Help! I've been poisoned by stormwater!

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For years talented fellow journalists -- and before them my best professors -- have emphasized the value of using all five of a journalist's senses to experience a story and enlighten readers, listeners and viewers. Great idea -- but tonight it went a little far for me. After more than a decade of writing about the perils of stormwater, tonight I actually tasted some.

It was far, far from on purpose. I decided to dash down to Pike Place Market to buy some fish, a rare thing nowadays since I don't work particularly near there.  

It was pouring as I drove back to my office. The windows fogged. I rolled them down while sitting at a stoplight. Then-- whoosh! -- passing cars sent walls of water cascading into the car. Unfortunately, when this started I had my mouth slightly open. (Maybe I was singing? Drooling? Mouth-breathing? I dunno....)

Yes, that foul mixture that I've described in seemingly innumerable articles is something I've looked at and smelled and heard and -- reluctantly -- touched in the past. I had no intention of going to this extent to understand this story.

Of course I spit and swished and spit and swished some more, using up a bit of mouthwash.

Now, here's the weird thing: I've written more than once about how bad it is to have copper in the waterways that are supposed to nourish young salmon, even at minuscule levels. And I've outlined how every one of us, every time we touch our brakes, unleashes a teensy-tiny amount of copper.

Now, maybe an hour or 90 minutes after this unintentional invasion of my private mucous membranes by the unbelievably foul concoction, my mouth tastes like it used to when, as a kid, I would intentionally suck on pennies. Which, at the time were made mostly of copper. (Yes, I know that was a gross and ridiculous thing to do. But I was 4.)

Faithful readers, forgive this foray into the extremely personal. I'd intended today to write about something lofty about increasing population and its relationship to resource use.  But I felt like this episode on 39th Avenue was something worth documenting. I remember my brother getting so sick after going swimming in a Miami canal (while skipping school, no less). Let's hope this bit of toxic mouthwash from the streets of Rain City doesn't do me in this weekend.

If I survive, I'm even more determined than ever to follow this stormwater story. As we've pointed out before, it's the biggest remaining water-pollution problem in Puget Sound -- as well as across our nation. InvestigateWest is out to take a bite out of that problem. Figuratively, of course.

-- Robert McClure



Laura, thanks so much for noticing my brush with death. And.... hey, if this journalism thing doesn't work out, I now know I could go into performance art. Very reassuring. No Speedos for me, though. Will that hurt my chances? :>) As for swimming in the Duwamish, that's what interns are for: Keep the faith, Robert
Robert, you've stumbled (maybe yawned) onto something - environmental reporting as performance art. You could be the world's first Sturmwasser artist. Maybe I'm callous from my time as an art critic but I want to read more of this. How about a piece on swimming in the Duwamish? Or this: I dare you to have your hair and blood analyzed for mercury, PCBs, lead, etc. and report your results. (Seriously, a drop or two of iodine in water will rid your blood of toxic residue. Take 300 mg of alpha lipoic acid supplement to detox the heavy metals.)