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Friday, July 30, 2010

Washington Conservation Corps: Investing in the Future

By Bridget Mason, WCC Coordinator

It is hard to believe that nearly 10 years have passed since I joined the Washington Conservation Corps (WCC). I was just 19 years old and have been in state service ever since. I am proud to say that there are more than a few of us WCC alums who continue this tradition of service. From small non-profits to large government agencies, former members have gone on to become exceptional leaders in the environmental field. If you are not familiar, the Washington Conservation Corps (WCC) is an AmeriCorps Program, in which 18-25 year-olds sign on for one year of service to Washington State. In exchange, they receive excellent professional development and networking opportunities, a small living allowance (minimum wage), as well as an AmeriCorps Education Award (a scholarship for $5,350 dollars).


In reflecting on my two years as a WCC member, I would list the WCC training academies as my favorite experiences. In March and June, the Washington Conservation Corps brings together nearly 200 members in a residential facility for an entire week to attend courses in topics of their choosing. The setting is a bit like summer camp – sleeping in dorms or cabins on small, uncomfortable beds, eating in a dining hall, learning all day and playing at night. The courses have been specially selected for the WCC’s target demographic &mash; young adults interested in fieldwork. The list of topics grows each year and includes Ethnobotany, Hazardous Materials Response (HAZWOPER), and Wilderness First Responder (WFR), to name a few. These are 40 or 80-hour courses and most result in a valuable certification.


In addition to these training academies, my resum̩ was enhanced through diverse experiences while in the WCC. In a single year, I collected and analyzed environmental samples, snorkeled for bull trout, installed native trees and shrubs, worked in the state's three national parks, participated in beach seining on the Puget Sound, used GPS to monitor the topography of our coast, designed outreach materials, built homes for low-income families, and organized a local food drive. This list is long, diverse, and certainly incomplete. These experiences in the WCC program allowed me to explore numerous avenues for a future career and I eventually realized what that should be Рproviding this experience to the next generation of Washington Conservation Corps members!

I share my story with you in hopes that you or someone you know might also benefit from this amazing program. We are currently recruiting for 180 member positions. There are WCC crews and Individual Placements in more than 30 locations across the state so please visit the WCC website to learn more today.

Fecal Matters: High Bacteria Levels at Silverdale Waterfront Park

BEACH Program Update
Water quality monitoring this week at Silverdale Waterfront Park (Kitsap County) showed elevated bacteria levels. The beach will be resampled today and results will be available Saturday. Because bacteria levels usually quickly return to normal levels the beach will remain open to swimming pending resampling.

Increased pathogen and fecal bacteria levels in marine waters can come from both shore and inland sources. Inland sources can consist of stormwater runoff, sewer overflows, failing septic systems and even animal waste from livestock, pets, and wildlife. Shore sources can consist of swimmers, boats, marine mammals, birds, and other wildlife. We often observe high bacteria results following rain events. In general, the BEACH Program recommends avoiding contact with marine waters 48 hours following rainfall.

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.

Visit the BEACH Map to see beach closures across the coast and sound. Surf the web before you surf the beach!

Jessica Bennett is the BEACH Data Manager.
She is available at 360-407-6159 or jebe461@ecy.wa.gov for questions.

Fecal Matters: Swimming & Shellfish Advisory Issued for Point Whitney Tidelands

BEACH Program Update

Marine water samples collected Wednesday, July 28th at Point Whitney Tidelands (Jefferson) showed elevated counts of fecal bacteria. Jefferson County Public Health has issued a swimming advisory. Recreational shellfish harvesting is also closed.
Increased pathogen and fecal bacteria levels in marine waters can come from both shore and inland sources. Inland sources can consist of stormwater runoff, sewer overflows, failing septic systems and even animal waste from livestock, pets, and wildlife. Shore sources can consist of swimmers, boats, marine mammals, birds, and other wildlife. We often observe high bacteria results following rain events. In general, the BEACH Program recommends avoiding contact with marine waters 48 hours following rainfall.
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.

