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Do yellow highway stripes contain PCB?

Sen. Andy Billig plugs bill limiting products with PCBs.

OLYMPIA — State agencies would be required to buy products that are free of cancer-causing PCBs if they are available under a bill approved today by the Senate.

The proposal is a way to reduce the sources of polychlorinated biphenyls that show up in the state's rivers and streams, pile up in fish and eventually get eaten by people. They were used in many solvents, degreasers and paints before their use was severely limited because of links to cancer.

The bill's sponsor, Sen. Andy Billig, D-Spokane, said the idea came from conversations he had after visiting a waste water treatment facility with a permit to discharge water into the Spokane River. The yellow ink in a single Cheerios box can produce enough PCB to produce readings at the Inland Empire Paper Co. plant, he was told.

After viewing the steps taken to remove PCBs, he was travelling a car when someone familiar with the chemical pointed to the yellow stripes on Trent Avenue. If they're yellow, they probably have PCB in them, Billig said he was told. When the paint breaks down, the rain washes it away and eventually it winds up in the river.

Billig said he called the state Department of Transportation, because that section of Trent is a state highway, and asked if the paint had PCB. The chemical is banned, he was told. No, Billig said, it's allowed if it's below a certain level. Department employees checked but couldn't say for sure if the paint has PCB, only that it meets federal standards.

The bill doesn't require the department to perform expensive tests for all materials, Billig said. But if competitors have a product that is PCB free, they'll probably be quick to bring that to the attention of a state agency using products that contain the chemical. 

SB 6086 was sent to the House on a 48-1 vote.

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About this blog

Jim Camden is a veteran political reporter for The Spokesman-Review.

Jonathan Brunt is an enterprise reporter for The Spokesman-Review.

Kip Hill is a general assignments reporter for The Spokesman-Review.

Nick Deshais covers Spokane City Hall for The Spokesman-Review.

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