Thursday, April 27, 2017

Wet weather and dust. Wait, what?

Coming off of the wettest water year on record in Washington, it’s hard to think about windblown dust. But in parts of Eastern Washington it’s a reality when things dry out. The area is prone to this type of air pollution when the fine-grained soils dry out and start blowing in the wind. High levels of suspended dust are common and can Dust can cause health and driving risks.

It’s our job to monitor and track dust pollution in Washington to ensure that the state meets federal air standards intended to protect people’s health. And we like to make sure you know when dust storms are likely, so you can protect yourself and your family.

Infants, small children, asthmatics, and people with other respiratory and cardiovascular diseases are affected more than the general public, and prolonged exposure to blowing dust can lead to serious respiratory problems for these groups.

You can take a number of steps to protect your own and others’ health during a dust storm by staying indoors, wear a mask designed to block small particles, and avoid driving when windblown dust is likely.

The National Weather Service issues warnings when major dust storms threaten to create dangerous driving conditions by restricting visibility.

Tune in to local TV, radio and social media weather reports that share warnings for blowing dust. You can also check our real-time monitoring network for air quality conditions near you.

Managing dust near Kennewick and Wallula

This satellite image from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric
Administration shows wind blown dust sweeping across eastern Washington.
We’re focusing efforts to reduce dust in areas near Kennewick and Wallula because recent hot, dry summers have made soils vulnerable and extreme windstorms caused air quality values to go above federal air quality standards. The area is also called out in a federal rule and we’re required to create a new plan to manage dust around Wallula.

In the months ahead, we will update Wallula’s air quality maintenance plan, develop a new plan that outlines strategies to reduce sources of dust that affect people around Wallula, and produce a report demonstrating the August 2015 high values at Kennewick were naturally caused. We will also continue our work with the agriculture community to encourage farming practices that prevent soil erosion and reduce windblown dust.

Be on the lookout for opportunities to provide review and feedback on our dust management work later this year.

For more information contact Laurie Hulse-Moyer,

Monday, April 24, 2017

Comment period for Tacoma's Occidental Chemical site cleanup draft feasibility study extended

Public now has until June 26 to comment on proposed cleanup options

The public comment period on the draft feasibility study for Tacoma’s former Occidental Chemical site has been extended 60 days. Ecology will now accept feedback on the feasibility study until 5 p.m. Thursday, June 26. Public input will help Ecology decide whether or not to approve four documents related to the draft study, including:  

  • Draft agreed order – requires the company to perform tests, develop a monitoring plan, and submit a draft cleanup action plan.
  • Vapor intrusion memo and reports – details the vapor footprints below the former Occidental plant production area and solvent production settling ponds.
  • Corrective action permit – needed before cleanup work can begin at facilities that have treated, disposed of, or stored dangerous waste, such as Occidental.
  • Porewater sampling results – shows where contamination may enter the Hylebos.

There are hazardous substances in the groundwater, soil, and sediment
throughout the site. Contamination is from historical operations
and waste disposal practices.
These documents are found on the Occidental cleanup site page on Ecology’s website. Paper copies can be viewed at Ecology’s Southwest Regional Office, 300 Desmond Dr. SE, in Lacey; at the office of Citizens for a Healthy Bay, 535 Dock St., Suite 213, in Tacoma, or at the Kobetich Library, 212 Browns Point Blvd. NE, in Tacoma.

Comments on the study can be submitted via:

  • Phone - Call Ecology’s Kerry Graber,  360-407-0241
  • Email -
  • Mail - Southwest Regional Office, PO Box 47775 Olympia, WA 98504-7600.

A draft Cleanup Action Plan is expected after the study is approved. The action plan will set the cleanup methods and standards. It will be available for review and public comment before it is finalized.

Almost 100 people attended the March 8 open house and public hearing on the draft study. The Department of Ecology has already received many public comments that will help determine the location’s future.

