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Friday, October 29, 2010

Around the Sound: Halloween edition -- all treats, no tricks!

By Seth Preston, Communications Manager, Toxics Cleanup Program

Sorry, I couldn’t resist the seasonal reference. Now on to the news …

The Seattle PostGlobe offers this story on the woes of Hood Canal, as reported by Martha Baskin of Green Acre Radio. And here’s a link to some work that Ecology has done related to Hood Canal issues.

Also, the Peninsula Daily News notes that a Nov. 5 conference in Port Townsend will focus on Hood Canal’s environmental and economic health.

  • The Bellingham Herald checks in on the new executive director at the Port of Bellingham. The article references the port’s plans to remake Bellingham’s waterfront district. Ecology and the port are working together to clean up a number of major sites around Bellingham Bay.

  • Speaking of the North Sound, here’s an Ecology news release about a spill this week at the ConocoPhillips refinery near Ferndale. Fortunately, it appears that none of the diesel fuel reached the Sound. The news release contains a link to more details about the incident.

  • The Peninsula Daily News updates on Ecology’s work on a contamination study for Port Angeles Harbor. And here’s more about our work in the Port Angeles area as part of the Puget Sound Initiative.

  • Finally, the Herald of Everett reports that the state ferry terminal now at Mukilteo could be moved to another location... or not.

  • Monday, October 25, 2010

    Closing Hanford Tanks: What's the big deal?

    By Jeff Lyon, Tank Waste Storage Project, Nuclear Waste Program

    On October 14, 2010, at the Hanford Advisory Board’s Tank Waste Committee meeting, we began discussing the communication process for closing the first tank farm at Hanford.

    This is a really big deal, and here’s why:
    • Weapon production days are gone, and cleanup decisions are being made.

    • Hanford cleanup is expected to be completed in about 40 years at a cost of about $2 billion every year. About $ 300 million (15% of the total) is expected to be spent on the tank farms.

    • About half of the radioactive and hazardous waste at Hanford is stored in tanks that are up to 60 years old. The other half of the waste is in contaminated soil, some of which is in the tank farms.

    • Public input and involvement in the process will help guide our cleanup decisions. This is where you come in.
    The first tank farm we hope to close is C-Farm, which has 16 of the 177 tanks. We hope to be finished with this in 2019. We will get as much of the waste out of the tanks as possible, do the necessary soil cleanup, and make sure final closure decisions protect human health and the environment.

    Eight years may seem like a long time to get to closure. But to have the steps in place to prepare for that, we must have a closure decision by 2013. That’s just a little more than two years from now!

    The Tri-Party Agreement (TPA) milestone for cleanup is there for us to stay on schedule. We don’t want to let it slide past. Other major milestones are shown on the TPA Timeline. That’s why we’re making such a big deal.

    As always, I welcome your thoughts.

    Friday, October 22, 2010

    Around the Sound: Cleaning up the Sound, boosting economy go hand-in-hand

    By Seth Preston, Communications Manager, Toxics Cleanup Program

    Gov. Chris Gregoire’s Oct. 15 tour of Puget Sound to take a firsthand look at cleanup issues generated a lot of media coverage.

    As a followup, Chris Dunagan of the Kitsap Sun offers this take on how cleaning up and restoring the Sound creates jobs that boost Washington’s economy.

    I think we can safely assume that most people realize the Sound, in general, is a huge economic driver for Washington. Here’s some information that illustrates this point — it’s a bit dated, but you get the picture.

    You can read more about how working for a clean environment benefits Washington’s economy.

    And you can find more about Ecology’s general Puget Sound restoration efforts, along with specific information about the Toxics Cleanup Program’s Puget Sound Initiative work at specific sites around the Sound.

    Here’s a fresh example. KOMO-TV reports on the removal of old pilings from the water off Point Ruston in Pierce County. The state hires contractors for such jobs, and the contractors either hire new workers or retain current ones to do the work.

    The Washington Department of Natural Resources (DNR) is using a share of bankruptcy settlement money from Asarco to clean up a portion of the company’s legacy of pollution in the Tacoma area. We’re also gearing up cleanup around Asarco’s old Everett smelter.

    In similar news:

    Wednesday, October 20, 2010

    Around the Sound: Rayonier cleanup open house Wednesday October 27th

    by Hannah Aoyagi, Public Involvement Coordinator

    Ecology is hosting an open house on the Rayonier cleanup. With Rayonier currently on their second phase of sampling on the upland property, this is a good chance to share more details about the work.

    There won’t be a formal presentation, but we will have lots of visuals of what’s happening on the property. Come talk to our project team and take a closer look at the cleanup!

    Latest update: Phase two tasks include taking groundwater samples, drilling new groundwater monitoring wells, and taking soil samples. Rayonier will be working until mid-November on this phase.

