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Thursday, April 17, 2014

Earth ... pass it on: Cleaning-up Hanford

by Madeleine Brown, public outreach, Nuclear Waste Program

Have you heard of Hanford? When I travel east, many folks I meet have not. My quick elevator speech is this: Have you heard of the Manhattan Project? Well, Hanford was where the government made the plutonium for the bomb, in World War II and during the Cold War.

Making plutonium is an inefficient process, so there is a huge mess to clean up. It always takes longer to clean up a mess than to make it, and Hanford made a mess for more than 40 years. So of course it’s going take a long time to clean up.

My job is to help people understand and comment on the decisions about the cleanup.

Outreach is the most important part of my job. It’s through outreach that I can express to people that Hanford’s cleanup requires attention and participation in decisions for decades to come. The people who will do the work, and the people who will be affected by the work, may not yet be born.

Around the state, more and more people have heard about Hanford and know a little bit about it – mainly the last scary headline about leaking tanks or the delays in the cleanup schedule.

Cleanup is costly

The work is dangerous. There are invisible radioactive hazards. There are tons (literally) of chemically dangerous waste. There’s heavy equipment, and old and crumbling infrastructure. The amount of waste is vast.
  • More than 65 square miles of groundwater are contaminated above drinking water standards.
  • 56 million gallons of high-level radioactive and chemically hazardous waste is stored in 177 underground tanks
  • .
  • More than 40 miles of unlined trenches hold contaminated tools, garbage and equipment.
  • Unquantifiable numbers of buildings (they go up and come down nearly daily) and immeasurable amounts of contaminated soil.
  • Miles and miles of contaminated underground plumbing surround the tanks.
Planning to manage the risks, and all the steps required to accomplish the tasks really add up. The price tag for Hanford’s part of the Manhattan project was around half a billion dollars. Today, Hanford’s cleanup costs American taxpayers about $2 billion per year.

The difference? Cleaning up a mess is harder than making a mess — and today we’re dealing with the very messy work of previous generations. The waste management techniques used during the secret wartime era are not only illegal today, they are hard to even imagine.

It’s our backyard

Location, location, location. During World War II the Army chose Hanford because it was remote and sparsely populated. Today, Hanford’s economic impact results in a bustling community and a Metropolitan Statistical Area of more than 250,000 people.

When we finish a job, we can walk away, dusting off our hands and thinking of what to do next. But – as our parents always reminded us, we are not done until we clean up and put away the tools, too. Hanford’s cleanup will take decades.


Hanford has ironies. The first is that while Hanford’s wastes have profoundly contaminated several square miles of desert, they also have preserved hundreds more. Hanford’s former buffer areas are now the Hanford Reach National Monument, home to dozens of rare, threatened and endangered species, bountiful fish, and sensitive sage-steppe habitat.

Hanford not only has toxic cocktails of chemical and radioactive waste; it’s also home to more than 30 species new to science, discovered about 20 years ago when the government turned some scientists loose to assess Hanford’s natural resources.

Another irony: while the government chose Hanford for its plutonium mission, the work drew to the area thousands of people, who created the vibrant communities of the Tri-Cities.

While most places evolved, Hanford has dramatic history. Cataclysmic geologic events formed the landscape: first, basalt floods, then the Missoula floods at the end of the Ice Age. And a catastrophic geopolitical event, a world war, put the Hanford mission in this special landscape.

Bringing it back to Earth – Pass it on

Hanford’s dramatic history preserved a great deal of sensitive habitat that elsewhere has been converted to agriculture and communities. But it was at a huge environmental and financial cost. Our work in the Department of Ecology is to make sure the federal government cleans up Hanford according to our regulations that protect air, land, and water. We are charged with remediating a very large, unique, and special part of the earth. And my job is to help people help us with those cleanup decisions.

Wednesday, April 16, 2014

Fecal Matters: Swimming Closure for Owen Beach/Point Defiance Park, Tacoma, Pierce Co. WA.

