Friday, June 23, 2017

Warm weather triggers air quality advisory

Higher than normal temperatures across Washington have triggered an Air Quality Advisory for sensitive groups in the Foothills of the Cascades and the Tri-Cities this weekend.

Ground-level ozone, also known as smog, is different from the ozone in the upper atmosphere that protects us from the sun’s radiation. Ozone at ground-level can cause serious health problems.

Ozone can affect your health

You can’t see ozone, so many people do not realize the harm it can cause. People with respiratory problems, the elderly, children, and pregnant women are most at risk and should avoid being outdoors if possible.

Ozone exposure can feel like a sunburn on your lungs and lead to additional health problems such as:
  •  Difficulty breathing – Especially during strenuous activity.
  • Lung damage – Exposure can damage the lining of your lungs.
  • Asthma – People with asthma are more susceptible to attacks during high levels of ozone.
  • Lung & throat irritation – High levels of ozone can irritate your throat and chest causing you to cough. Symptoms will pass a few hours after exposure, but can continue to do harm even after symptoms disappear.

What causes ozone?

Ozone forms when sunlight chemically reacts with nitrogen oxides (NOx) and volatile
organic compounds (VOCs) from vehicles, factories, industrial facilities and some common household chemicals that are released into the air. The higher the temperature, the greater the risk of high levels of ozone.

How do I protect myself?

There are things you can do to reduce your exposure to ozone. If you have outdoor activities planned, do them in the morning when temperatures are lower.

You can help protect yourself from ozone by:
  • Carpooling.
  • Taking the bus.
  • Riding your bike.
  • Delay refueling vehicles and boats.
  • Put off mowing.
  • Staying indoors.
  • Avoiding strenuous activity.

You can monitor the ozone levels in your area multiple ways:
  • Download the free AirNow app for iPhone or Android.
  • Visit the AirNow website.
  • Sign up for AirNow EnviroFlash, a free service that sends air quality info to your e-mail or mobile phone e-mail address. 
  • The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) provides additional Air Quality Forecast Guidance.
You can also visit Ecology’s online air quality map to see what levels are like in your area.

Commuter Resources for bus, rail and ride sharing: King County Metro Transit,  Rideshare; Sound Transit, Spoke Regional Transit, Vancouver C-Tran, Whatcom transportation Authority

By Kim Allen, Air Quality Community Outreach

Ecology has received a new request to use Imidacloprid to control burrowing shrimp

We are evaluating a new application requesting permission to use the pesticide Imidacloprid to control burrowing shrimp in Willapa Bay and Grays Harbor. The application was filed by about a dozen oyster farmers from the Willapa Grays Harbor Oyster Growers Association, who propose to use the pesticide to treat tide lands to support their aquaculture practices.

We are now in the process of evaluating the environmental impacts of the proposal – which we will request your comments and suggestions on when we issue our draft environmental report at the end of this summer.

Similar to previous permit request 

This request for a permit is similar to – but not the same as – an earlier permit application to use Imidacloprid to control burrowing shrimp. The previous permit application process ended in 2015, but following public concern over the permit, the growers withdrew it, and the permit was never used.

About a dozen of the oyster growers from the earlier permit process have now applied for a new permit.

Environmental review

Process to complete environmental review
and permit application processing.
Click image to see larger version.
We are evaluating this proposal to understand the negative impacts it could have on the environment. We’re preparing an additional environmental study to inform our decision of whether to deny the permit application or to develop a draft permit approval.

We prepared an Environmental Impact Statement for the 2015 permit process, and we will supplement it with the most up-to-date research and information available. We will develop what’s called a Supplemental Environmental Impact Statement – it will build on the environmental review from 2015.

Where are we in the environmental review process?

We’re still early in the review process. Right now we are analyzing new research and information that wasn’t available to us when we prepared the 2015 Environmental Impact Statement. This will go into a new draft report, which we will publish for public review and comments.

Even though we’re not ready for official public comments yet, we encourage anyone who wishes to share their views on the applications, or Ecology’s action moving forward, to contact us. Also, if you have information you want to ensure we consider for our supplemental environmental review, please send it to us.

Please share views, information, or comments with us on our website.

Public comment period

Once we have a draft Supplemental Environmental Impact Statement prepared, we’ll open a 45-day public comment period. This will be the time to review and comment on the draft environmental report. We’ll also host several public meetings on the draft report in key locations across western Washington.

We will use what we learn during the public comment period to finalize the Supplemental Environmental Impact Statement. This is a crucial step in our environmental review required under the State Environmental Policy Act (SEPA).

What’s changed since the previous permit request?

