Wednesday, February 25, 2015

Around the Sound: Custom work earns kudos

By Seth Preston, communications manager, Toxics Cleanup Program

The stunning transformation of a toxic old mill site in Anacortes is getting some well-deserved attention, and not just from community members.

The American Council of Engineering Companies (ACEC) of Washington recently presented a "Best in State" Gold Award for the Custom Plywood mill cleanup to consulting firm Hart Crowser and our Anacortes/Fidalgo Bay team in the Toxics Cleanup Program. The award was in the Social/Economic Sustainability category.

Ecology team members were (from left to right) Arianne Fernandez, Pete Adolphson, Hun Seak Park, and Sandra Caldwell.

Custom Plywood is one of several sites in the Anacortes area  that is being cleaned up under the Puget Sound Initiative.

From toxic to terrific

The Custom Plywood site in July 2013 ...

The mill site had been used for heavy industry since the late 1800s. After a 1992 fire destroyed the closed mill, broken concrete and twisted rebar littered the site. Soil contained heavy metals and petroleum products. 

Groundwater beneath the site was contaminated. Dioxins and wood debris smothered marine sediments. Old pilings coated with toxic creosote and the remains of old structures slowly deteriorated in the bay. 

In 2011, TCP led a cleanup of the site's 6 uplands acres. Contractors removed pilings and structures from the land, and dug up about 33,600 tons of contaminated soil. They brought in about 39,000 tons of clean soil to rebuild the land.
... and in May 2014.

In 2013, cleanup focused on the shore and in-water issues. About 1,450 old pilings and 7,000 tons of fired-damaged structures and materials over the water were removed. About 8 acres of in-water sediment contaminated with dioxins and wood debris were dug up.

Fidalgo Bay was connected to a wetland area created in 2011. A jetty was extended and a new spit was added to prevent waves from eroding the shoreline. And the shoreline was almost tripled in length.

Environment, economy, community

Custom Plywood is another example of how cleanup work can benefit the environment, the economy and the community. Cleanup puts people to work, which provides for an immediate economic benefit because construction crews spend money in the local area. Cleanup clears the way for future economic activity.

Cleanup improves and protects the environment, which also protects the health of local residents. And communities benefit from economic opportunities and an improved quality of life.

Monday, February 23, 2015

Air Time: Mild weather drawing you outside?

Consider alternatives to burning as you gather brush, leaves and yard waste

By Joye Redfield-Wilder, communications manager, Ecology's Central Regional Office

Unseasonably warm weather has many of us poking around in our gardens. The camellias are blooming, the daffodils and tulips are already poking up, and that yard debris you didn’t get to last fall may be calling to you.

Household chippers are affordable and create instant groundcover
With a little planning, you can turn that yard waste into a useful product – simply by chipping, mulching and composting. Household chippers are quite affordable these days and the shredded branches, twigs and leaves make a great groundcover and mulch around your home.

Composting creates a useful soil amendment, and like chipped materials, can save you from having to buy a comparable product at the garden store. Many communities have yard waste collection programs or community gardens where composting might be available.
Putting your waste to use in your yard has other benefits; it’s good for air quality and helps prevent unintended wildfires.

The Department of Natural Resources reports that in the past four years 562 unattended burn piles scorched 2,317 acres across the state. The smoke and damage from such fires is costly, not only in terms of human health, but also in responding firefighters and property loss. It’s just not worth the risks.

Burning leaves, twigs and other yard debris creates smoke that’s both a nuisance and harmful to you, your children and neighbors. Fires must be kept small and be attended with a water supply nearby to extinguish if it gets out of hand.

What a hassle when there are so many easy alternatives!

While burning remains an important tool for forest health and agriculture, outdoor burning was phased out in urban growth communities (UGAs), in 2006. Land clearing, agriculture and forest land fires require burn permits and such prescribed burning is only allowed on days when ventilation is good. You can be fined for illegal burning or burning without a permit.

Don’t ever burn garbage. Burning plastic, treated wood, garbage and even processed paper releases harmful chemicals, such as formaldehyde, mercury, arsenic, benzenes and dioxins to the atmosphere. Exposure can cause asthma, burning eyes, bronchitis, lung disease and chronic heart disease.

Though common in rural areas, burn barrels are banned in Washington.

This spring, arm yourself with a rake, chipper and spade and choose to mulch, chip and compost. Roll up your sleeves and breathe in the sparkling clean air of an early spring!

Related information:

  1. Don’t burn it, recycle it!  Composting on your property is easy and there are many facilities that use this valuable material.

  1. If you must burn, know the rules! And your local Air Authority jurisdiction.     

  1. Be safe! Know who your local fire department is and what their rules are for both your home and vacation properties. Post this info at your cabin or on your refrigerator. 