BEACH Program Update

On April 16, 2014, Tacoma Pierce County Health Department issued a swimming closure for Owen Beach/Point Defiance Park.  This closure is due to a sewage spill from a sanitary sewer overflow (SSO). The county has posted closure signs. The public is to have no contact with the water until further notice.

Contact with fecal contaminated waters can result in gastroenteritis, skin rashes, upper respiratory infections, and other illnesses. Children and the elderly may be more vulnerable to waterborne illnesses.

Stay updated about water quality at your beaches by keeping up with us on our blog Fecal Matters, on Facebook, or join our listserv.

Debby Sargeant is the BEACH Program Manager and is available at 360-407-6139 or debby.sargeant@ecy.wa.gov for questions.

Tuesday, April 15, 2014

Earth ... pass it on: Cleaning Up

Cleaning Up — It's about 'environment, economy, community'

By Seth Preston, Communications Manager, Toxics Cleanup Program

We’ve learned a lot about the power of cleanup since the first Earth Day in 1970 and since our Toxics Cleanup Program was born in 1989. Helping to clean up roughly 6,000 contaminated sites all over the state provides plenty of lessons.

The old Scott Paper mill, shown in this 1947 photo, dominated a large part of the Anacortes shoreline for decades.

Today, after several cleanup actions, it’s a thriving mix of public space, education-focused centers and commercial activity.
Cleanup does more than improve and protect the environment. It protects people from health risks. It creates short-term jobs and long-term opportunities. And all of that together improves the quality of life in our communities.

Let’s call this the “environment, economy, community” relationship

From toxic … to terrific

Toxic substances from historical industrial activities, accidental spills or poor past practices contaminate sites in many Washington communities. Often, the damage happened decades ago, and the sites sat unused and unchanged.

Ecology doesn’t have the blanket authority or resources to simply decide to clean up a site without the owner’s cooperation and, often, financial participation. After all, the bottom-line principal of our cleanup work is “the polluter pays.”

Many times, a change in a site’s ownership or favorable economic conditions have spurred the cleanup and redevelopment of these properties. And that’s when the “environment, economy, community” relationship kicks into high gear.

Here are just a few examples of how the health of our environment, our economy and our communities thrive together:

A place on the water

In Anacortes, the old Scott Paper mill dominated the shore of Fidalgo Bay. Eventually, the operations closed, and the site was used for other industrial purposes. Those, too, stopped later.

Over the years, sections of the site were cleaned up and revived. Now it’s home to a scenic waterfront park and a mix of commercial and education-focused operations. Those include the local Educational Service District and the Northwest Center of Excellence for Marine Manufacturing and Technology.

New life for old land

In two Central Washington communities, local port districts are working with us to revitalize old industrial sites so they can create new economic opportunities.

The Port of Chelan County is working to clean up the old Cashmere Mill site. And the Port of Sunnyside is focusing on the former home of a Carnation milk-processing plant.

A building boom in Seattle

In Seattle’s South Lake Union area, work at several sites is in progress as sites are cleaned up to make way for new businesses and housing. This recent KING 5 news segment does a good job of telling the story.

Industrial past, bright future

Ecology, along with local and federal partners, continues to help remake Tacoma – from the waters and shores of Commencement Bay to land impacted by widespread fallout within the Tacoma Smelter Plume. And in other areas of the city, such as downtown, cleanup has led to new development and vibrancy.

Don’t just take our word for it

Of course, it’s easy for us to say these things. But we’re not the only ones – just listen to what people in Spokane, Palouse and other places say about some of the ways we’ve helped them.

The “environment, economy, community” relationship – it makes a difference for all of us.

Monday, April 14, 2014

Earth ... pass it on: Tackling Toxics

Children First

By Erika Holmes, communications manager, Reducing Toxic Threats

Toxic chemicals, especially long-lasting ones that build up over time, can be found everywhere – our air, land, water … and our bodies. Some pose an immediate health threat, especially to children exposed during critical periods in their development. Others, called persistent, bioaccumulative toxics, gradually increase in the environment and in our bodies, causing disease long after we are first exposed.