There has been strong public interest in the cleanup work at the former chemical plant. The extensive data collected during the lengthy investigation yielded the draft remedial investigation summary. This summary, which identified the boundaries of the plume and the potential impacts of the contamination by evaluating data from groundwater, surface water, air and soil samples, also presented an opportunity for the public to review and comment on the findings before the draft study was finalized. This comment period was open from Oct. 23, 2015 through Feb. 2, 2016. The Remedial Investigation Responsiveness Summary chronicles the process to develop the draft study.

“Community input drove us to conduct more studies about risk to the public and impacts to wildlife, and to discard items in the report that do not meet Ecology’s or EPA’s standards,” Ecology’s Occidental Site Manager Kerry Graber.

Ecology reviewed and responded to comments on the draft investigation, which found soil, sediment and groundwater contaminated with a variety of hazardous substances.

By Dave Bennett, Southwest Region communications

New location places Ecology’s Vancouver Field Office staff in heart of service area

The new Vancouver Field Office is an existing building that is
centrally located. It is seven miles from the current office, seven miles from
Interstate 5, and seven miles from the Glen L. Jackson Memorial Bridge
on Interstate 205 to Portland.
Brad Pitt spent seven years in Tibet. There are seven wonders of the ancient world. And, seven is the most powerful magic number in Harry Potter’s wizarding kingdom.

On Monday, May 1, the number “7” will take on new meaning at the Department of Ecology when our Vancouver staff open a new field office 7 miles away from their current Grand Avenue location to the Eastridge Business Park, 12121 NE 99th St., Ste. 2100, in northeast Vancouver.

The new office is also 7 miles from Interstate 5 via state Route 500, and 7 miles from the Glen L. Jackson Bridge over the Columbia River on Interstate 205 to Portland.

That proximity matters during an emergency. In June of last year, Ecology’s Vancouver Field Office staff were the first environmental responders to the Mosier crude oil rail explosion in Oregon, where a Union Pacific train pulling 96 tanks of Bakken crude from North Dakota to Tacoma derailed and caught on fire. The accident released 42,000 gallons of crude – some into the Columbia River. Ecology’s quick action was cited as a factor in preventing this catastrophe from becoming tragic.

The Vancouver Field Office is home to 13 Ecology staff members with broad expertise in water quality, grants, air quality, spill prevention and response, and toxics cleanup. They deliver vital services that protect Southwest Washington’s communities and natural resources.

According to the Vancouver Field Office manager Iloba Odum, the relocation has been in the works for several years. The current space, where the field office has been based since 1997, is shared with the Department of Fish and Wildlife and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. The new location offers closer proximity to Vancouver’s growing population.

“Clark County is one of the fastest growing counties in Washington, and our customer base is spreading out,” Odum said. “The new Vancouver Field Office is more centrally located and will better support customers and Ecology’s mission in the greater Vancouver area. The office will also provide features to support the entire Vancouver team.”

Ecology signed a 10-year lease for the new office with Investors Warranty of America, LLC. The new location is in an existing 6,000 square-foot building located in the EastRidge Business Park. The floor plan includes 16 cubicles, a small lab and field gear room, two conference rooms and a small office, lockers, showers and secure parking for emergency response vehicles.

There are no planned service interruptions from the move and all of the office’s phone numbers and emails will remain the same.

“Having a field office in Vancouver allows local staff to spend more time in the field than on the road,” said Sally Toteff, director of Ecology’s Southwest Region. “The ample staging area and easy access to key highways (I-205, I-5 and Highway 14) will allow us to respond rapidly to spills at sites along local streams and the Columbia River.”

The Vancouver Field Office is part of Southwest Region, based in Lacey, and one of two Ecology field offices. Ecology’s other field office, in Bellingham, is part of the Northwest Region based in Bellevue. The two additional regional office are based in Yakima (Central Region) and Spokane (Eastern Region).

By Dave Bennett, Southwest Region communications manager

Monday, April 17, 2017

East Bay redevelopment cleanup open house April 25th

You are invited to an Open House and Public Meeting to discuss the cleanup at East Bay Redevelopment Cleanup Site.
When:   April 25, 2017
Time:    6:30 - 8:30 pm
Where: Olympia Center, Room A
              222 Columbia St NW, Olympia
Meeting Agenda:
6:30 - 7:00 PM Open House
7:00 - 8:00 PM Presentation and Q/A Session
8:00 - 8:30 PM Open House

Ecology staff members will be available for one-on-one discussion and to answer your questions. Light refreshments will be provided.

