Friday, April 17, 2015

Learn more about Ecology’s environmental footprint and sustainability efforts

By Andrew Wineke, communications manager, Hazardous Waste and Toxics Reduction program

This is Earth Month, so sustainability is the word of the hour. Ecology, we think of ourselves as environmental leaders, responsible for protecting and restoring the air, land and water of Washington. As we do that, however, we leave an environmental footprint of our own with the vehicles we drive, the electricity we consume and the waste we generate.

To improve our sustainability, we first need to track that footprint and evaluate how we’re doing and where the best opportunities to improve lie.

One of the ways we do that is through our Sustainability Report. In this report, you’ll find data on Ecology’s energy consumption, greenhouse gas generation, waste and water use. You’ll also find broader categories of sustainability, such as our employee mix, our commuting habits and our budget.

The goal of reporting is to not only improve Ecology’s sustainability but to advance sustainability across the state by providing the data that can inform our strategic planning. Our Sustainability Report uses a framework established by the Global Reporting Initiative, or GRI.

GRI is a nonprofit organization that has introduced standardized language and metrics for sustainability reporting. GRI’s framework is the widely used by companies and organizations across the world.

Using a standard yardstick to measure our performance allows us to set an example for others. Last fall, Ecology hosted a GRI workshop that 85 businesses, governments and organizations attended.

Ecology’s Sustainability Report also advances the charge given to all state agencies by Gov. Jay Inslee to track and improve performance through Results Washington.

Gov. Inslee’s goal is to ensure a faster, smarter and more accountable state government. Sustainability, environmental protection, and the health of our communities are key performance areas for Results Washington.

Want to know more?

Wednesday, April 15, 2015

Earth Day has evolved into Earth Month in Tri-Cities

By Ginger Wireman, education & community outreach specialist, Nuclear Waste Program

Earth Day as celebrated in the Mid-Columbia communities of Kennewick, Pasco, Richland, and West Richland started out as a festival in the park.

Exhibitors showed native plants, taught about habitat and water, demonstrated solar-powered fountains, made art out of recyclables, and more. What was a small event at first grew large enough that organizers became worried that it was creating waste (from food vendors, unused coloring sheets, etc.) more than it was teaching or helping to change behavior.

The GGTC leaf mascot donned a superhero cape
to promote the kids’ contest. 
The plug was pulled on the event in the park. But Mid-Columbia Earth Day grew into Earth Month, and now stretches from Earth Hour on the last Saturday in March, to an electric car race at Columbia Basin College in April 25.

Many of the former exhibitors offer classes and workshops, volunteer projects, and more throughout the month of April. An online calendar lists the myriad opportunities to learn, or do, in appreciation of our one livable planet. We also have an annual kids art contest. This year kids are asked to create a poster answering, “What’s your green Super Power?” showing how they can use their power to go greener.

Ecology’s Nuclear Waste Program has helped organize and catalog these events over the years, which supports the agency Sustainability Plan’s goal to “contribute to the environmental well-being of communities that host Ecology facilities. Get involved in community activities to create a positive presence.”

Ecology staff has also helped with graphics, volunteered at some of the events, and assisted with special event planning, including getting electric cars involved in the annual classic car show “cruise,” an otherwise smelly and noisy affair!

We are proud of the partnerships we’ve built in the community.

Tuesday, April 14, 2015

Fecal Matters: Blue Ridge Community Beach Closed to Swimming, King County

BEACH Program Update

The Blue Ridge Community Beach in King County is closed to swimming as of April 14, 2015 due to a small sewage spill.  Seattle Public Utility will be sampling the beach to determine when it can be reopened.  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 for questions.

Recycling – another way to reduce our carbon footprint

By Andrew Wineke, communications manager, Waste 2 Resources Program

When we talk about climate change, we usually talk about improving fuel efficiency or increasing use of public transit. That makes sense, because in Washington, transportation is the single biggest source of our greenhouse gas emissions.

But did you know that recycling can also have a significant impact on the amount of greenhouse gases we produce?

It’s true. Collecting, processing, and transporting recycled materials almost always uses less energy than extracting, refining, transporting, and processing raw materials.

Consider the humble aluminum beverage can: To make an ordinary 12-ounce can, using recycled aluminum instead of raw materials reduces energy consumption by 95 percent.

Let’s run the numbers on a larger scale:
  • In 2013, 8 million tons of material were collected for recycling in Washington. This effort:
  • Saved energy equivalent to 1 billion gallons of gasoline, or more than 128 trillion British thermal units (BTUs) of energy.Prevented 3.1 million tons of greenhouse gas emissions — about 905 pounds per person.
  • That impact is similar to taking 2.4 million vehicles off the road.
Want to know more? We break the data down by category in this focus sheet

Monday, April 13, 2015

Schools and parks welcome automatic water savings

By Brook Beeler, communication manager eastern region

We have heard the word a lot.


As communities’ awareness of water use is heightened this year, it’s important to note we have been forging partnerships and making progress on wise water use in Washington. 

We work with the Washington Conservation Commission on large-scale agriculture projects through the irrigation efficiencies grant program. In partnership with local conservation districts financial incentives are offered to landowners willing to install irrigation systems that save water. The water saved helps keep water in rivers to benefit other instream resources such as fish habitat.

In urban and suburban environments households use more water outdoors than most American homes use for showering and washing clothes combined. Facilities with large areas of maintained landscape, such as schools, can use as much as 30 percent of their water to maintain the health and quality of the landscape.