Preventing exposures to toxics is the smartest, cheapest and healthiest way to protect people and the environment, which guides the Department of Ecology’s approach to reducing toxic threats in Washington.

Children are more sensitive to toxic chemicals than the general population. The presence of a chemical in a product does not necessarily mean it’s unsafe. However, knowing which chemicals of high concern to children manufacturers use in products provides essential clues to understand when safer alternatives are needed.

Groundbreaking laws help move toward safer products for children and general consumers

Many laws aimed at reducing the impacts of toxic chemicals ban or limit one chemical or product at a time. Washington is taking a broader approach by creating laws addressing one of the biggest challenges in developing more effective toxic chemical policies – the lack of data.

In 1991, Washington was one of the first states to pass legislation limiting four toxic metals (mercury, lead, cadmium, and hexavalent chromium) in all packaging. The toxics in packaging law takes a broad view of packaging by including its components and covering a wide range of materials used as packaging.

In 2008, Washington passed the Children’s Safe Product Act (CSPA). The law has two parts. The first part limited the amounts of lead, cadmium and six phthalates allowed in children’s products sold in Washington after July 1, 2009. Ecology and the Department of Health enacted the second part of the law by developing a list of chemicals of high concern to children and rules requiring manufacturers to report their use of these chemicals in children’s products.

Taking action: Moving from the law books to the laboratory

During 2012 and 2013, Ecology tested children’s and consumer products to verify that manufacturers are complying with CSPA and toxics in packaging requirements. Making sure manufacturers report the required information and discontinue using restricted metals involves enforcement. So we applied for grant funding from the Washington Attorney General’s Office to purchase and test products for several classes of chemicals:
  • Metals, including lead, mercury, cadmium, antimony, arsenic, molybdenum, chromium, cobalt, zinc and copper.
  • Phthalates, which are used to make plastic softer.
  • Parabens, which are used as preservatives in personal care products and cosmetics.
  • Formaldehyde and other volatile organic chemicals.
Ecology targeted products sold by local retailers and internet sellers that we thought were likely to contain these chemicals. We carefully prepared samples from each product and sent them to a lab to be analyzed for the chemicals of concern.

What we found

After comparing our test results with manufacturer-reported data, Ecology found that most are reporting as required and that most packaging in Washington is in compliance. Due to the phased reporting schedule in CSPA, some products that we identified as non-compliant were manufactured by companies with annual sales low enough that they did not yet have to report any chemicals of high concern to children in their products.

The most common chemicals in the enforcement letters that Ecology sent to manufacturers were chemicals like antimony, cobalt, phthalates, and parabens. We found 15 potential violations of limits on phthalates and seven potential violations of limits on lead or cadmium in the children’s products tested. We also found two violations on toxic metals in packaging that came with children’s products.

Here is a video clip explaining one example:

We did find, however, that chemicals of concern to children are being used in packaging, but packaging is currently exempt from CSPA and most chemicals of concern to children are not included in the toxics in packaging legislation. Packaging was tested for CSPA metals and for phthalates. Several packaging components were found to contain phthalates, including DEHP, one of the phthalates of highest concern as a reproductive toxic chemical. Similar results were found for some of the metals of concern.

Next steps

Ecology notified manufacturers of potential violations and is working with state and federal partners to ensure compliance. We are using information reported under CSPA to help us identify opportunities to replace toxic chemicals of concern with safer alternatives. But it’s also important to realize that the products we tested were purchased some time ago and may not be on the shelves anymore.

Recently, Washington’s legislature designated $611,000 to enhance Ecology’s work on testing consumer products for toxic chemicals and assessing alternatives to these chemicals. With this funding, we will coordinate with other states to ensure effective testing of products and packaging. As part of this funding package, the legislature also authorized Ecology to review the uses and alternatives to various flame retardants.

