SAN FRANCISCO (KGO) — For researchers Martin Trinh and David Peterson, a break in the rain means a chance to measure the minute changes a passing storm may have brought to San Francisco Bay. And they’re not always good. For decades, runoff from storms has carried dangerous pollutants like mercury and PCBs. And the threat continues to evolve.

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“We have identified a new class of chemicals that we call contaminants of concern. And so these will be chemicals typically used in modern products,” Trinh says.

Trinh and Peterson are with the San Francisco Estuary Institute and are members of a sort of rapid strike force known as “RMP”, for “Regional Water Quality Monitoring Program” in San Francisco Bay. Members often deploy in the midst of storms, even late at night, to capture and sample runoff. Alicia Gilbreath leads the team.

“And then we have to get all our equipment ready, we track the rainfall rates as the storms come in. So we track the rainfall rates that are far from our sites, so we know exactly when to mobilize for the storm. “storm event. Still, it can be really tough,” says Gilbreath.

This has been particularly difficult during the recent drought, with intermittent thunderstorms and long dry spells giving some pollutants a chance to build up on the stormwater system. And Gilbreath says the team’s measurements and data help local agencies make critical decisions to protect the public from significant health risks.

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“Sometimes it’s about cleaning up sites that may have a lot of toxic pollution. Or sometimes it’s about breaking regulations or policies at the local level, like banning plastic bags,” explains- she.

A recent day after the first November storms, Trinh and Peterson were taking samples along Redwood City to compare the mixing of polluted runoff water with cleaner bay water in a coastal area where organisms and organisms live. sensitive fish.

It’s a fast-paced form of science performed on a deadline. But over nearly two decades, the data has helped better understand pollution threats to the San Francisco Bay Area and inform policies designed to better manage them.

“Yeah, I think that really highlights how valuable those opportunities are, and when we have those opportunities, we step up,” Trinh says.

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