Scientists try to keep up with chemical blizzard entering Puget Sound

The plants sterilize sewage and remove solids and organic materials from it. But they were never designed to remove things like antibiotics, cosmetics, hormones, pharmaceuticals, and other consumer products that wash down household drains.

“The latest estimate of the number of chemicals that are used in commerce is 350,000. That doesn't include degradation products and metabolites that may also be in the environment,” said Western Washington University environmental toxicologist Ruth Sofield.

“The work that we're doing, we're looking at chemicals in the low hundreds,” she told the Puget Sound Partnership’s Science Panel on Wednesday.

Sofield and other scientists are trying to help the state agency identify and prioritize the most harmful substances in the dilute chemical broth that is wastewater.

“We know that we're missing the large universe of chemicals,” Sofield said.