An advisory has been issued for this beach. Visit the BEACH Map to see beach closures across the coast and sound. Surf the web before you surf the beach!

Jessica Bennett is the BEACH Program Data Manager.
She is available at 360-407-6159 or jessica.bennett@ecy.wa.gov for questions.

Fecal Matters: Swimming Advisory Issued for Freeland County Park, Holmes Harbor

BEACH Program Update


Marine water samples collected Wednesday, July 28th at Freeland County Park, Holmes Harbor showed elevated counts of fecal bacteria. Island County Public Health has issued a swimming advisory.

Increased pathogen and fecal bacteria levels in marine waters can come from both shore and inland sources. Inland sources can consist of stormwater runoff, sewer overflows, failing septic systems and even animal waste from livestock, pets, and wildlife. Shore sources can consist of swimmers, boats, marine mammals, birds, and other wildlife. We often observe high bacteria results following rain events. In general, the BEACH Program recommends avoiding contact with marine waters 48 hours following rainfall.

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.

An advisory has been issued for this beach. Visit the BEACH Map to see beach closures across the coast and sound. Surf the web before you surf the beach!

Jessica Bennett is the BEACH Program Data Manager.
She is available at 360-407-6159 or jessica.bennett@ecy.wa.gov for questions.

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Around the Sound: Rayonier submits key deliverable for Port Angeles cleanup work

By Rebecca Lawson, regional Toxics Cleanup Program manager

Right on schedule, Ecology received from Rayonier yesterday a deliverable that’s key to finishing the upland cleanup investigation at the company’s former mill in Port Angeles.

Rayonier submitted what’s known as a work plan for the upland property. The plan details where groundwater, shoreline seep and soil samples will be taken.

Once sampling is done and results verified, we’ll know how deep contamination goes and how widespread different toxic materials are across the property. In other words, some significant gaps in what we know about upland contamination will be filled.

This is a huge step in the long process to design actual cleanup in the study area (upland and marine).

What’s next?

My team is now double-checking the work plan. But once approved, sampling can begin. There won’t be a comment period on the plan, but Ecology will make the final plan available to the public.

Rayonier has tentative plans to start the sampling in the second half of August. The first phase includes collecting samples from existing wells and from areas where groundwater seeps/discharges into the harbor. The second phase will likely start in the fall and involve drilling new wells and taking soil samples.

Timeline

We’ve added a new timeline feature to the Rayonier Mill cleanup page. It’s also a visual indicator of our progress under the agreed order Ecology and Rayonier signed in March 2010. We also have a list of other cleanups – known as interim actions – that have happened on the property since 2000.

We have a lot of work to do, and I’ll be using Ecology’s blog, Twitter and our news page to keep you posted on accomplishments large and small.

Monday, July 19, 2010

Air Time: Monday news roundup

By Seth Preston, Communications Manager, Air Quality Program

Let’s start off the week with some recent news articles that relate to air quality in Washington.
  • First, this Peninsula Daily News article details the launch of equipment that will monitor the increasing acidification of the ocean and other marine waters, including Puget Sound. The ocean is believed to be absorbing increasing amounts of carbon dioxide from the air.

  • This story focuses on a pretty hefty penalty that EPA levied against the City of Tacoma for violating the federal Clean Air Act. The city improperly released gases during the disposal of refrigerated appliances.

    And this follow-up article takes a more detailed look at how it happened.

  • The Bellingham Herald offers this piece on BP’s plans to install new equipment at its refinery at Cherry Point near Ferndale in Whatcom County. The equipment will allow the production of fuel that contains less sulfur, which will mean cleaner-burning fuel for boats and off-road machines.

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Around the Sound: Questions from Olympic Environmental Council’s forum on Rayonier

By Rebecca Lawson

On June 10th, the Olympic Environmental Council (OEC) held a forum in Port Angeles on the Rayonier cleanup and how certain structures, such as the dock pictured here, might impact cleanup and reuse of the property. Ecology provides the group with a Public Participation Grant to support this type of educational event. I was invited to sit on a panel, which included John Cambalik of the Puget Sound Partnership, Brady Scott of the Washington Department of Natural Resources, Robbie and Jim Mantooth of Ennis Arbor Farm, and Darlene Schanfald of OEC.


