Toxic Chemicals and Heavy Metals in the Spokane River

A Public Guide

Evaluating Exposure and Risk

Playing It Safe On Beaches and Shorelines

Help protect your children from any contaminants by washing hands, face, feet and toys before eating and/or leaving the beach. Also, remember to use life jackets when playing in or by the river.



Contaminant pathways to the river include industrial and municipal discharges, stormwater drains, tributaries, atmospheric deposition and urban runoff.


Contaminants can be trapped in sediment on the river bottom, banks, and beaches. They can also attach to fine particulates that travel through the water column.

PCB Water Cleanup Plan

A Total Maximum Daily Load (TMDL) report, also called a water cleanup plan, is being developed for PCBs. This plan will regulate the amount of PCBs that can enter the Spokane River.

Although banned, previous PCBs still persist in the environment. A draft PCB TMDL in 2006 identified industrial discharges, wastewater treatment plants and storm water as sources of PCBs still entering the river.

To determine the amount of PCBs that can be in the river, standards are based on the amount of fish that can be safely eaten (consumed) without risking human health. For the Spokane River, standards set by the Spokane Tribe of Indians are used because they are a sovereign government located farthest downstream.

In 2007, the Washington Department of Health provided a health consult with new fish tissue analysis. In 2008, Ecology produced a report to further clarify the amount of PCBs entering the river from storm water drains. The Washington Department of Ecology plans to reissue a draft PCB TMDL, perhaps as early as 2010.


People recreating on beaches upstream of Upriver Dam in Spokane Valley may be directly exposed to metals-contaminated sediments.


Sediment contaminants can build up in the tissues of worms, insect larvae and other organisms (called the benthic community) that inhabit the river bottom.

exposure-biomagnificationBiomagnification and Food Chain

Contaminant concentrations can biomagnify (increase) in the tissues of species as they move higher in the food chain, e.g.—caddis fly, to fish, to humans. This happens as species higher in the food chain ingest and further concentrate toxins in their tissues.

exposure-fishconsumptionFish Consumption

For fish species that accumulate contaminants in their tissue and organs, toxins can move up the food chain to humans, birds, and other species consuming fish.

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