Wednesday, July 19, 2017

A breath of fresh air … 50 years of the Clean Air Act

(This is the third post of a three-part series.)

In parts one and two of this blog series we discussed Washington’s air pollution history and how pollutants affect public health and the environment. 

Clean air acts nationwide have lowered harmful levels air pollution over the past 50 years and now we all need to do our part to protect the future of our air.

Because Washington’s population is on the rise there is a demand for more fuel, housing, food, and transportation. All of these needs impact the air we breathe.

Here are a few things you can do to minimize your contribution to air pollution:

Buy local

The less time products spend on a ship, train, or semi-truck the less air pollution is created. Consider ways to reduce, reuse, recycle, and reconsider where your items originate from. Buying local also supports small businesses and creates jobs. We all win when you buy local!

Burn wood the right way

You should only burn dry wood that has been split, stacked, and stored for at least a year. Dry wood emits less smoke and makes a hotter fire. You should be able to easily see through the smoke coming from your chimney. If you buy wood, ask if it has been properly seasoned. Properly dried and aged wood burns more efficient and saves you money! 

Use an adequate wood burning device

During winter we often have stagnant air that traps smoke near the ground. Heating your home with a wood burning device can increase your family’s risk of lung and breathing problems. 

Wood burning devices include:
•    Wood stoves.
•    Pellet stoves.
•    Wood furnaces.
•    Manufactured fireplaces.
•    Masonry heaters.

Only certified wood burning devices are legal to purchase, sell, or give away in this state, whether new or used. They must meet Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and Washington standards. If it doesn’t, check with your local air authority for grant programs to help replace your old stove, or better yet, switch to electric heat! Many electric companies offer grants to help convert your house to electric heat.

Only burn vegetation

Never burn anything other than vegetation. Check for burn bans before you start a fire and keep something nearby to extinguish it. For campfires, be sure to put them out completely and never leave them unattended. Everybody loves a good fire, but the smoke shouldn’t annoy your neighbor.

Construction debris, garbage, and scraps from another property are illegal to burn.  Use of burn barrels is illegal too.

Reconsider burning altogether

There are many alternatives to burning yard waste. When mowing, leave grass clippings where they land. They provide nutrients for your lawn. Start making your own garden compost, or check with your community for free yard waste drop off days. The less you burn, the cleaner the air.

Use alternative transportation

Vehicles are one of the main sources of air pollution in Washington. 

You can help reduce emissions by participating in the following:
•    Share a ride with others, carpool, or take a bus.
•    Ride your bike. Your heart will thank you!
•    Don’t let your car idle.
•    Consider being the first on your block to buy a Zero Emission Vehicle (ZEV).

ZEVs, or  electric vehicles, are gaining in popularity and the savings to your pocketbook, health, and environment add up quick. Imagine not having to get an oil change or stop and pay for gas!

Charging an electric vehicle is getting easier too! There is a significant effort to build the infrastructure to support the use of electric vehicles.

For example: the West Coast Electric Highway is an extensive network of electric vehicle (EV) DC fast charging stations located every 25 to 50 miles along Interstate 5 and other major roadways in the Pacific Northwest. Planning your trip just got easier with this map of Washington charging stations.

If you are heading outside the Pacific Northwest you can check out the Department of Energy maps of electric vehicle charging stations and alternative fueling locations nationwide.

Dispose of chemicals responsibly

Volatile Organic Compounds (VOCs) contribute to ground-level ozone formation because they evaporate into the air. You can learn more about ground-level ozone in part two of this series.
Check with your local landfill or visit Ecology’s website to find a proper disposal facility. 

Some common VOCs are:
•    Acetone (nail polish remover, furniture polish, wallpaper).
•    Benzene (glue, paint, carpet, gasoline emissions).
•    Butanal (barbeque emissions, burning candles, stoves, cigarettes).
•    Carbon disulfide (chlorinated tap water).
•    Dichlorobenzene (mothballs, deodorizers).
•    Ethanol (glass cleaners, dishwasher and laundry detergents).
•    Formaldehyde (floor lacquers, some molded plastics).
•    Terpene (fragrances such as soap and detergents).
•    Toluene (paint).
•    Xylene (traffic emissions, idling cars).

Clean energy

Concerns about climate change, the use of fossil fuels, and air pollution are accelerating clean energy development. Did you know that approximately two-thirds of Washington’s electric is generated from hydropower? Washington also ranks as one of the top nationwide producers of wind power. It’s also becoming more popular and affordable to use solar power for your home needs. 

Check with your local utility provider or find a clean energy non-profit group for possible incentives or grants. 

Doing our part

The federal Clean Air Act requires states to develop plans to monitor and reduce air pollution to protect the environment and public health. The EPA sets national standards, or limits, for six criteria air pollutants called the National Ambient Air Quality Standards.  We discussed some of these in part two of this series. 