    Air Time: Trapped smoke affects the air you breathe

    By Seth Preston, Communications Manager, Air Quality Program

    For the next few days, you can help protect your health by cutting back on burning wood to heat your home.

    Stagnant weather means the air isn’t moving much in various parts of the state. The air is trapped close to the ground … and so is the smoke produced by burning wood.

    We’re in “home heating season” – the time of year when falling temperatures lead to the rising use of wood for home heating.

    Burning wood for heat makes some economic sense. And it also has a kind of nostalgic appeal.

    But breathing wood smoke poses risks to human health. Read more about how burning wood is risky for people's health and the environment, and about how Ecology and others work to protect public health from smoke.

    Already this week, the Olympic Region and Southwest clean air agencies issued warnings about air quality in their territories. Southwest’s warning focused on Lewis County.

    I can testify firsthand to the smoke’s impacts in Lewis County. I live in Centralia. Monday evening, as I drove into the city on Interstate 5, the strong smell of wood smoke made me cough and gag. Not fun.

    Obviously, you may have to burn wood if that’s your only source of heat. But you can do it responsibly – here’s how:
    • Burn only dry, seasoned wood. Be sure your firewood has been split and dried for at least one year. Store it under cover.

    • Never burn wet, painted, stained or treated wood; colored newsprint; plastic; garbage; diapers; or magazines.

    • Build small fires to help the wood burn completely. Adding too much wood at one time cuts down on the air to the fire and leaves you with unburned wood.

    • Keep your fire hot. Dampering down your stove just cuts off the air, which wastes wood, creates a lot of smoke, and produces very little heat. You can tell if your fire has enough air by checking the smoke coming from your chimney. You should see only heat waves.

    • If you see smoke, increase the air supply to your fire.

    • Make sure your wood stove is the right size for its space. A stove that is too large for the space it is heating will have to be damped down, causing more smoke. Make sure your stove is properly installed.

    Thursday, October 14, 2010

    College students analyze Hanford documents for credit

    By Erika Holmes, Community Outreach & Environmental Education Specialist, Nuclear Waste Program

    As part of an effort to extend our outreach to higher education, I recently visited two English classes at Columbia Basin College in Pasco. The 54 students who are participating are reading and analyzing three documents about a public comment period affecting Hanford’s Waste Treatment Plant (also commonly called the Vit Plant, short for “vitrification”). In doing so, they’ll practice their critical thinking and analysis skills. They’ll also be learning about important issues right in their backyard and the public’s right to be educated about and involved in cleanup decisions.

    A cutting-edge facility

    Since 2002, contractors of the U.S. Department of Energy have been busy constructing the $12 billion Waste Treatment Plant, which consists of four buildings that will work in tandem to complete the vitrification process. The Pretreatment Facility will separate out the two different waste streams: low-activity waste and high-level waste. Then the waste will be transferred for processing to the Low-Activity Waste and High-Level Waste facilities. The fourth building is an Analytical Laboratory that will be used for testing and research.

    What is vitrification?

    Vitrification is the process by which a substance is turned into glass. The 53 million gallons of tank waste currently in aging underground storage tanks will be mixed with molten glass and poured into stainless steel containers for cooling and storage. The waste will be safely stored in glass form while the radioactivity levels decrease over hundreds to thousands of years.

    We want your input, too!

    If you’re curious about the current public comment period involving the design of waste sampling systems in the Waste Treatment Plant, I encourage you to access the documents the students are reading:

    If you’re a college instructor who would like to bring Hanford to life in the classroom, I’d love to brainstorm ideas with you (Erika.Holmes@ecy.wa.gov, 509-372-7880). Elementary and high school teachers can contact Ginger Wireman (509-372-7935) to discuss classroom outreach opportunities.


    Friday, October 8, 2010

    Final weekend to weigh in on your water future

    By Dan Partridge, Communication Manager, Water Resources

    This is the final weekend of the Water Smart Washington Online Forum. Your comments are helping us think “out of the box” on ways to better manage our water supplies now and in the future.

    Over the past five weeks, we’ve asked questions on further funding for implementation of watershed plans in Washington state, reducing the reliance of the Water Resources Program on the state general fund (taxpayer funding) vs. fees that are paid by those who benefit from water management services, forecasting water supply needs in our state and asking the Legislature to give Ecology more authority to better regulate “permit-exempt” water wells in Washington that do not require water right permits.

