With the high cost of dioxin testing and the controversy that seems to accompany dioxin cleanup projects, North Coast agencies are looking for a way to pool resources and establish a dioxin sampling protocol.
The workgroup, an idea hatched in 2006 after Humboldt Bay was listed as impaired by dioxins, is spearheaded by the North Coast Regional Water Quality Control Board and consists of several agencies concerned with the bay's health, including Humboldt Baykeeper and the city of Eureka.
”Generally, people will share the data pretty readily, but in this case it's so expensive and there's so little data,” said Caryn Woodhouse, a staff environmental scientist for the board.
The groups have enlisted the services of the San Francisco Estuary Institute -- which has developed a set of protocols for its bay -- to help develop the protocol. Woodhouse said the development of a booklet with standardized protocols will cost between $15,000 to $20,000, and the work group is currently looking for funding options. The group is hoping to have something ready before the Humboldt Bay Festival in April.
The group said this is a good alternative to gathering dioxin sampling independently.
”We've been trying to establish a sampling protocol so that in the data that is submitted to the board, you're comparing apples to apples and not apples and oranges,” Eureka Project Manager Miles Slattery said.
The city has used part of its supplemental environmental project (SEP) funding to pay for the initial research of these protocols. SEP is funding set aside for projects in lieu of environmental fines, including penalties that municipalities such as Eureka have received for wastewater issues.
Woodhouse said people are sampling for different reasons, so data is not consistent.
Because of the complexity of the test, dioxin testing can cost approximately $1,000 and has a high chance of contamination if not done correctly. The tests are done on sediments, groundwater, water columns and in wildlife tissue.
”We have very little data on the bay itself. There's not a lot of sampling that's been done,” said Casey Ashley, a senior engineering geologist with the board who has personally sampled 10 different locations in the bay.
”I can't tell you where there are hot spots or not in the bay because nobody does it. It's expensive -- nobody has the funding to do it,” she said.
Humboldt Baykeeper Executive Director Pete Nichols said setting up protocols can also help cast a wider net when testing the bay.
He said when Baykeeper did dioxin testing it looked at different sources than the water board did, and ultimately found dioxin levels where the board did not. Nichols said he recognizes that the effort needs to be as collaborative as possible.
”Everybody is interested in water quality, and different municipalities have reason to sample for dioxins,” he said.
”I think that it's important that we make sure that the data that we get from investigating the bay --whether you're finding a way to ensure the health of the bay or removing dioxins -- that data is always defensible,” Slattery said.