  1. Make sure it’s a burn day! This applies to outdoor burning and woodstoves too. or call 800-406-5322, burn decision hotline. 

  1. If you see someone burning illegally report it! Call 866-211-6284 statewide, 24-hour, toll free.

Saturday, February 21, 2015

Eyes Over Puget Sound: Our scientists love Puget Sound!

Tuesday was such a great day to fly! This month's Eyes Over Puget Sound report is full of stunning photos of blue skies over our special landscape. 

Click the image to check out the February issue.

View from the air

We soared through the sunshine hopping between monitoring stations from Olympia all the way up to sites near the Canadian border.

The air and water were warm with sunshine and dry weather across the Puget Sound. As a result, we could see the first signs of growing phytoplankton coloring the waters green in areas.

We spotted patches of jellyfish wintering in finger inlets of South Sound. The scenery was stunning as tidal fronts and suspended sediment played dynamically against the beauty of the San Juan Islands.

We ♥ Puget Sound

February's flight really highlighted all the reasons we love Puget Sound. With all of it's wondrous marine life, charismatic marine mammals, spectacular islands and hidden coves, and people that really care, what's not to love?

Visit the report to see photos of all the things we love most about 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.

On each flight 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.

Learn more and see other issues on our website.

Wednesday, February 18, 2015

New QCAT now available - Meow!

 If you are manufacturer or work in product development, you no doubt care about the safety of the chemical ingredients in your products. But how do you really know how safe those ingredients are?

That’s where a chemical hazard assessment comes in. A chemical hazard assessment is a standardized approach to evaluate the hazards posed by a chemical: Does it stick around for a long time? Does it cause cancer? Will it kill fish?

Using a standardized system allows manufacturers, researchers, or you to compare one chemical ingredient to another and assign an overall grade. All else being equal, using the safest available ingredients obviously makes a lot of sense.

And, it just so happens, the latest version of Ecology’s Quick Chemical Assessment Tool, or QCAT, is now available, free*.

(*cat not included)

The QCAT is based on the GreenScreen® for Safer Chemicals methodology. GreenScreen® is a pretty thorough process – a full report looks at 18 different hazard endpoints and can run 20 pages or more. The QCAT scales that back to a more manageable size by looking at nine hazard endpoints:

QCAT version 1.3 reflects recent updates to the GreenScreen methodology, includes new data sources such as the European Union Classification and Labeling Database, and incorporates feedback we heard at training sessions to make it more consistent and easier to use.

Want to learn more?
 Ecology offers free QCAT trainings several times each year. Upcoming trainings will be in the fall of 2015 in southwest and eastern Washington. You can find these and other educational opportunities at our Upcoming Events page, or email to be notified of future classes.

Visit Ecology's website for more about assessing the safety of chemical alternatives.

Monday, February 16, 2015

WCC: Now Hiring in Walla Walla (and statewide!)

By Jessica Payne, Washington Conservation Corps communications manager

Calling all outdoor enthusiasts! Want to gain hands-on experience protecting and restoring the environment you love? Want to be part of a team that helps people and works with nature? Are you 18 to 25 years old or a military veteran? If so, WCC wants you!

New crew in Walla Walla seeks team members

The Washington Conservation Corps (WCC) works outdoors year-round to protect and enhance Washington’s natural resources. Right now, we're hiring crew members for our new crew located in Walla Walla.

By joining the WCC, you will work with like-minded people making a difference. Your projects will involve a variety of natural resource and restoration work. This could include constructing fencing, planting trees, improving forest health, building trails, removing invasive plants, and restoring stream. 

Your work with WCC will take you across the state or overnight in the woods at times. You might even be called upon to respond to wildfires or a natural disaster. We reimburse members for their travel and cover food and lodging when you are on location.

The details...

Interested in joining the new Walla Walla crew? Check to see if you qualify:
  • No experience? No problem!
  • You must be a Washington State resident
  • Must be able to pass a background check
  • Must be 18-25 years old, but age restrictions do not apply to Gulf War era II veterans, reservists, and dependents
Most importantly, applicants must be willing to work outdoors, in all types of weather and contribute to a team atmosphere.

What do you get? As a crew member, you will make $9.47/hour. You will also earn an AmeriCorps Education Award of $2,822.00 for school after completing 900 hours and each six-month term.

Not in Walla Walla? That's okay, we're hiring positions across the state.

Apply online:

More about WCC

Our Washington Conservation Corps 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 how you can apply to be a member on Ecology’s WCC webpage

Thursday, February 12, 2015

Tough love for teddy

A teddy bear with its head ripped open. A squishy child’s toy, cut to ribbons. A heart-shaped box, crushed.