The cleanup perspective

I was there to give some background on the cleanup process and help respond to audience questions. In terms of meeting state cleanup law, we have some strict requirements, but also some flexibility. The ultimate goal is protection of human health and the environment. If a structure prevents cleanup, in some cases it might have to be removed. For example, if sediment cleanup is needed under that dock, we would look at whether or not it can be done with the structure in place. Those decisions will be made further down the road, when Rayonier evaluates cleanup alternatives.

Ecology does have the flexibility to work with Rayonier and the Lower Elwha Klallam Tribe if they agree to go beyond what cleanup law requires. Projects like Ennis Creek restoration could be integrated into the cleanup process, and Ecology supports that type of initiative. There are possible incentives for Rayonier, the tribe, and Ecology to work together on this project that would have many ecological and community benefits.

I heard a number of participants say that they strongly support Ennis Creek restoration, but also that they understand it needs to be sequenced with cleanup and will take time. We will share more about this effort as it develops.

The five-million gallon tank on the Rayonier property (also pictured here) offers another way to improve the local environment. The City of Port Angeles proposes using the tank to store sewer overflow during storm events. This would help reduce the overall amount of pollution flowing into Port Angeles Harbor, and both the Toxics Cleanup Program and Water Quality Program are working on that issue.


Audience questions

I really appreciate the chance to hear community questions and concerns. These types of events help Ecology understand what issues are important and what we need to communicate better. I wanted to highlight a couple of complex issues our audience raised, and address them in future blogs:

  • How does future land use affect what cleanup levels are chosen?

  • What are all of the different agreements that govern the Rayonier cleanup and who is involved?
If you are interested in learning more about the Rayonier cleanup, please check back or contact Hannah Aoyagi at hannah.aoyagi@ecy.wa.gov to join our mailing list.


Saturday, July 10, 2010

Air Time: Where there's wildfire, there's smoke – and health threats

By Seth Preston, Communications Manager, Air Quality Program

As I write this on Saturday evening (July 10), wildfires are burning in north-central Washington. You can bet that more will be on the way as summer heat dries out the fuel – grass and other plant life – that’s grown in forested areas.

Fire means smoke. And smoke poses a threat to your health. Here are some things to keep in mind:
  • When there are wildfires in an area or region, the severity of the smoke impacts depends on weather patterns. If the air isn’t moving, the concentration of fine particles increases in the air.
  • If winds are blowing, smoke from a fire can travel rapidly and affect air quality hundreds of miles downwind.
  • Smoke from wildfires can impact the air you breathe and harm your health, especially if you have existing health conditions.
  • The Washington State Department of Health recommends that people who are sensitive to air pollution limit the time that they spend outdoors.
  • The biggest health threat from smoke comes from the fine particles. These tiny particles can get into your eyes and lungs, where they can cause health problems such as burning eyes, runny nose, and illness such as bronchitis. Fine particles also can aggravate heart and lung diseases.
  • Children also are more susceptible to smoke for several reasons: Their respiratory systems are still developing. They breathe more air (and air pollution) per pound of body weight than adults. They’re more likely to be active outdoors.
  • When smoke levels are high enough, even healthy people may be affected. To protect yourself, it’s important to limit your exposure to smoke – especially if you are susceptible.
Here are some steps you can take to protect yourself from wildfire smoke:
  • Pay attention to air quality reports. The Washington Air Quality Advisory (WAQA) is the tool that that Washington State Department of Ecology uses to inform people about the health effects of air pollution. WAQA includes information about ground-level ozone, fine particles and carbon monoxide. WAQA is very similar to the EPA’s Air Quality Index (AQI). Both use color-coded categories to show when air quality is good, moderate or unhealthy. The difference is that WAQA shows the health effects of fine particles at lower levels than the AQI does. In other words, WAQA shows that air quality is unhealthy earlier – when there are fewer particles in the air.
  • Use common sense. WAQA and AQI may not have immediate information on conditions in your specific area. If it looks and smells smoky outside, it’s probably not a good time to go for a jog, mow the lawn or allow children to play outdoors.
  • If you have asthma or other lung diseases, follow your doctor’s directions on taking medicines and following your asthma management plan. Call your doctor if your symptoms worsen.
  • If you have heart or lung disease, if you are an older adult, or if you have children, talk with your doctor about whether and when you should leave the area. When smoke is heavy for a prolonged period of time, fine particles can build up indoors even though you may not see them.
  • Some room air cleaners can help reduce particulate levels indoors, as long as they are the right type and size for your home. See more information about home air cleaners.
  • Don’t think that paper “comfort” or “dust masks” are the answer. The kinds of masks that you commonly can buy at the hardware store are designed to trap large particles, such as sawdust. But they generally will not protect your lungs from the fine particles in smoke.

