Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Enhanced Resources on Ecology’s Green Building Web Site

Low VOC paints and sealants inside a strawbale home in Spokane, WA

Low VOC paints and sealants inside a strawbale home in Spokane, WA.

On top of a construction and demolition landfill.

The Green Building Group at the Department of Ecology offers technical assistance and educational resources to Washington residents and businesses interested in green building strategies. Sustainable, or green, building isn’t a new idea, but the movement has experienced unprecedented growth and development in recent years.

More and more people have been ”connecting the dots” between the toxic materials used in construction and indoor air quality, between a large home garbage bin and rising mountains of waste, and between costly utility bills and poor home insulation. More and more people are now trying to incorporate green features in their construction, demolition and remodeling projects to do their part in reducing the environmental and health impacts.

In response to the growing interest and questions, we have re-developed our green building Web site. We’ve streamlined the site’s navigation, making it user-friendly, and enhanced it with new, up-to-date information and resources. We hope that it now provides the tools that the Washington residents need to take action.

The updated Green Building Web site features the following sections:

Green Building Basics - Components of a green building; green building statistics in Washington State.

Certification and Regulations - Green building and product certification programs; Washington State Law on High Performance Buildings.

Case Studies - Links to residential and commercial case study databases.

Homeowner Resources - Homeowner incentives; brochures on elements of a green remodel.

Builder Resources - Educational resources, incentives available to builders, and appraisal information.

Alternatives to Waste - How to avoid and reduce waste generated by construction, demolition, and remodel projects.

Ecology Assistance - Ecology services: eco-charrette facilitation, grants, environmentally preferred purchasing, assistance to local governments, interagency cooperation, and some Washington green building organizations.

Contact UsMeet the Green Building Group at Ecology.

Monday, September 28, 2009

What are Elliott Bay sediments telling us?

Photo of Ecology crew on Elliot Bay taking sediment samples

We have a health checkup of sediments in Puget Sound’s Elliott Bay. It shows a glimmer of success in the heart of Puget Sound. Our news about this work is getting some traction with a few Puget Sound media outlets.

The just-out science shows that levels of toxic chemicals in Elliott Bay sediment — including mercury, lead, tin, PAHs and PCBs — are decreasing. Plasticizers (phthalates) and zinc are increasing. Fish tumors are declining in English sole, however these same fish are experiencing other, different health problems.

We are seeing healthier populations of benthic invertebrates, the tiny life that lives in the sediment.

What can we think of all of this variety of news? Is our environmental cleanup, source-control, permitting, inspections helping? Are we doing enough of the right things to save Puget Sound?

After the news hit the Internet today, Jay Manning, Ecology’s director emailed all Ecology staff to say: “We have more to do, without a doubt, and we will never be done, but I think it is so important that we all take a moment to savor a significant accomplishment, to realize a return on investment and to recognize the efforts of our staff and other contributors to the massive effort of restoring Puget Sound. I encourage you to share this information with others. Environmental protection is difficult work. Restoration is even harder. But it is happening in Elliott Bay, and if we can do it there, we can do it across the rest of Puget Sound.”

Through the Urban Waters Initiative, several of Ecology’s programs have aligned their source control and cleanup efforts in Elliott Bay/lower Duwamish and Commencement Bay to reduce toxic chemical pollution from stormwater runoff and other sources. These actions are meant to reduce toxics entering the bays and prevent re-contamination of sediments at sites that have been cleaned up or are in the process of being cleaned up.

Ecology′s Environmental Assessment Program is supporting the initiative by assessing marine sediment quality throughout urban bays in Puget Sound, beginning with Elliott Bay and adjoining waterways of the lower Duwamish River in 2007.

That’s what this new study is about.

These bay-scale assessments assist environmental managers in determining whether collective localized cleanups and source control improve conditions over a wider area.

Efforts to reduce toxic chemicals in the environment are important because some chemicals persist in the environment long after they are released, build up in the food chain and can affect the health of fish, sea mammals and bottom-dwelling creatures.

So why does this matter?

Changes in sediment health provide us clues about whether environmental regulation, source control, or localized cleanup efforts have created bay-wide improvements. While some sediment contaminants are declining in Elliott Bay other levels of contaminants have remained the same or have increased despite our efforts to reduce them

We have more difficult work ahead to control the sources of contaminants that are increasing, such as plasticizers and zinc. This baseline work helps us learn if our strategies are working and what future investments we need to make to restore and protect Puget Sound

See the news release: Elliott Bay sediment check-up shows progress (9/25/09)

Monday, September 14, 2009

Play it Again, Sam

A new version of the plan to control phosphorus pollution and increase oxygen in the Spokane River and Lake Spokane is ready for public review. You may be thinking we have been here before. And we have! However, substantial changes to the draft water-quality improvement plan have been made. That means we need to hear from you again.

Over the years this plan has been controversial and the subject of robust community discussion. This time around the plan has been re-worked to address community’s concerns heard during the previous public comment period. Now it’s time to take one more look.

The water quality improvement plan outlines how the community will reduce phosphorus and other substances in the Spokane River and Lake Spokane to prevent algae blooms, increased growth of aquatic plants, and the related declines in Lake Spokane’s dissolved oxygen.

Phosphorus is the primary nutrient causing excess algae and plant growth in the Spokane River and Lake Spokane. It acts like fertilizer, causing algae and other aquatic plants to grow and thrive. When the plants decompose, they use up dissolved oxygen that fish need to breathe. More algae means less oxygen.

The plan is still one of the most stringent in the country.
  • It will lead to reducing phosphorus pollution from industrial and municipal pipes by more than 90 percent.

  • The industrial and municipal “point-source” (from a pipe) dischargers are required to help reduce phosphorus from other diffuse, “non-point” sources such as farms, septic systems, animal waste, and fertilizers used at home.

  • It provides strong incentives for investing in wise water use.

  • Establishes a long-term monitoring program for the river and Lake Spokane.

So what is different about this plan?
  • Requirements to reduce stormwater discharges.

  • An average 66 percent reduction in the amount of phosphorus that goes into Lake Spokane during the warmer months, March to October.

  • A plan to address the dissolved oxygen impacts for which Avista is responsible.

Take another look for yourself. The new comment runs through Oct. 14, 2009. The Spokane River/Lake Spokane Dissolved Oxygen Water Quality Improvement Plan will guide work toward a healthier Spokane River.

A public meeting is planned for 6-9 p.m., Thursday, Sept. 24, 2009, at the Spokane Community College’s Sasquatch Room in the Lair Building #6, 1810 N Greene St., Spokane.

You can view and download the report at: www.ecy.wa.gov/biblio/0710073.html

Frequently Asked Questions about the Water Quality Improvement Report:

Frequently Asked Questions about Effective Public Commenting: http://www.ecy.wa.gov/biblio/0307023.html