The State Department of Ecology recently awarded a Public Participation Grant to Puget Soundkeeper for our new project addressing legacy tire pollution and salmon. For the next two years, we’ll address the legacy of old tire use and dumping in the Duwamish River basin, and raise awareness in the community about tire-related pollution.

Puget Soundkeeper Clean Water Program Director Anna Bachmann explains some of the challenges and opportunities surrounding legacy debris cleanup.

What is the Public Participation Grant?

The Department of Ecology issues the PPG out of its Solid Waste division, and it funds activities that help inform and involve the public in Superfund cleanups or solid waste issues. Soundkeeper will use this grant to raise public awareness around tire pollution, and will lead paddle cleanups and walking cleanup events to help remove debris from the Duwamish River basin.

Why is legacy debris an issue in Puget Sound? Why are legacy tires particularly problematic? 

“Legacy debris” refers to trash and other discarded objects that remain in the environment for a long time. This debris is an ongoing source of pollution, is unsightly and dangerous to people and wildlife, and can attract additional debris.

The visual impact of large and legacy debris is obvious, but these objects also leave a chemical legacy that is invisible to eye. Tires release contaminants like polyaromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs), phthalates, sulfenamides, heavy metals, and many other chemicals, as well as 6PPD-quinone. Tire manufacturers added the preservative 6PPD to tires beginning in the 1960s. It prevents ozonation, but when 6PPD degrades, it creates 6PPD-quinone, a lethally toxic substance for coho salmon and other fish.

What are some of the unique challenges for cleaning up large and/or legacy debris, especially from the Duwamish River? 

The challenge lies in the description: large debris requires large (and expensive) equipment for removal. Additionally, much of this debris is embedded in the river sediment. Removal may require special permits and safety measures to avoid disturbing potential toxics that have accumulated in the sediment over time.

Two volunteers stand shoulder to shoulder as they lift up a tire they recently removed from Lake Washington.

What are some of the misconceptions about legacy debris, especially tires?

These types of debris may be out of sight, buried in the mud or underwater. For example, there are over 70 wrecked vessels hidden beneath the waves of Lake Union. And, in the 1970s, there was actually a program to install artificial reefs made of tires throughout Puget Sound. These reefs were intended to attract fish and help build habitat, but they are in fact a source of pollution.

Bulkheads, or revetments, made of tires were once a common and inexpensive option to stabilize river banks and shorelines. However, these structures rarely have lasting stability and continuously shed tires into the environment.

What impact will this work have on the river? 

Legacy debris reminds us of a time when we treated our rivers like dumping grounds. Now, we have an opportunity to remedy that relationship by cleaning up the river and building relationships within the surrounding community. In the short term, we’ll take every precaution to avoid disturbing sediment and migrating salmon. Our immediate goals include raising awareness and organizing surface cleanups, in preparation for the intensive work necessary to remove embedded, legacy debris.

Interested in this project? Click the button below to signup for project updates and receive volunteer information!