Friday, July 9, 2010

Let’s Talk Toxics

By Ken Zarker, Chair, National Pollution Prevention Roundtable



Ken Zarker of the Dept of Ecology (left) meets with representatives of the Sierra Club and the National Pollution Prevention Roundtable on creating a national action agenda on toxics.
Many of us are becoming more aware of the chemicals in common products that we buy, such as: Bisphenol A (BPA) in baby bottles, toxic flame retardants in fabric and electronics, and lead in children’s toys. Public health and environmental officials are increasingly concerned about the potential health effects from chemicals in consumer products. Many of these chemicals cause cancer or reproductive impacts in humans.

The National Pollution Prevention Roundtable (NPPR) and the Sierra Club of Central Florida hosted a “community conversation” in May 2010 in Orlando, Florida. The event was geared to get people talking to increase awareness of our exposure to toxic chemicals.

This effort is part of the National Conversation involving the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and the Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry (ATSDR). The goal is to help form a national action agenda to protect the public from harmful chemical exposures.

Drawing ideas from the recent community conversation in Florida will help create needed reforms at the national level. It’s time to overhaul our outdated national chemical management system know as the Toxics Substances Control Act (TSCA).

I had the opportunity to participate in the national conversation. Our group brainstormed ideas for involving communities in the issue of prevalent toxic chemicals. Getting input from stakeholders will help frame both our local needs as well as national strategies. As a state regulatory agency, it’s important for Ecology to engage citizens in helping to frame the issue. By working together we can have a more powerful impact.

To get involved in the National Conversation, participate online in Web dialogues and track the development of a national action agenda that will be produced later this year.

Around the Sound: A stranded whale and more recent news items ...

By Seth Preston, Communications Manager, Toxics Cleanup Program

Here’s a roundup of some recent news items related to Puget Sound:
  • KOMO-TV has the latest on a stranded whale. For background information, see the Everett Herald’s story on how neighbors jumped in – literally – to help the whale when they saw it was stranded Thursday.

  • Chris Dunagan at the Kitsap Sun offers this look at the sticky legal issue of whether or not beach walkers can cross private tidelands around the Sound.

  • The Olympian’s John Dodge reports on Ecology’s cleanup efforts focusing on the East Bay area of Budd Inlet. Here’s more information on our Budd Inlet work under the Puget Sound Initiative.

  • The Skagit Valley Herald has this blurb about the closing of local beaches for shellfish harvesting. To learn more about such closures for Puget Sound, check out this Department of Health webpage.

  • Finally, here's something a little different – the Bellingham Herald reports on a public gathering for the candidates seeking to become the Port of Bellingham’s new executive director. Ecology and the port (along with the City of Bellingham) are working on a number of major cleanup sites along the Bellingham Bay waterfront.

Thursday, July 8, 2010

Saving money with home energy audits

By Eli M. Levitt, Climate Policy Group

Last year, my wife and I decided to trim our energy budget and save some money. Our family goal has turned into a series of on-going projects.