This is a new request for a permit, but we’re building on information learned from the 2015 process. Some examples of new or different information we are taking into consideration include:

  • Acreage
    Today, there are fewer farmers applying for a permit. The applicants propose treating less acreage – 485 acres in Willapa Bay and 15 acres in Grays Harbor – as opposed to 2,000 acres across the two bays in the previous permit. 
  • Method
    The method of applying the pesticide has changed. The growers propose spraying Imidacloprid from boats or ground equipment rather than helicopter. 
  • Best available science
    The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) released a new risk assessment on the environmental impacts of Imidacloprid, and neonicotinoids, generally, in December 2016. Health Canada and the European Food Safety Authority have also recently released similar risk assessments. This and other new research will contribute to our supplemental environmental review. 

Our role regulating Washington’s environment

Ecology regulates the quality of Washington’s waters. Any discharges of pollution to state waters must obtain a permit from the federal EPA called the National Pollution Discharge Elimination System permit. EPA delegates the responsibility of managing these requests within Washington to Ecology. The purpose of this permit is to ensure that pollution does not rise to a level which causes harm to people or the environment.

Sediments contain much of the aquatic life that makes up the base of the food web essential to healthy estuaries. These organisms are important food for salmon, sturgeon, and many other species. Beyond affecting just the overlying water, this permit request to use Imidacloprid to control burrowing shrimp will impact the sediment where the pesticide is applied.

Because of this, the growers applying for the permit must also get two Sediment Impact Zones approved. This is to ensure the proposed use doesn’t violate Washington Sediment Management Standards. The permit and Sediment Impact Zone determinations combined will address requirements necessary to protect Willapa Bay and Grays Harbor for a multitude of uses.

If we authorize Sediment Impact Zones – one for Willapa Bay and one for Grays Harbor – we would set requirements for how:
  • Imidacloprid may be applied to the sediment
  • The applicants ensure that the impact is contained only to the designated zones
  • The area is monitored after the discharge occurs

The state Sediment Management Standards protect Washington’s benthic environment. That is, we recognize that it’s important to protect both the overlying waters and the grounds underneath. These rules work to reduce – and ultimately eliminate – sources of pollution that harm the ecosystem and make people sick.

A view of scenic Willapa Bay from our marine monitoring research program.
Photo by: Christopher Krembs/Ecology

Working toward a healthier Washington

A cornerstone of work at Ecology is to continually reduce pollution, and to work toward more protective permit conditions.

For this specific permit to be issued, a process called Integrated Pest Management must be followed. This is the practice of continually working toward managing burrowing shrimp more sustainably, and without chemicals. We have been supportive of research into alternative control methods and will continue to support future efforts.

Stay informed

You can follow this permitting process and get the most up-to-date information by subscribing to our Aquatic Pesticide Permits listserv or checking our Burrowing Shrimp Control webpage frequently. We will also publish updates to our blog as we have new information.

By: Jessie Payne, water quality communications manager

Thursday, June 22, 2017

Fecal Matters: Allyn Waterfront Park CLOSED to Swimming, Mason County

BEACH Program Update

On 6/22/2017, a closure to water contact recreation at Allyn Waterfront Park was issued due to high levels of fecal bacteria in the water. This beach will be re-sampled next week to determine if bacteria levels have dropped. The public is advised to avoid 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.

Julianne Ruffner, our BEACH Program Manager, is available at 360-407-6154 or for questions.

Wednesday, June 21, 2017

Regional haze, it’s nothing like Jimi Hendrix’ purple haze

What do cars, dust, manufacturing operations, and national parks have in common? Regional haze.

You may have seen regional haze when trying to get a look of Mount Rainier or the North Cascades and were disappointed because you couldn’t see them easily because of a brown or white haze. That haze is air pollution and comes from a variety of sources such as vehicles, industrial and power-generating plants, and some natural sources. It can impair visibility and reduce the vibrancy of colors and other inspirational details.

Managing air pollution so we can all see a little better

Washington and other states throughout the nation have been working to ensure that you and your kids and their kids will be able to see, and enjoy, our majestic mountain wilderness areas. It’s the same sort of far-sighted vision that motivated Theodore Roosevelt when he established our national parks.

Regional haze has reduced scenic views in national parks and wilderness areas from an average of 140 miles down to 35-90 miles in the western United States. At first blush this might not seem like a serious issue, but consider this. What if you grew up never clearly seeing the epic Olympic Mountains, Mount Baker, or Mount Rainier because our air pollution was too dense? It would certainly change our quality of life and impact our health and environment.

A report on Washington’s regional haze

We just released our 5-year progress report on regional haze. The report includes the advances we’ve made to improve visibility. It also shares visibility information about the areas in Washington that are being monitored.

Visibility is measured by collecting and analyzing particles in the air as part of an interagency monitoring effort. We do this in partnership with the National Park Service and U.S. Forest Service. In Washington, there are nine monitoring sites. We collect one 24-hour air sample at each site every three days, providing up to 121 samples a year per site.We analyze the samples for substances such as sulfate, nitrate, carbon-containing particles, sea salt, and dirt and sand — all of which affect visibility. We calculate visibility based on the types and amounts of substances in the particles.

