The greatest challenge in the cleanup of PCBs is that current discharge levels are so minimal, that detecting them with current technology is nearly impossible. PCBs can accumulate at specific sites, often where currents are more calm and dams allow compounds to settle into the riverbed. PCBs make their way into the river mainly via sewage overflow and stormwater, as well as through acute levels of industrial wastewater. Cleanup of PCBs is a daunting task, but many local organizations are working hard to remove the toxic pollutants from the river.
Avista Corporation is the main electricity and natural gas provider for the majority of the Inland Northwest region. Since the establishment of federal PCB standards under the Toxic Substances Control Act of 1979, Avista has been working to remove and replace equipment that contained PCBs. Beginning this work in 1980, Avista has repeatedly taken part in large-scale removals of equipment such as transformers, that were sold to them without acknowledgement that they contained dangerous levels of PCBs.
Commenting on Avista’s efforts, Washington Department of Ecology water quality specialist, Adriane Borgias, said, “removing that potential source from the watershed is more cost-effective and less difficult than doing a cleanup if the PCBs were released into the environment.”
In addition to Avista’s efforts, the City of Spokane has recently implemented technology to remove PCBs at its newly constructed wastewater treatment facility. In addition, EPA regulations on common products containing PCBs such as paints, have led to a significant decrease in the introduction of PCBs to local watersheds via pollution.
The Spokane River Regional Toxics Task Force is Spokane's leading organization when it comes to PCB cleanup and restoration of the river. SRRTTF monitors the levels of pollutants in the Spokane River and makes sure the river meets the rigorous Washington Water Quality Standards developed by the EPA. The Task Force has also developed a comprehensive plan to address the difficulties of removing PCBs, and is also involved in the capping of areas where PCB discharges have been detected. SRRTTF leads outreach and education programs, partnering with other local organizations to spread awareness of the effects of PCBs.