Acid Fluoride, Computer Chips and the Decline of Wild Salmon

Dan Montgomery

March 24, 1998

On February 26, 1998, the Endangered Species Act was invoked by the National Marine Fisheries Service to protect endangered populations of salmon in Washington and Oregon. The zones of protection include the Puget Sound region and the upper Willamette River and its tributaries. Washington State officials estimate the cost of compliance could be billions of dollars.

Thirteen populations of steelhead and salmon are on the proposed list for protection. Among these populations are spring chinook and winter steelhead in the upper Willamette and its tributaries, chum salmon and fall chinook salmon in the lower Columbia River, chinook in Puget Sound and chum salmon in Hood Canal. About three billion dollars has been spent in the last 15 years to save the salmon, but the projects it was spent on were ineffective. Farmers, represented by the Oregon Farm Bureau, are concerned that this eleventh hour attempt to save the salmon will result in burdensome rules.1

There will be one year for review of this decision by the National Marine Fisheries Service. The Endangered Species Act may be applied to restrict land use. Regional impact could include limiting development projects and increasing water and sewer rates to pay for storm water runoff management and for protecting salmon from damage from hydroelectric power plants.

Washington Governor Gary Locke said, "Salmon are one of the icons of the Pacific Northwest, and a symbol of our quality of life." The chinook wild catch was around 750,000 at the turn of the century, but now is about 20,000 in a good year.2

There may be a variety of causes of the decline of salmon in the Pacific Northwest. One of the causes which has remained under-reported is fluoride pollution in rivers. Dr. Richard Foulkes, in a review article originally published in Fluoride and reprinted in the Environment directory of Fluoride Issues, points out that the existing scientific evidence would support the conclusion that the safe level of chronic fluoride exposure for salmon is below 0.2 mg./L.3 This is equivalent to 0.2 ppm).

Paul Engelking, a chemistry professor at the University of Oregon, did some fluoride tests of Tualatin River water in the summer of 1997. The Tualatin is a tributary of the lower Willamette. During the summer low-flow season, the fluoride concentration in the main stem of the Tualatin was about 0.5 ppm. The source of this fluoride pollution is hydrofluoric acid waste from etching computer chips in nearby factories. U.S. Geological Survey tests found that some parts of the Willamette have fluoride concentrations of 0.2 ppm. The limit of fluoride concentration in waste water set by the Unified Sewerage Agency in the Tualatin River Valley is 17.2 ppm.4

Hydrofluoric acid is used to etch silicon wafers for computer chips. Intel uses 55% of its water for rinsing the wafers. The concentration of fluoride in waste water from Intel's Rock Creek plant is 1.6 ppm.

The Tualatin River flows through Washington County, Oregon. Semi-conductor plants in Washington County use about 2.75 million gallons per day of water. Water use for semi-conductor manufacturing is expected to increase up to five fold by 2017. Water for all users in Washington County is expected to increase from the current 45 million gallons per day to 61 million gallons per day by 2017.

Intel has agreed to install equipment for removing fluoride when it builds a proposed plant at Ronler Acres. Intel has no commitment to reduce fluoride waste from plants already built. Other major semi-conductor plants neutralize fluoride waste on site. These are Toshiba and Integrated Device Technology. The Komatsu plant now being built will not contribute to fluoride pollution.5


  1. Joan Loatz Jewett and Jonathan Brinckman, "U.S. Proposes Huge Fish-Rescue Effort," The Portland Oregonian, February 27, 1998, p. A1.
  2. Lynda V. Mapes, "Chinook 'Endangered'? If so, It's Going to Cost Us," Seattle Times, February 22, 1998, p. 1.
  3. Richard R. Foulkes and Anne C. Anderson, "Impact of Artificial Fluoridation on Salmon Species in the Northwest USA and British Columbia, Canada," Fluoride Vol.27, No.4, pp. 220-226, 1994.
  4. Paul Engelking, Letter, February 25, 1998.
  5. Alex Pulaski, "Gauging Water Take, Temperature," The Portland Oregonian, p. B4, January 20, 1997.

Copyright 2002 Daniel A. Montgomery

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