- The waters of the Spokane River are some of the most toxic in Washington, according to the websites listed below. High pollution levels have prompted fish consumption warnings in Washington.
- Toxic pollution is flowing from the area around Lake Coeur d’Alene.
For decades, the former Coeur d’Alene Mining District’s mining and lead
smelting operations contaminated the river with heavy metals, including
lead, arsenic, zinc, and cadmium which cause health problems, including
brain and nerve damage in children. This toxic waste is hazardous to
both people and wildlife. In 1999, the Spokane River carried mine
waste, including 400 tons of lead and other metals and arsenic, to the
- Spokane industries have contributed to the pollution
in the Spokane River and Aquifer. For over 50 years Kaiser Trentwood's
plant has polluted hundreds of acres of their land which is very close
to the Spokane River. In January 2012, Kaiser presented their cleanup
plan to remove some of the polluted soil. http://www.spokesman.com/stories/2012/jan/25/kaiser-unveils-cleanup-plans/
- The Spokane River water contains:
Heavy concentrations of flame retardants and long-banned industrial
compounds. The river has dangerously high levels of PCB’s, an
industrial compound that’s been banned for 30 years, but still continues
to ooze and drip its way into the river. Many of the chemicals of
concern cause developmental problems in lab animals, and a variety of
health problems, including cancer and liver damage. In addition, the
water contains heavy concentrations of flame retardants, dioxins,
arsenic, phosphorus, sewage, and heavy metal from Coeur d’Alene mining
containing lead, cadmium, and zinc. The Spokane River has much higher
PCDE levels than any other part of Washington State sampled as of 2007.
The high levels of phosphorus also promote the growth of algae and
other aquatic weeds that use up the oxygen in the water, depriving the
fish of adequate oxygen to survive. In addition, the low level of water
smells badly. For more information, visit
- The Spokane River is a receptacle for untreated storm water and raw sewage. Numerous agencies are working to resolve this problem, from the City of Spokane to the Dept. of Ecology, Sierra Club's Spokane River Project, and the Land's Council. (see The Spokesman-Review article by Jonathan Brunt, December 16, 2012)
- Is the Spokane River safe to swim in? The
Spokane Regional Health District has warned river users of heavy metals
in the river for over 10 years. Lead and arsenic exposure are
associated with elevated risks for cancer and other diseases. Studies
show that childhood exposure to lead can damage organs; cause learning
problems, reduce intelligence, cause hyperactivity or attention deficit
disorder, and is associated with nervous system problems. Arsenic is a
carcinogen that also can cause skin and circulatory damage. The toxic
heavy metals tend to concentrate in sediment, as opposed to the rocky
surfaces that characterize most of the riverbed. In parts of two
cleanup sites, the concentration of lead is up to twice the level
considered safe. In some places, arsenic is present at levels double
what occurs naturally in the region. In November 2002, inspectors
reported that valley soil at one site was contaminated with arsenic 45’
below ground, just 6’ from groundwater. The amount of contamination
varies widely, and high levels appear only in specific spots.
- WARNING: Anyone floating in the Spokane River is required to wear a life jacket.
What You Can Do:
- Heed WARNINGS: The Spokane Regional Health District encourages people to avoid the dusty soils along the Spokane River
between Plantes Ferry Park and the Idaho state line that could be
breathed in, or mud that could cling to clothing. It also advises river
users to wash their hands and face thoroughly before eating, and to
wash anything that comes in contact with shoreline soils before entering
- Heed WARNINGS: Do NOT eat fish from the Spokane River.
The SRHD warns people not to eat fish caught in the Spokane River
between Upriver Dam and the Idaho state line. Due to PCB
(polychlorinated biphenyls) contamination, fish in that stretch of river
should be eaten no more than once a month. Large-scale sucker and
brown trout caught in Long Lake should also not be consumed more than
once a month.
For more information on the safety of eating fish from our rivers, contact:
- Request signs be posted along the Spokane River and beaches to warn people of the danger of
eating fish caught in the river. Should people be informed of the
water and soil’s dangerously high levels of PCB’s, lead, dioxins,
arsenic, phosphorous, sewage, lead and cadmium? Should people know that
the Spokane Regional Health District encourages people to avoid the
dusty soils along the Spokane River between Plantes Ferry Park and the
Idaho state line that could be breathed in, or mud that could cling to
clothing, advising river users to wash their hands and face thoroughly
before eating, and to wash anything that comes in contact with shoreline
soils before entering a residence? (For more information, see the
Spokane River and Aquifer under Environment on this website.)
- Read the guide to the toxic chemicals and heavy metals in the Spokane River
which was published by The Center for Justice. This guide explains
that cancer-causing PCB’s are found in the river and its fish. The
guide offers ways to limit exposure. Be cautious when you play in or
along the river. Take the time to learn how to make the river safer and
cleaner for future generations. River cleanup is a community
responsibility and challenge. View this guide at http://cforjustice.org. (509) 835-5211
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