We are working to change that with a grant project in Spokane County to upgrade public park, school and cemetery irrigation systems.  More efficient irrigation equipment provides the opportunity for significant water savings.

The Spokane Conservation District has used a $130,000 grant to upgrade irrigation systems at three locations; three more will be completed this spring. The district performed audits of each irrigation system and recommended site-specific changes to improve water efficiency at:
Tekoa Elementary staff lugged hoses out onto the grass. A new
upgraded irrigation system will save time, money and water.
Photo courtesy Spokane Conservation District.

          ·         Tekoa Elementary School
    ·         Fairfield Upper Park
    ·         Latah Memorial Park
    ·         Latah Town Park
    ·         Rockford Rodeo Grounds
    ·         Rockford Arena

Many of the locations were battling old leaky pipes, no timers and in a few cases maintenance staff still lugged hoses around.

One change all locations received is an Environmental Protection Agency’s WaterSense labeled smart controller. These controllers collect on-site rainfall data and use historical weather data to automatically adjust sprinklers to only water for current needs.

The water use data isn't in yet, but statistics show that as much as half of water is wasted due to inefficient irrigation systems and practices. We believe the small investment will go a long way for water savings.

What can you do? Take some advice from the Environmental Protection Agency’s WaterSense program
By following some simple steps, you can have a water-smart landscape that's beautiful, healthy, and easy to maintain:
  1. Design a water-smart landscape that is both beautiful and efficient to give your home the curb appeal     you desire. 
  2. Timing is everything! Knowing when and how much to water allows you to keep a healthy landscape.
  3. Upgrade to a WaterSense labeled controller if you have an in-ground irrigation system.
  4. Learn how an irrigation professional certified by a WaterSense labeled program can install, maintain, or audit your irrigation system to ensure it is operating efficiently while using less water.
  5. When you’re ready, find a pro who can get the job done.
  6. Visit WaterSense's Water–Smart Landscape Photo Gallery for stunning real-world examples of water-smart landscapes in your region. You can even submit your own!

Friday, April 10, 2015

Fake fumes, fire and fractures: Glimpse into this year's WCC environmental training

By Laura Schlabach, WCC Outreach and Development Coordinator

Twice a year, Washington Conservation Corps (WCC) Crews and Individual Placements come together from all across the state for annual trainings in a variety of environmental topics.

Trainings are intended to equip Corps Members for future employment in the environmental field, giving them exposure, experience, and certifications to add to their resume. Courses include Wildland Fire, Hazwoper, Rigging Applications, Ethnobotany, Search and Rescue, and Wilderness First Responder.

See photos from our WCC AmeriCorps training on our Flickr page.

Created with flickr slideshow.

More about WCC

Our Washington Conservation Corps, an AmeriCorps Program program consists of three subprograms: the core WCC, Veteran Conservation Corps, and Puget SoundCorps.

These programs give young adults and military vets meaningful service and training opportunities that often include environmental projects and disaster relief work through six-month to two-year assignments.

Learn more at

Thursday, April 9, 2015

Tackling toxics: PCBs in common products are a concern in Spokane – and across Washington
By Andrew Wineke, Waste 2 Resources communications

A new report by the City of Spokane underlines the need to take a closer look at the sources of the toxic chemicals called polychlorinated biphenyls, or PCBs.

First, a little background: In March, Ecology completed an in-depth analysis of how PCBs are getting into our environment. This report, called a chemical action plan, looks at how a toxic chemical gets into the environment and recommends actions to eliminate or reduce those sources.

PCBs are persistent in the environment, build up in the food chain, and can cause adverse health effects in humans and wildlife, including cancer and harm to immune, nervous, and reproductive systems.

PCBs were banned nearly 40 years ago, so you would expect most of the major sources to be old equipment, such as power transformers, and building materials, like paint and caulk. And those were identified as significant sources.

What’s troubling, however, is that newly created PCBs are also major contributors to this toxic pollution. Small amounts of PCBs are created as a byproduct of some manufacturing processes, such as making certain pigments for paints and dyes. This inadvertent generation is allowed by the federal Toxics Substances Control Act.

This is where the City of Spokane comes in.

PCBs are a major water quality challenge in Spokane, where the Washington Department of Health advises residents against eating fish caught in some sections of the Spokane River because of PCB contamination.
Using funding from an Ecology stormwater grant, Spokane tested ordinary products it uses to paint its streets, maintain its parks, and clean city vehicles. It also tested a handful of common household products, such as dish soap and toothpaste.

Those tests found PCBs in all but two of the products at levels that raised concerns – even though they are below the limits set by the PCB ban. The levels in hydroseed (used to cover and regrow grass after construction projects) and road deicer were surprisingly high.
A new report looks at PCBs found in common municipal products.

Now, this was just one study and it considered a relatively small selection of products. Nevertheless, the testing demonstrated that inadvertent generation of PCBs has the potential to impact the environment.
For its part, the City of Spokane says it will use the test results to help it find safer, PCB-free products. Both state law and a Spokane city ordinance require public agencies to buy PCB-free products where available, so this work is a first step toward finding safer products.

Ecology continues to work with partners in Spokane and elsewhere in the state to find and remove sources of PCBs.

Ecology’s PCB Chemical Action Plan
Spokane River Regional Toxics Task Force
Ecology’s Reducing Toxic Threats initiative