SHELTON (January 9, 2007) – Human waste is an ingredient of increasing pollution in Oakland Bay, according to a cooperative study that examined the makeup of fecal coliform found in two corners of the bay.

Human waste is somehow directly contributing to rising pollution in Oakland Bay, an important shellfish area for the Squaxin Island Tribe and commercial shellfish growers. The study was conducted well away from the Shelton Wastewater Treatment Plant, so that is not the pollution source.

DNA samples of bacteria were collected by the tribe, Mason County, and the Washington State Department of Health. The data was analyzed by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. A portion of the results was released in December.

The data show human bacteria appearing in the fecal pollution found at 10 of 11 points around upper Oakland Bay and Chapman Cove. Human bacteria did not show up just once or twice over the four month summer study, but consistently throughout the sampling period.

“The smoking gun is that human bacteria showed up everywhere almost all the time,” said John Konovsky, environmental program manager for the Squaxin Island Tribe. “This compels immediate action to identify and correct what is a serious public health concern.”

While the study points out conclusively that humans contribute to bacteria pollution in Oakland Bay, it does not identify the specific sources, such as individual septic tanks or drain fields. The only way to know for sure is to inspect and test each of the private septic systems along the shoreline and creeks that feed the area of concern.

“We also found ruminant waste – likely from cattle, sheep, goats, elk or deer – but the human sources are certainly most troubling,” said Konovsky.

Shellfish harvest was restricted in upper Oakland Bay in December – Chapman Cove just barely passed and might be downgraded at any time. Because of the downgrade, Mason County is required to form a shellfish protection district to correct the pollution problems.

“Oakland Bay is not Hood Canal – the pollution problems are far simpler. If we cannot solve the problems in Oakland Bay, there is no hope for the rest of Puget Sound,” said Andy Whitener, natural resources director at the Squaxin Island Tribe.

Shellfish growers are among the top employers in Mason County, and the tribe – as the original inhabitants of the area – has always depended on shellfish culturally and economically. “If Oakland Bay closes to shellfish harvest, it will be devastating to the tribe, commercial shellfish growers, and the many families that depend on shellfish for their livelihood,” said Jim Peters, chairman of the Squaxin Island Tribe. “We a have clearer picture of the problems. The sooner the shellfish protection district is formed and action taken, the better.”

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For more information, contact: John Konovsky, environmental program manager, Squaxin Island Tribe, (360) 432-3804. Emmett O’Connell, information officer, NWIFC, (360) 528-4304, eoconnell@nwifc.org