In addition to the meeting we invite you to submit written comments on several cleanup documents. 

  • Remedial Investigation and Feasibility Study report   This report outlines the nature and extent of contamination and examines cleanup options.
  • Draft Cleanup Action Plan  This describes the proposed final cleanup actions.
  • Agreed Order  A legal agreement with the owners of the land to do the cleanup.
  • SEPA Determination  This describes the potential impacts of the project on the surrounding environment. Ecology reviewed the checklist and determined that the action was not likely to have significant negative impacts (a Determination of Non-Significance).
For more information visit the East Bay Redevelopment Cleanup website
You can review the cleanup documents at these locations:
  • Olympia Timberland Library, 313 8th Avenue SE, Olympia, WA 98501 Phone: (360) 352-0595
  • Ecology’s Southwest Regional Office Toxics Cleanup Program- 300 Desmond Drive SE, Lacey, WA. Please call (360)407-6365 for an appointment or email
Submit written comments to:
Steve Teel, Site Manager
Phone: (360) 407-6247
Questions about the meeting contact:
Stacy Galleher, Public Involvement Coordinator
Phone: (360) 407-6255

Monday, April 10, 2017

WCC members serve local communities through AmeriCorps program

A series of storms caused many Eastern Washington streams and rivers to flood last month. On March 17, Gov. Jay Inslee issued an emergency proclamation for all 20 counties east of the Cascades to free up state resources in case wet weather and flooding risks continue.

When disasters occur, local and tribal government partners and state officials often request on-the-ground assistance from Ecology’s Washington Conservation Corps (WCC) AmeriCorps members and crew supervisors.

The WCC provides hands-on experience, field skills, and training opportunities to young adults between 18 and 25 and military veterans. Our 300 members and 55 field supervisors across the state restore critical habitat, build trails, and protect the state’s natural, historic and environmental resources.

During disasters, however, WCC members and supervisors respond to assist communities in Washington and beyond.

2017 flood response in Sprague and Yakima

March 18, WCC crews help keep rising flood waters from Sprague.
City officials and the state Military Department requested help battling flood waters in the Lincoln County town of Sprague on March 17, and WCC was able to respond the next day. WCC members based in Spokane, Walla Walla, Wenatchee, Yakima and Ellensburg filled and placed about 3,500 sandbags to protect Sprague homes and businesses. Members also reinforced and fixed sandbags to stay ahead of rising water levels.

The crews received a warm welcome. “It was refreshing to see the community come together and help our crews and each other,” said WCC supervisor Matt Cone, who was deeply moved by the experience. “The people volunteered their time, labor, supplies and food so that everyone was taken care of. Even in a stressful situation, this community showed a lot of heart.”
WCC crew in removing sandbags in Yakima

On March 20 and 21, another WCC crew responded to a similar request from the city of Yakima. Members took a day off from their regular duties with the North Yakima Conservation District to help the city clean up after widespread flooding. The crew removed nearly 4,000 sandbags from a previously flooded interchange.

WCC disaster response program

Our WCC crews have responded to local floods, wildfires, oil spills and landslides and have also been deployed to provide disaster relief and recovery assistance for floods, hurricanes and tornadoes around the nation. Four WCC crews are designated disaster response crews but any crew has the potential to be deployed.

Members and staff are trained to safely and effectively:
  • Clean up homes, roads and structures
  • Install emergency repairs such as roof tarps
  • Manage volunteers and donations
  • Remove trees and debris
  • Set up and operate emergency shelters
WCC AmeriCorps funding in jeopardy

The WCC was created in 1983 and became an AmeriCorps program in 1994. The federal Corporation for National and Community Service administers AmeriCorps. The proposed federal blueprint budget would eliminate funding the agency’s funding. For the 2017-18 federal budget year (Oct. 1, 2017, through Sept. 30, 2018), AmeriCorps provided Ecology’s WCC program:

  • $1.8 million in grant funding – about 20 percent of WCC’s budget.
  • Authority and funding to support Ecology WCC AmeriCorps federal disaster and response and recovery efforts.
  • A $5,775 education award to each WCC member who completes a year of services. They can use the AmeriCorps award to pay for future college expenses or toward existing student loans. This year the awards, paid directly to post-secondary institutions, will provide more than $2 million in tuition income to trade schools, college and universities attended by WCC alumni.
Since it is still early in the federal budget-making process, it is unknown what the full effects could be on Ecology’s WCC AmeriCorps program in the future.

