Over the last month we’ve been glued to news reports about Tahlequah, the 22-year-old Southern Resident Killer Whale that carried her dead calf hundreds of miles for nearly three weeks. I had tears in my eyes more than once thinking about the baby orca that had deadly chemicals flowing from its mother to its body before it even had a chance to be born. We know that this is what happens with human babies too. The death of the orca calf and the mourning its mother went through are alarm bells we can’t ignore any longer—for the whales AND for us. Our current approach to cleaning up and protecting Puget Sound needs to change.
As a member of the Contaminants Workgroup for Governor Inslee’s Orca Task Force, I’ve been focused on what can be done to protect the Puget Sound ecosystem from harmful chemicals. We know that toxic chemicals are hurting orcas. Chinook salmon, orcas’ preferred food source, are contaminated with an array of toxic chemicals that contribute to their dwindling populations. We need to stop the toxic treadmill of cleaning up pollution, re-polluting, and then polluting again, and prioritize actions that increase prey populations and reduce threats to their health.
Toxic-Free Future is advocating for proposals that reduce sources of chemicals that harm orcas and their prey, like flame retardants, nonstick PFAS chemicals, and phthalates. We also need to expand existing laws to require companies to disclose and phase out toxic chemicals that are harming Puget Sound and other state waterways, as well as ensure legacy products are switched out for safer products.
Future generations should be able to enjoy the benefits of a healthy and thriving environment. It’s up to us to take the bold actions needed to save Puget Sound’s orcas.
Laurie Valeriano is the Executive Director of Toxic-Free Future.