Skokomish Tribe Lab Tests Water for Threats to Human Health

After eight years of developing a laboratory, purchasing highly specialized equipment and hiring a chemist, the Skokomish Tribe now has a fully functioning water quality lab within its natural resources campus.

Currently the lab is accredited to conduct nutrient analysis of water samples for factors such as total phosphorus, E. coli, nitrite and ammonia.

The next step is to develop testing methods for measuring pesticides in water that come from agricultural activities, which is an important issue in the Skokomish Valley, said Sang-Seon Yun, the tribe’s consulting chemist.

“After we focus on pesticides, we can move into emergent contaminants – pollutants that are showing up in the environment that we haven’t had to deal with before, like pharmaceuticals and personal care products,” said Seth Book, the tribe’s environmental biologist.

Both tribal members and non-tribal residents harvest fish and shellfish from Hood Canal, where recent studies have shown that they can absorb a variety of pollutants, causing a threat to human health.

The lab also will be used as a tool to monitor the effects of climate change, Book said.

“By studying the contaminants and climate change indicators in Hood Canal and Skokomish Valley, we can create a baseline of what’s out there,” Book said. “We can see how pollutants react to climatic changes, such as extreme weather.”

For example, if more pesticides are needed for crops that are affected by heavy rains or droughts, the increased amount of pesticides in the runoff can worsen water quality.

The Skokomish Tribe also is offering the services of its lab to other tribal communities.

“Each tribe has specific water quality issues and we can start a discussion with interested tribes to see how we can help them,” Yun said. “One of our biggest strengths is that we’re a tribal water quality lab that is concerned with tribal interests. We are flexible and capable of going in any direction.” – T. Royal