Learn more about WCC

Ecology's Washington Conservation Corps, an AmeriCorps program, consists of three subprograms: the original WCC, Veteran Conservation Corps and Puget SoundCorps. Recruitment for the 2017-2018 year will begin in July!

See photos of the types of projects WCC members support during their service in our WCC Projects Flickr set and WCC Featured Projects Story Map. To become a member of WCC, learn more and apply online today.

Friday, April 7, 2017

Eyes Under Puget Sound: Critter of the Month – The Moon Snail

Lewis’ Moon Snail with its dark brown, hard operculum.
Courtesy of Linda Schroeder- PNW Shell club.
With its easily recognizable shell (the largest found on Puget Sound beaches), we are certainly over the moon for this month’s critter: the Moon Snail.

Full moon

When we talk about moon snails, we are referring to a group of species within the family Naticidae.

Here in the Pacific Northwest, we see a few different species. Lewis’ Moon Snail is the largest of the moon snails -- it can grow to 14 cm! Although it is the most common species overall, we don't often encounter Lewis' Moon Snail during our subtidal Puget Sound sediment monitoring because it lives in intertidal habitat.

The Pale Moon Snail and Arctic Moon Snail are more commonly encountered during our sediment monitoring, and can be found in soft muddy bottoms from 0-500 meters (although Puget Sound depths reach only about 300 meters).

Cute as a (belly) button

While the different moon snail species look and act similarly, there is one thing that sets them apart –their “belly buttons”. This special belly button is called an umbilicus, and it is formed because of the way a snail shell grows around a central axis (columella). This growth results in a hollow tube running through the center of the shell, forming the belly button-like hole. In some species of moon snails, the hole is filled in with calcium as the animal grows, but in others, the umbilicus is never filled in – so this trait of having an “outy” or an “inny” can set them apart.

The three moon snails we commonly encounter in Puget Sound can be easily identified by the umbilicus.
LEFT: Lewis’ Moon Snail, Nevertina lewisii, has a deep umbilicus.
MIDDLE: The Pale Moon Snail, Euspira pallida, has a partially covered umbilicus.
RIGHT: The Arctic Moon Snail, Cryptonatica affinis, has a completely covered umbilicus.

Get your foot in the door

Lewis’ Moon Snail with its inflated fleshy foot
engulfing almost the entire outer shell.
Courtesy of Kevin Lee,
Like most marine snails, the moon snail has a muscular foot that is used not only to glide on the sediment but also to plow below the sediment’s surface. However, the moon snail’s fleshy foot can do something that most snail feet can’t – it can fill with water and expand to a ridiculous size, practically covering the large bulbous shell.

Believe it or not, moon snails can live to be up to 15 years old, and they don’t survive that long on luck alone. When a moon snail senses danger or is disturbed, it withdraws its inflated foot inside its shell, sealing the opening (aperture) of the shell with a hardened door (called an operculum) so that the soft fleshy foot is fully protected. Meaning “little lid” in Latin, the operculum is present in almost all snails. Animals that would love to munch on a moon snail include octopuses, rock crabs, sea gulls, and even other moon snails.

An upside-down Lewis’ Moon Snail with a clam in its
huge foot. Courtesy of Linda Schroeder - PNW Shell club

The dark side of the moon (snail)

While the unassuming moon snail appears super cute and squishy, it is actually a voracious predator, using stealthy tactics to consume its favorite food: clams. It all begins when the moon snail smells its prey and uses its huge slimy foot to engulf its victim. Once the moon snail gets the unsuspecting clam in its grip, the radula goes to work. Almost all snails have a toothed structure called a radula which they use to consume smaller animal pieces or to scrape algae off rocks.