This isn’t a Valentine’s Day massacre – it’s the tough love our product testing team gives to the toys, knickknacks, and assorted endearments that line store shelves this time of year.  They may look adorable, but some of these items may contain lead, phthalates, or other toxic chemicals that manufacturers are required to report under Washington’s Children’s Safe Product Act.

Ecology's product testing team makes regular visits to local stores to buy seasonal products for testing to ensure products don’t contain banned chemicals and that manufacturers are correctly reporting the chemicals used in their products.

Why seasonal items?
Because holiday items arrive in a rush and disappear just as quickly, they raise special concerns for protecting children. Testing lets us know whether manufacturers are following state laws. 

The presence of a chemical in a product does not necessarily mean it’s unsafe. However, some chemicals have been banned for specific uses because they pose special concerns, such as lead in packaging.

Tests show most manufacturers are following laws that regulate the use of toxic chemicals. When Ecology finds a chemical in a product that is banned or requires reporting, we notify the manufacturer and work to bring them into compliance. If necessary, Ecology may have to issue a financial penalty to ensure that companies comply with the law. 

Testing, testing, testing
In the product testing facility at Ecology’s Lacey building, holiday products are sorted, screened and processed. An X-ray fluorescence analyzer, or XRF, is used to screen the items for heavy metals and other elements. Those that may contain chemicals of concern are sent to a laboratory for an analysis of their chemical ingredients.

Unfortunately, this processing and analysis takes some time, so most of today’s Valentine mementos will be memories by the time Ecology issues its product testing report later this spring. However, the test results give us and other state agencies the data they need to work with retailers and manufacturers in time for future holidays.

So all of that slicing and dicing is for a good cause in the end -- even if it is a little rough on Teddy.

Tuesday, February 10, 2015

Formula for drought: Warm winters with rain, little snow

By Dan Partridge, Water Resources program communications manager 

For the second February in a row, we are closely watching winter water supplies in Washington  with our Water Supply Availability Committee (WSAC) partners.  

Comprised of state and federal agency representatives, WSAC monitors water supplies in Washington and decides if and when a drought declaration recommendation should be made to the governor.   
Snowmobile sits on bare ground near the Lost  Horse 
snowpack monitoring site southwest of Yakima. 
Like this time last year, Washington is experiencing a warm winter with little snow accumulating in the mountains.
In many parts of the state precipitation has been in the form of rain. The absence of snow accumulations, called snowpack,  sets up conditions that could result in a shortage of water later this year.

Snowpack numbers spell competition for water supplies

Earlier this month, the Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) told the WSAC meeting that Washington’s snowpack statewide was only 39 percent of average. That could spell drought conditions and competition for water for our state’s many farmers and irrigators.

The Seattle Times this week reported snow levels at Washington ski areas at “possibly the lowest since the state began keeping annual counts 66 years ago.” For example, Snoqualmie Pass as of Feb. 8 had received 74 inches of snow this season, compared to a record annual snowfall of 191 inches during the 1976-77 season.
Snowpack serves as an important water resource in the state’s mountain ranges. Like a frozen reservoir, snow melt feeds reservoirs, rivers and streams and is delivered to farmers, irrigators and communities along the Olympic, Cascade and Snake River ranges.

Snowpack forecast not encouraging

NRCS  says the state needs to receive well over 200 percent of average snowfall between now and April 1 to catch up to normal snowpack accumulations.
Weather forecasts into March call for warm weather, more rain and less snow.  To be ready in case a drought declaration is necessary, Ecology is requesting drought relief funds from the Legislature. These funds in the form of grants can be used to drill emergency water wells, deepen existing wells for cities, farms or fish hatcheries or to pay for construction of pumps and pipelines.
By law, two conditions must be met before a drought can be declared in Washington state and funds released:
  • An area has to be experiencing or projected to experience a water supply that is 75 percent of normal, and
  • Water users in that area will likely incur undue hardships as a result of the shortage.

While lack of snowpack is a cause of concern, it is just one factor in the drought equation.
Rain, stream and river flows also factor into our water supplies. For farmers, how much water is available in our reservoirs can determine the success of the upcoming irrigation season. 

The seven-day average streamflow statewide was normal the first of February, although below normal in northwestern Olympic Peninsula. Snowpack was only 40 percent of average in the Yakima Basin, but storage in Bureau of Reclamation reservoirs in the basin was 167 percent of average.

Preparing to help if drought comes

Under these circumstances, no one is recommending a drought declaration but Ecology will be prepared to help in case it comes. WSAC also recognizes how quickly things can change. Last year, heavy snows in the second half of February increased the snowpack in river basins from as low as 35 percent to more than 70 percent of average. 
We may get by this year, but another year of low snowpack could mean less water carried over in reservoirs and spell drought next year.
For links to water supply information provided by all WSAC members, go to Ecology’s Drought Information Web page.