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Toxic Chemicals and Heavy Metals in the Spokane River

A Public Guide

Chemicals and Heavy Metals in Our Environment

Chemicals are a growing human health and environmental concern across the country. Today, more than 80,000 chemicals are in use. Until proven harmful, their use and disposal is not regulated by government.

Some chemicals are toxic and are regulated to assure their safe use. In Washington, for instance, almost 30 million pounds of regulated chemical releases were reported in 2004.

Over time, certain chemicals prove to be particularly harmful and their presence in our land, air, or water poses longterm risks. These are called persistent bioaccumulative toxins because they:

  • Remain in the environment for years without breaking down.
  • As one species consumes another, toxic chemicals move up the food chain and thus build up in the tissues of fish, animals, and humans.
  • Can cause cancer, skin rashes, nervous and reproductive system disorders, immune deficiencies, developmental and learning problems for children, and other health problems.

Heavy metals released by historic mining operations in the Coeur d’Alene Basin pose additional environmental and health concerns.

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