However, in the moon snail’s case, the sharp-toothed radula is used as a drill to bore holes into the hard shells of clams.
This hole drilled on the top of a clam’s shell is the sign of a
moon snail attack. Courtesy of Central Coast Biodiversity
This is an extremely slow process, with the average moon snail takedown lasting 4 days as it drills ½ mm per day. In order to speed things up a bit, the moon snail produces hydrochloric acid and other enzymes to help dissolve the shell and liquefy the clam’s insides.

Once a perfectly rounded hole is made in the shell, the moon snail inserts its tubular, straw-like mouth and slurps up the “clam smoothie” inside. It can take another day or so for the moon snail to ingest the clam innards. Talk about delayed gratification!

Hot under the collar 

An egg-filled sand collar left on the beach by a moon snail.
Courtesy of Linda Schroeder - PNW Shell club
Female moon snails lay their eggs in a pretty unique fashion. The female covers her entire foot in a thick layer of sand grains that she cements together with mucous. She lays millions of tiny eggs on top of the sand grains, and sandwiches them between another layer of sand. She then detaches herself from the hardened sand-egg mixture and leaves behind a molded sand sculpture in the shape of a shirt collar.

A few weeks go by and the eggs hatch, breaking through the disintegrating collar and swimming away to repeat the process all over again.

By: Dany Burgess & Angela Eagleston, Environmental Assessment Program

Critter of the Month

Our benthic taxonomists love getting to know the crazy
critters at the bottom of Puget Sound.
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.

Thursday, April 6, 2017

Washington state agencies are walking the talk on climate change

Washington state is dedicated to reducing greenhouse gas emissions to help slow the impacts of climate change and state agencies are joining the effort. With direction from the state Legislature, state agencies are working with Ecology to monitor and reduce their emissions.

Reducing its carbon footprint is a priority for Washington State Parks

Solar-powered ticket station
Parks around the state are installing solar panels. Solar is heating water for bathhouses, powering Discover Pass ticketing stations, and lighting up entrance signs. These efforts are helping Washington State Parks reduce its carbon footprint and save money.

At Pearrygin Lake State Park in Eastern Washington visitors can enjoy a dip in the lake followed by a hot, solar-powered shower. The park estimates that the solar hot water system will eliminate about one ton of greenhouse gas emissions per
year for each 50 gallons of water heated to 120 degrees Fahrenheit. In addition to reducing emissions, the system is helping the park save money on energy costs.

Parks are also opting to use pedal power over fossil fuels. In 14 parks around the state, rangers and park staff are using bicycles for routine park duties. Campers at Millersylvania State Park in Thurston County may be greeted by a ranger patrolling on two wheels.

The investment in solar power and bicycles, along with other emission cutting strategies, are helping Washington State Parks reach its goals to reduce greenhouse gas emission.
Pearrygin Lake State Park solar-powered showers

Washington Legislature directs state agencies to track and reduce greenhouse gases

Washington State Parks along with other state agencies were directed by the Washington State Legislature in 2009 to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and report these reductions to Ecology. This requirement is part of the State Agency Climate Leadership Act which sets a goal for agencies to reduce their emissions 15 percent below 2005 levels by 2020, 36 percent below by 2035, and 57.5 percent below by 2050.

Each agency is required to come up with strategies to meet their reduction goals. The State Parks efforts have been extremely successful, even exceeding its reduction goals. The parks are required to reduce their annual emissions by 2,036 metric tons of carbon dioxide equivalent by 2020. The most recent report shows that in 2015 they have already reduced emissions by 5,013 metric tons of carbon dioxide equivalent. 

On track to meeting our reduction goals

Washington state agencies are on track to meeting 2020 reduction targets. Reductions are coming from building improvements, employee commute trip reduction programs, upgrading to more efficient appliances, and other energy conserving strategies.

Climate change is a global problem and it will take a collaborative effort to slow its impacts. Washington state agencies are working together to be part of the solution. 

By Kerri Wilson, Community Outreach and Environmental Education Specialist