Putting together the toxics puzzle provides the big picture

These product-testing campaigns are just one piece of a much larger toxics puzzle. Thousands of toxic chemicals are used in our economy today, and we have limited data on how these chemicals impact people and the environment.

To effectively reduce toxic threats, we need new tools to help manufacturers make more informed choices about chemicals in their products. The smartest, cheapest and healthiest way to protect people and the environment is to find safer alternatives for chemicals of concern.

Ecology is working to reduce toxic threats through a series of projects and initiatives that we will cover in the Tackling Toxics ECOconnect blog series, including:
  • Enforcing the Better Brakes Law to reduce the use of toxics, such as copper, asbestos, and certain heavy metals, in automotive brake pads and shoes.
  • Developing chemical action plans for some of the worst chemicals. Currently we are working on a plan to identify and reduce sources of polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs).
  • Adopting a standard, statewide process for manufacturers to find safer alternatives to toxic chemicals.

Get involved

You can stay informed on these issues by:
If you have questions or would like more information on reducing toxic threats in Washington, please contact Erika Holmes at (360) 407-6149.

Thursday, April 10, 2014

IDEX goes from large to small generator and $aves thousands: A P2 success story

How waste designation saved IDEX in disposal costs

By Erin Jeffries, Community Outreach and Environmental Education Specialist, Hazardous Waste & Toxics Reduction Program

IDEX Health and Science in Oak Harbor, WA

The company

IDEX Health and Science is a global manufacturer. Their facility in Oak Harbor, Washington, makes products under the Upchurch Scientific and ISMATEC brands. They make fluidics – the tiny tubes, pumps, fittings, and filters used in labs and medical facilities. These products must meet precise standards.  

Know if a waste is dangerous – Designation changes everything

Businesses are required to “designate” their wastes. Designation assigns each type of waste a code. It helps determine whether a waste is considered dangerous and how it must be managed.

Correctly designating their wastes saved IDEX about $2,500 annually.

IDEX already reduced pollution by switching to a non-halogenated coolant, but they were disposing of it as dangerous, persistent waste. During a routine inspection, an Ecology dangerous waste inspector suggested testing the waste to help designate correctly.

IDEX followed up and tested their spent coolant. In this case, they needed to analyze it with a fish bioassay test. They discovered that it’s not considered dangerous waste, which saved disposal costs for 1,200 pounds of spent coolant per year.

The company later decided to look at their spent citric acid waste. Citric acid is used to protect stainless steel in their products from rust. Using the designation process, they discovered that their spent citric acid was not considered dangerous waste. This reduced their waste generation by 1,100 pounds per year.

Equipment improvements gain efficiencies

IDEX uses a saline solution in the equipment that cuts stainless steel tubing. A new kind of equipment requires only one percent of the saline compared to what they were using. Upgrading the cutting equipment reduced the saline waste by 1,600 pounds per year. As a result, they no longer have to dispose spent saline as dangerous waste.

The new equipment requires less water, so the upgrade also cut most of the water used in the process.


Reducing dangerous waste meant big results. IDEX was able to move from being a Large Quantity Generator of Dangerous Waste to a Medium Quantity Generator in 2005, then to a Small Quantity Generator in 2012. This means IDEX now has lower disposal costs and they save on their Pollution Prevention Planning Fee. They also have fewer regulations to follow – which reduces waste management costs.

Ecology Toxics Reduction Engineer Dan Ferguson said, “IDEX Oak Harbor put a lot of effort into reducing waste generation through research, testing, pilot projects, and working with its employees to find solutions.”

Reductions of dangerous waste per year:
  • 1,000 pounds spent coolant
  • 1,100 pounds spent citric acid
  • 1,600 pounds spent saline
Annual cost savings:
  • $4,290 in waste disposal
  • Reduced regulatory requirements, reducing staff time spent on waste management
Could your business benefit from a visit with our Toxics Reduction staff? They can help with your pollution prevention (P2) efforts. Contact your regional office.