The Federal Clean Air Act requires that we make efforts to improve visibility through a Regional Haze Plan. In 1977 the Act declared a national goal to remedy existing visibility issues and prevent future haze caused by man-made air pollution at selected national parks and wilderness areas of the United States, known as mandatory federal Class 1 Areas.
 Washington has eight mandatory federal Class 1 areas, totaling more than 3.3 million acres of land:
  •  Alpine Lakes Wilderness Area
  • Glacier Peak Wilderness Area
  • Goat Rocks Wilderness Area
  • Mount Adams Wilderness Area
  • Mount Rainier National Park
  • North Cascades National Park
  • Olympic National Park
  • Pasayten Wilderness Area

Visibility is improving

Long-term monitoring trends suggest that visibility is improving somewhat at our national parks and wilderness areas listed above.

You can learn more about these trends and more by reading our Regional Haze 5-year Progress Report.

Share your opinion on our Regional Haze Report

We’re asking people to weigh in our report and have opened a public comment period.  You can comment on our Regional Haze 5-year Progress Report through Aug. 1, 2017:
If you’d like to see more pictures of regional haze and improvements being made, visit the Interagency Monitoring of Protected Visual Environments website

By Camille St. Onge, Air Quality and Climate Change Communications

Friday, June 9, 2017

Eyes Over Puget Sound: River flows above normal

Cooler and wetter conditions earlier this year have set the stage for a favorable supply of freshwater. River flows are all above normal due to warm May temperatures melting our abundant snow pack. These conditions are creating significantly fresher conditions in Puget Sound surface waters. 

Click here to see this month's report.

Algae blooms are limited but there are some yellow-green blooms growing in bays near the Kitsap Peninsula and in the Puyallup, Skagit and Stillaguamish river estuaries. Red algae blooms are present in the rivers feeding into Willapa Bay. Also see what is “blooming” in the sediments of Puget Sound.

What's Eyes Over Puget Sound?

Eyes Over Puget Sound combines high-resolution photo observations with satellite images, ferry data from travel between Seattle and Victoria BC, and measurements from our moored instruments. We use a seaplane to travel between our monitoring stations because they are so far apart. Once a month, we take photos of Puget Sound water conditions and turn those out, along with data from our stations, in the monthly Eyes Over Puget Sound report.

Thursday, June 8, 2017

Ecology helps to keep climate change discussions going

Gov. Jay Inslee (right, center), Ecology Director Maia Bellon (right, front), and members of the Inslee administration meet with Chilean President Michelle Bachelet and other Chilean dignitaries.

Ecology Director Maia Bellon accompanied Gov. Jay Inslee to discuss climate change with President Michelle Bachelet of Chile on June 7 in Seattle, Wash.

In 2015, Washington and Chile established a memorandum of understanding regarding climate change, sustainability, and clean energy at the international climate summit in Paris, COP21. Wednesday’s meeting was a chance to follow-up on that agreement and discuss potential next steps for cooperation.

According to Bellon, the conversation with President Bachelet was positive and focused on a range of topics, including similar climate change impacts that Chile and Washington contend with, such as drought and ocean health. Discussions also included renewable energy and economic transformation.

After the United States withdrew from the Paris climate accord earlier this month, Bellon tweeted, “I remain as committed as ever to protecting our environment. I will not give up on our future.” Finding common ground with other states and with nations like Chile that recognize the threat climate change poses plays an important role in maintaining that momentum toward finding solutions.

Washington has been a longstanding leader when it comes to addressing climate change. In 2008,
the state Legislature was the first in the country to adopt limits on greenhouse gases, and, last year, Ecology adopted the nation’s most progressive rule to cap and reduce carbon pollution, the Clean Air Rule.   

Bellon said when Washington adopted the Clean Air Rule, it was a watershed moment in the country’s history because it was the first time a state adopted a regulation to limit carbon pollution under a state clean air act.

Despite the wavering federal commitment to combat climate change, Gov. Jay Inslee said that it is imperative for Washington and other states to continue to take action.

“Washington state is leading the way on climate issues where Washington, D.C., is failing,” Inslee said following the decision to withdraw from the Paris agreement.

To learn more about what Gov. Inslee is doing to combat climate change, visit the governor’s news site

By Camille St. Onge, Climate Change and Air Quality

Wednesday, June 7, 2017

Fecal Matters: Bay View State Park is OPEN for Water Recreation, Skagit County

BEACH Program Update

June 7, 2017, Bay View State Park beach is re-opened to swimming and water contact recreation.  Recent water sampling showed that bacteria levels were low and safe for swimming.

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.

Julianne Ruffner, our BEACH Program Manager, is available at 360-407-6154 or for questions.