We challenged ourselves to find cost-effective ways to reduce our energy use. Before getting professional advice, we started to “green” our 1913 craftsman home. In the past two years, we have:
  • Insulated the attic, first floor and most of the furnace ducts.
  • Installed energy efficient lights.
  • Gradually replaced the grass lawn with native and edible plants.
  • Consistently turned off power strips for laptops, stereo, and other gadgets at night and whenever we leave the house.
But we knew we could do more, and we wanted to learn about all of our options before investing too much sweat equity. We wanted a clean set of priorities.

So we signed up for a home energy audit with a nonprofit called Thurston Energy. It was fast and cheap. Local contractor Bernie Miller completed the audit in a few hours. And the price of $95 is hard to beat – it’s about 75 percent off the retail value.

The report form was clear and useful. We plan to follow up on a number of recommendations like sealing the sill plates in our basement, insulating and taping the last of our air ducts, and repairing leaks around windows and doors.

If we follow up on all of the suggested improvements, we could save about $300 per year by reducing our energy use by about 200 therms of natural gas and 87 kilowatt hours of electricity per year.

We’ve learned a lot by doing the projects on our own. We even made it into the local paper (June 1, 2010 ). With good data in hand we’re confident there is still room for improvement.

Here’s to saving money, cutting our carbon footprint, and learning new skills along the way.

To learn more about upcoming events and resources in your area, visit these websites:

Wednesday, July 7, 2010

Cleaning up Skykomish

By Seth Preston, Communications Manager, Toxics Cleanup Program

Ecology’s work to clean up historical contamination in the small King County town of Skykomish is getting a lot of media attention these days.

Burlington Northern-Santa Fe Railway Co. operated a railroad maintenance and fueling facility in Skykomish for decades. Historical activities at the site included refueling and maintaining locomotives and operating an electrical substation. These activities resulted in the release of petroleum and heavy metals to the surrounding environment.

For the past four years, Ecology and BNSF have worked to clean up the contamination. The work includes some heavy lifting – literally. Buildings have been moved and relocated so the contamination beneath them can be removed and replaced with clean material.

On Monday, the Seattle Times published this story on the project. And KOMO-TV followed up with its own report.

In May, Oregon Public Broadcasting offered this piece.

You can learn more about this project on Ecology's website.

Tuesday, July 6, 2010

Asarco Cleanup Settlement: A new chapter of the Tacoma Smelter Plume story

by Hannah Aoyagi, Public Involvement Coordinator, Toxics Cleanup Program

For years, Ecology has been shelling out millions of tax dollars to deal with the mess left by Asarco’s old copper smelter in North Tacoma. A recent bankruptcy settlement with Asarco now pays back the State of Washington and provides $94 million for future cleanup.

For almost 100 years, the 571 foot tall smelter stack spewed out toxic metals such as arsenic and lead. Winds deposited contamination onto surface soils across a 1,000 square mile area known as the Tacoma Smelter Plume. It is, unfortunately, the state’s largest cleanup site.

The former smelter and in the surrounding community of Ruston is being cleaned up under the federal Superfund program. Ecology is responsible for the remaining contamination, which can be found as far north as Seattle and as far south as north Thurston County.

What have we accomplished?

Over the past decade, Ecology and local health departments have put a massive amount of work into understanding and addressing the problem:
  • Thousands of soil samples from around King, Pierce, Thurston, and Kitsap counties helped us figure out the extent of the plume.
  • The Dirt Alert outreach program now educates children, parents, and teachers, and its ads reach hundreds of thousands of viewers.
  • The Soil Safety Program has tested soil at over 800 schools and childcares, and cleaned up all 101 contaminated play areas with high arsenic and lead.

What’s next?

We are opening a new chapter in the cleanup with a $3.9 million in new funds from the Legislature for 2010-2011. These funds will jump start cleanup by allowing us to expand the Soil Safety Program to include other places where children play—public parks, camps, and public housing. Funds will also help keep the Dirt Alert program going, and wrap up a long-term cleanup plan.

Stay tuned for more information! To join the Tacoma Smelter Plume mailing list, please contact Hannah Aoyagi, Public Involvement Coordinator at hannah.aoyagi@ecy.wa.gov or 360-407-6790.