For more P2 success stories, visit Ecology's website.

Monday, April 7, 2014

Earth ... pass it on: Spills Prevention

Spills Prevention Team helps safeguard Puget Sound

by Lisa Copeland, communications manager, Spills Program

They aren’t a huge team, but they have a tall order. The Spills Prevention Team is helping ensure our waters stay clean by keeping spills from happening in the first place.

On a daily basis, Ecology’s team of maritime and environmental experts conduct ship inspections (which includes fishing vessels, container ships, car carriers, grain ships, log ships, and general cargo ships) and passenger ship inspections on board ships of 300 gross tons and larger. These ships range in length of approximately 150 feet to over 1100 feet long.

Ecology’s Laura Stratton, vessel inspector,
reviews  required documentation for oil-spill prevention.
Inspectors are looking at the equipment used when bunkering (fueling from a barge), the process used during fuel transfers, procedures in place in the event of a spill, and any gaps that can be identified that increase efficiency and minimize the chance of human error.

Ships' officers and Ecology work together

“Vessel inspectors talk with senior officers on the ships that call in our waters,” said Laura Stratton, vessel inspector. “Our objective is to raise their awareness of the importance of preventing oil spills and serious marine accidents. The face-to-face discussion on how to accomplish this is what makes the difference.”

Areas of discussion include work and rest hours, preventive maintenance, emergency procedures, training, and much more. Inspectors verify that crews are following state and federal rules and they provide recommendations for improvement. But how do they know when they are successful? How does one capture the number of spills that almost occurred? It’s not easy, but every now again inspectors receive feedback like the following letter from YM that confirms the work they’re doing is valued and taken seriously. And who knows? Maybe a spill or two was avoided.

Letter from a ship's captain

Good morning!

With reference to the Vessel Boarding Evaluation conducted on board YM North at your good port firstly, I want to express my sincere gratitude for your valuable recommendations aiming at upgrading the vessels’ capability as to environmental protection and secondly, I would like to take this opportunity to explain what have been done in addressing the recommendations.

1. A fleet circular “EMD-140303-1 CIRC-Precaution of Bunker Operations in US port” was issued on Mar/03/2014 describing the said recommendations in detail and means to achieve the relevant requirements.

2. Washington regulations with regard to bunkering were studied and Information was gained by shipboard experience from Chief Engineers for the preparation of revision to the SMS procedures.

3. Revision to the SMS procedures with regard to bunkering was announced to fleet by an Observation List required by Company internal procedures to request shipboard staff to take such recommendations and Company instructions into consideration while making risk assessment for bunkering prior to the dissemination of the revised SMS procedures.

I really hope the above can satisfy you that YM always commit in the continuous Improvement in safety, health and environmental protection and please contact me if you have any doubt or advices in this connection. ~ Capt. John Ba;

Eyes Under Puget Sound: Studying Puget Sound benthos

By Maggie Dutch, Senior Benthic Ecologist, Environmental Assessment Program

We have 20 new images of the more than 1,200 unique species of tiny invertebrates, including worms, clams, snails, shrimp, crabs, brittle stars, and many others, that live in the sand and mud at the bottom of Puget Sound.

Scientists refer to these creatures as benthic invertebrates, or benthos, meaning bottom-dwelling.

The benthos are eaten by larger invertebrates such as fish, birds, and gray whales. The tiny animals are an essential link in the Puget Sound food chain.

Ecology scientists study Puget Sound sediment quality to determine whether the sediments support an abundant and diverse community of benthic invertebrates.

We’ve introduced you to the benthos in a recent blog and emphasized their importance in the Puget Sound food web.

But how do we collect, study, and sort out this diverse group of animals that live their lives buried in the mud?

Gotta catch ‘em all!

