Scientists say they are likely to find dozens of toxic sites, but cleaning them all up will take decades. Factories that formerly used PCBs in industrial processes have closed, and their former owners have moved on, which could leave the state holding the bag.
The $5 million grant, which EPA started doling out this fall, is a good start. It will shine a light on sources of PCBs in stormwater, the major pathway for PCBs to reach the bay.
But the grant highlights just how ubiquitous the problem is, and how little water quality experts know about where the legacy pollutant still resides. Thirty one years after they were banned from manufacture for electrical transformers, circuit breakers and hydraulic systems, toxic PCBs persist in urban stormwater runoff into the bay.
Fishermen at the end of the fishing pier at Oyster Point Marina, in South San Francisco, Calif., photographed on Wednesday, Oct 13, 2010. People are fishing in the area in spite of a health hazard advisory on consuming fish that are contaminated wth PSB's, a carcinogen.
Aging, leaking . and still going
sediment that cannot be dredged without taking the risk that it will mix with the water itself.
Cities around the bay particularly San Carlos, San Jose, Oakland and Richmond still contain many hot spots for PCBs, a potent carcinogen that has contaminated the bay and spurred a health advisory for fish caught there. Environmental Protection Agency to identify sources of polychlorinated biphenyls, or PCBs, in stormwater the first comprehensive study of its kind.
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Over the next four years, the Bay Area Stormwater Management Agencies Association will refer contaminated sites it discovers to the state for cleanup. The grant will also allow scientists to install up to 10 sediment trapping devices at the bottom of creeks and rivers with the most serious PCB problems.
The EPA grant tacitly acknowledges what scientists have known for decades: that PCBs are still ubiquitous, despite a manufacturing ban in 1979. At the time, the EPA crafted a loophole in its PCB ban to allow certain machines with "closed loop" systems, such as transformers and capacitors, to keep running on PCB derived insulating fluids until the end of their lives. The EPA began re examining that rule earlier this year.
O'Hara is in charge of keeping PCBs out of the bay as part of a regional plan adopted by the Water Quality Control Board in Vuitton Montaigne 2008.
"We don't expect what we're doing with this grant to reduce PCBs in the bay by much. We're trying out a variety of methods to reduce PCBs and trying to figure out which ones are most effective," Konnan said.
A 2010 study by the San Francisco Estuary Institute found 72 locations around the bay containing high levels of PCBs, but scientists say that's likely just the tip of the iceberg. Perhaps most strikingly, the study revealed that 21 percent of PCBs are still in use.
"I always think, there goes the creek," said Jan O'Hara, a water quality engineer and program manager with the San Francisco Regional Water Quality Control Board. Every year, the rainy season forces PCB laden sediment into storm drains and out to the bay.
EPA grant to help identify sources of PCBs
Machines have already started to break down. The National Response Center, which tracks oil and chemical spills, reported 5,578 spills associated with PCBs from 1990 through Aug. 19, 2009.
"We want to get the biggest bang for our buck," said Jon Konnan, the grant project manager.
Still, the pilot project would only cut down on 3.3 pounds of PCBs a drop in the bucket compared to the 44 pounds of PCB laden sediment scientists estimate have been piling up each year.
So far, part of the money is earmarked for the Pulgas Creek pump station watershed in San Carlos and for the Ettie Street pump station watershed in Oakland, both well studied pollution zones. Part of the grant will likely go toward two other project sites in Richmond, and possibly also one in the South Bay.
"It's a big problem of legacy use, all over the place," O'Hara said.
Eating PCB laden fish caught in the bay, especially sturgeon and striped bass, can cause cancer, say health officials. Subsistence fishermen are most at risk, and it's not clear the message is getting out. Despite a statewide health advisory, no warning signs for PCBs are posted near the fishing dock at South San Francisco's Oyster Point Harbor.
McKee, an environmental scientist and PCB expert with the San Francisco Estuary Institute.
And that's not the only risk.
Estuary Institute, linked PCB exposure to low rates of embryo mortality in double crested cormorants.
The Water Quality Control Board has a goal of reducing annual PCB discharge into the bay by 95 percent within 20 years. O'Hara admits that's very ambitious, considering so little is known about where the pollution is coming from.
"Unfortunately, the end of life for this electrical equipment is often a fire, when you get a lightning strike or an overload in the system. The fluids tend to break down," said Lester Louis Vuitton Neverfull Damier Azur
Scientists also suspect PCB laden fish in the bay are harming birds that feed on the fish. One study by Jay Davis, of the San Francisco Louis Vuitton Alma Gm
They're in the soil below transformers and capacitors that are used to control electrical currents and at factories that used them as plasticizers and lubricants. They're scattered along railway lines and near auto recycling yards. They were also used as caulking and are built into the walls of many older buildings, so they will be exposed when the buildings are torn down.
USS POSCO, the steel finishing plant in Pittsburg, reported to the EPA in 2005 that its 105 transformers still contain 449,306 pounds of PCBs.
The fish are feeding on as much as 10,780 pounds of PCB laden sediment on the bottom of the bay, according to scientists Louis Vuitton Shoulder Bag Damier
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