Sound Citizen monitoring of emerging pollutants

Sound Citizen: Students and Citizens Working Together to Evaluate Sources and Fates of Emerging Pollutants in Puget Sound

SoundCitizen directly engaged more than 2,000 people each year in documenting common yet undetected Puget Sound contaminants and raised the awareness of students from middle school through college about the link between everyday chemicals and human and environmental health.

Principal Investigator

Richard Keil, University of Washington, School of Oceanography


Co-Principal Investigator

Anne Steinemann, University of Washington, Civil and Environmental Engineering



The SoundCitizen program supports citizen- and student-based research that demonstrates the presence of measurable quantities of previously undetected human-made chemicals in the environment. The project engages people of all ages in collecting new information about human–environmental interactions and then helps volunteers use their new knowledge to make critical decisions about lifestyle and environmental stewardship. SoundCitizen specializes in unregulated chemicals commonly found in homes and known to have human health effects, thus linking human and environmental health. No other organization in the state is screening for such a wide variety of toxics in Puget Sound. The research places SoundCitizen at the forefront in the study of emerging environmental issues.

Research Updates


Humans have synthesized tens of thousands of compounds that do not normally occur in nature. Many have detrimental environmental impacts but go undetected; their prevalence and impact in the environment, and specifically in Puget Sound, are unknown.


SoundCitizen has delivered impacts in both science and education, annually engaging more than 2,000 volunteers, students, and event attendees in 2010 and 2011. In 2010, SoundCitizen tested for 37 different compounds, with the number growing to 110 compounds in 2011. Scientific findings included:

  • a pattern in the cycle of ethinylestradiol (pharmacological estrogen) in the natural environment;
  • the ubiquitous presence of plasticizers in Puget Sound; and
  • abundant anthroquinones (dyes and bleaches) and cyclohexanones (nylons and other synthetic fabrics), which may represent previously unrecognized contaminants in the marine environment.

Other SoundCitizen activities included the following:

  • In 2011, Snohomish County used SoundCitizen data to determine whether well water in the county was being compromised.
  • A curriculum developed by SoundCitizen, “My Place in Puget Sound,” was taught at three Seattle public high schools, involving about 500 students in 2010 and about 1,000 in 2011.
  • At the University of Washington in 2010, SoundCitizen initiated a “Forget the Fragrance” campaign to remove potentially toxic fragrance products from dormitories, an activity that continued through 2011.
  • CitizenScience partnered with Project Pipeline, an after-school science program for underrepresented middle-school girls that employs college mentors. The middle-schoolers learned about the chemical content of their cosmetic products and their potential effects on the environment and were given access to water-quality data linked to participant zip codes.


Bantam C, Neibauer J, Keil R (2010) Dissolved lignin within the waters of Barkley Sound, Vancouver Island, Canada. Senior thesis, University of Washington, Seattle, WA.

Gordon D (2011) Sink to Sound: Scientists use the public to study and protect the environment. Columns, 30(5):14.

Rick Keil ~ Citizen Scientist (2010) Retrieved from

Salemme K, Kimball B, Neibauer J, Logsdon M, and Keil R (2011) Differential presence of anthropogenic compounds in Puget Sound WA and Barkley Sound, BC. Marine Pollution Bulletin, 62:2404-2411.

Ward, N (2010) Temporal variation in river nutrient and dissolved lignin phenol concentration and the impact of storm events on nutrient loading to Hood Canal, Washington USA. Masters thesis, University of Washington, Seattle, WA.

Ward N, Richey J, and Keil R (2012) Temporal variation in river nutrient and dissolved lignin phenol concentrations and the impact of storm events on nutrient loading to Hood Canal, Washington, USA. Biogeochemistry, 111(1-3):629-645.