Sediment and benthos samples are collected by our scientists each year from different regions and urban bays throughout Puget Sound.Working from a research vessel, we use a stainless-steel double van Veen grab sampler to collect bottom sediments from selected station locations.

Consisting of two single grabs that are joined together, the sampler works like a giant claw. With the claw open, the grab is lowered from a winch to the bottom of the Sound. When it hits the bottom, it snaps shut, collecting a 0.1 square meter x 17 cm “bite” of the sand and mud.

Sediments are collected from one of the paired grabs for chemical and bioassay testing, while the sand and mud from the other grab is washed through a 1mm mesh screen to remove all benthos living within them.

To learn more about how this works, check out other photos from our sampling trips at Marine sediment monitoring in Puget Sound and watch a video of our team sampling sediments in Commencement Bay.

Gotta sort ‘em all!

Puget Sound sediment sample.
The sieved benthos are brought back to the lab, where they are examined under a microscope and sorted into four dominant phyla (a phylum is a major category used to classify organisms) and a miscellaneous grouping for all remaining benthos phyla. The four dominant phyla are Annelids, Molluscs, Arthropods, and Echinoderms.

Gotta name and count ‘em all!

You can’t understand or protect what you can’t keep track of!

To study and understand the dynamics of the benthic invertebrate communities in Puget Sound, Ecology’s marine sediment monitoring scientists must know which benthic species are living at each station, and in what numbers.

An average sediment station grab contains about 50 of the over 1,200 Puget Sound invertebrate taxa, and around 600 animals (but can range from less than 100 to over 1000). It is no small task to name and count every animal found in each sample!

Taxonomy — What’s in a name?

Taxonomy is the science of grouping and ranking organisms based on shared physical and genetic features, and then assigning a hierarchical series of names (scientific classification) to each unique group of organisms. Progressing from broadest to most specific, organisms are assigned to the categories Kingdom, Phylum, Class, Order, Family, Genus, and Species.

Scientists typically refer to each unique type of organism using binomial nomenclature, or a two-part naming system, which includes only the Genus and species. For example, humans are known as Homo sapiens, Orca whales as Orcinus orca, and Dungeness crab as Metacarcinus magister.

Taxonomists are scientists who specialize in (what else?) the taxonomy of different groups of organisms. Ecology’s sediment team works with a small number of regional taxonomists, each a specialist in identification of one major group of Puget Sound benthos.

It takes patience

Our taxonomists patiently and meticulously examine each organism collected from our sediment samples. Then, with their intimate knowledge of the number and shape of the many spines, palps, tentacles, and other assorted body parts that define each species, they carefully assign a name to, and count each animal, generating a set of benthos data for all of the sampled sediments.

A lost science?

There are very few taxonomists who can identify Puget Sound benthos to the species level. Only one or two local experts currently specialize in the taxonomy of each of the major phyla, and very few students in our universities are learning this craft. Our sediment team is worried about continued monitoring of benthos when these specialists retire, and so we are working to record this taxonomic knowledge to use well into the future.

Recent declines seen in the condition of Puget Sound benthic communities

R With these benthos data in hand, our sediment team scientists examine the benthic community condition throughout the Sound, and look at changes over time. Our Puget Sound Sediment Quality Vital Sign indicators, and our recent reports have shown poor and declining condition (that is, fewer species and lower total abundance) of the benthos in many locations throughout the Sound, including the Strait of Georgia, Central Sound, Hood Canal, Bainbridge Basin, Bellingham Bay, Elliott Bay, Commencement Bay, and Budd Inlet. Work continues to better understand both the human and natural environmental pressures and mechanisms causing these changes.

Marine monitoring website and info

More details about the sediment quality and benthos in Puget Sound’s regions and bays can be found on the Marine Sediment Monitoring Team’s website, along with information on the design and implementation of the Puget Sound Ecosystem Monitoring Program (PSEMP) sediment monitoring component.

We hope you enjoy browsing through our Eyes Under Puget Sound photographs. We promise to show you more new photos soon.