


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