The six criteria air pollutants are:
•    Nitrogen dioxide
•    Ozone
•    Particle pollution
•    Sulfur dioxide
•    Carbon monoxide
•    Lead

It is each state’s responsibility to monitor the air and make sure they are meeting the national standards. If air pollution reaches levels that harm human health, the state must develop a plan to clean up the air. These plans are known as State Implementation Plans.

Ecology and its partners continue to work together to monitor and create rules that help maintain healthy air quality in Washington. 

We will continue to work to “protect clean air, public health, and the environment,” we hope you will too.

Look for your local air authority at community events, on Facebook, Instagram or visit their websites for more information. 

Part I: We’ve come a long way baby … celebrating 50 years of the Clean Air Act
Part 2: The best solution is less pollution … 50 years of the Clean Air Act

By Kim Allen | Air Quality

Friday, July 14, 2017

Eyes Under Puget Sound: Critter of the Month – The Ice Cream Cone Worms

I scream, you scream, 
we all scream for ice cream!  
(Don't worry, worm shown above is not
actual size; ice cream cone 
are only about an inch long!)
Summer is here, and what better way to beat the heat than to cool off with a nice refreshing frozen treat? We think this month’s group of critters, the Ice Cream Cone Worms, are some of the coolest creatures around…although maybe not quite so delicious as the real thing!

Ice ice baby

Ice cream cone worms (belonging to the family Pectinariidae) are easily recognized by their distinct
cone-shaped tubes that can be up to 5 cm (2 inches) long. Here in Puget Sound we find two species of these ice cold beauties - Pectinaria californiensis and Pectinaria granulata.

Although both of these species are widespread throughout the Sound in depths up to 230 meters, Hood Canal is where we encounter them in the highest abundances - we can sometimes get over 30 of these critters in a single benthic sample!

Lashing out

Another distinct feature that sets pectinariids apart is a pair of glistening “eyelashes” protruding from the tops of their cones. These spiky eyelashes are actually hardened hairs, called paleae.

The paleae may look pretty and delicate, but they serve a practical purpose – to help the worm burrow head-first into the sediment.

Everybody poops

A Pectinaria granulata specimen, removed from its tube
 to reveal its translucent body with visible sediment inside.
Ice cream cone worms spend most of their time face-down in the mud, with the pointy ends of their tubes turned upright sticking out just above the sediment’s surface. This allows them to use their tentacles (located near the paleae) to search around in the mud for large particles of sediment to ingest.

This strategy of picky eating is called selective deposit feeding. Anything the critter can digest that attaches to the particles gets absorbed by the worm’s gut.

The sediment grains they can't digest basically go in one end and out the other. The passed material is called pseudofeces - meaning “false poop”. It can take up to six hours to make its way through the worm’s body and out the open end of the cone. If you were to observe a living ice cream cone worm without its cone, you would be able to see this whole process through its translucent body wall.

Go your cone way

If you’re looking for ice cream cone worms, chances are you can find them in areas with a higher sand content (versus rock or fine clay). This makes sense when you think about how they build their cones.

Pectinariids construct their cones by reaching out with their tentacles to collect sand grains, shell pieces, or other small particles. These grains are tightly placed together in layers, giving the cone a smooth but speckled appearance, almost like a colorful stained glass window or a tile mosaic. The cone protects the critter, housing the animal’s soft, fleshy body in a speckled coat of armor.

A worm’s place is in the cone

A comparison of the tubes of P. granulata and P. californiensis shows the 
difference in preferred grain size between the two species.
Some pectinariids prefer large grains over small grains for tube-building, which makes it easy to tell those species apart if the cone is still intact. This is quite convenient for us taxonomists!

For example, P. californiensis chooses fine sediment granules for its straight, delicate tube, while P. granulata prefers coarser sediment for its robust, slightly curved tube. If the worm doesn’t have an intact cone, it can still be identified by the color and shape of its paleae – P. californiensis has copper-colored paleae with fine tips, and P. granulata’s are golden-colored, with blunt tips.

P. granulata (left) has blunt-tipped, golden paleae while P. californiensis (right) has fine-tipped, copper-colored paleae.

 By: Dany Burgess & Angela Eagleston, Environmental Assessment Program

Critter of the Month

Our benthic taxonomists, Dany and Angela, are scientists who identify and count the benthic (sediment-dwelling) organisms in our samples as part of our Marine Sediment Monitoring Program. We are tracking the numbers and types of species we see in order to understand the health of Puget Sound and to detect any changes over time.

Dany and Angela share their discoveries by bringing us a benthic Critter of the Month. These posts will give you a peek into the life of Puget Sound’s least-known inhabitants. We’ll share details on identification, habitat, life history, and the role each critter plays in the sediment community.

Can't get enough benthos? See photos from our Eyes Under Puget Sound collection on Flickr.