    Our final Question of the Week is based on Ecology’s recently released report to the Legislature and the governor on ways we can make our Water Resources Program more self-sustaining and less reliant on the State General Fund.
    The final Forum question is seeking ideas on how the Water Resources Program can become more efficient and/or cost effective in delivering any or all of its ten statutorily required services:
    1. Clarifying water rights through court adjudication.
    2. Setting instream flows.
    3. Ensuring dam safety,
    4. Managing water rights.
    5. Preparing and responding to drought.
    6. Ensuring compliance with water laws.
    7. Providing water resources data and information.
    8. Regulating well construction.
    9. Working with local groups, tribes and other agencies to develop and implement watershed plans.
    10. Supporting water use efficiency.
    From the “2010 Report to the Legislature and Governor: Water Resources Program Functions and Funding Structure,” the sixth and final question asks:
    Based upon the information provided in Appendix A of the 2010 Report to the Legislature and Governor, how can Ecology’s Water Resources Program be more efficient and/or cost-effective in managing the water resources of Washington state to meet the present and future water needs of people and the natural environment?”

    To participate in the forum go to Ecology’s home page and click on the Water Smart Washington logo. (10/13/10: the Forum is now closed for comments)

    Comments on Question 6, which will be taken through Tuesday, Oct. 12, will be included in a future supplement to the report.

    Ecology appreciates the comments and suggestions of those who have participated in the Online Forum. Archived comments on all of the forum questions will remain available on the forum Web page after Oct. 12. If you found the forum useful or have suggestions on how we can improve Ecology’s next online forum, please contact me at dpar461@ecy.wa.gov.

    Tuesday, October 5, 2010

    Around the Sound: Deciphering the Rayonier cleanup agreements

    by Hannah Aoyagi, Public Involvement Coordinator

    One more follow-up to our July blog “Questions from Olympic Environmental Council’s forum on Rayonier”...

    Several different agreements govern the Rayonier Mill cleanup, while others are now outdated. I wanted to highlight the key agreements and provide some historical context for our current work:

    1999 Concurrence agreement with the Lower Elwha Klallam Tribe
    The Rayonier site holds great significance to the Lower Elwha in terms of cultural resources and natural resources. Ecology and the tribe have agreed to work together on each step of the cleanup process—the tribe provides input on cleanup agreements, reports, and decisions. The tribe’s involvement has greatly benefitted the cleanup, providing a unique perspective and an additional level of review on important decisions.

    2000 Deferral Agreement with EPA
    After Rayonier closed its Port Angeles mill in 1997, a group of individuals and organizations petitioned the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to investigate the site. EPA investigation found that the site was eligible for the Superfund program. However, state and local officials asked for state oversight of the cleanup and in 2000, EPA deferred listing the site on the Superfund list, leaving Ecology in charge.

    Past Cleanup Orders
    Since 1992, Rayonier has done several partial cleanups on the mill property. In 2002, Ecology and Rayonier entered into an Agreed Order for investigating the marine portion of the site. A 2004 Agreed Order required an investigation and feasibility study for the upland portion of the site. Ecology never approved the marine and upland investigations, disagreeing with Rayonier about whether the full site had been defined. When the Toxics Cleanup Program took over in late 2007, we took a different approach…

    Current Cleanup Agreement
    Ecology and Rayonier’s 2010 Agreed Order is the only cleanup agreement now in effect. It replaces the 2002 and 2004 Agreed Orders and plots a new path forward. Under the agreement, Rayonier will develop a cleanup plan for the Study Area, which includes the Rayonier Mill property and nearby marine area.

    Future Agreements
    Because the current cleanup agreement only requires Rayonier to develop a cleanup plan, Ecology will need a new agreement to implement actual cleanup. If Ecology determines that Rayonier is responsible for additional contamination, either beyond the upland property boundary or further out in Port Angeles Harbor, those cleanups would also require new legal agreements.


    Monday, October 4, 2010

    Tell Ecology how you’d manage water for the future

    By Dan Partridge, Communication Manager, Water Resources

    This is the final week of the Water Smart Washington Online Forum, an “experiment” to encourage public participation in the work of the Water Resources Program at Ecology.

    Over the past five weeks, we’ve asked questions on further funding for implementation of watershed plans in Washington state; reducing the reliance of the Water Resources Program on the state general fund (taxpayer funding) vs. fees that are paid by those who benefit from water management services; forecasting water supply needs in our state; and asking the Legislature to give Ecology more authority to better regulate “permit-exempt” water wells in Washington that do not require water right permits.

    The five Questions of the Week generated 9,284 views and 167 comments and the comments have been archived for review. They are helping us prepare for the scrutiny that stakeholders and legislators are giving the recommendations Ecology has made in a report to the Legislature and the governor on ways we can make the Water Resources Program more self-sustaining and less reliant on the State General Fund. In conjunction with the Online Forum but also on a separate track, we’ve been asking for your feedback on the report. This comment period ends tomorrow (Oct. 5).

    It is from this report to the Legislature and governor, the “2010 Report to the Legislature and Governor: Water Resources Program Functions and Funding Structure” that we draw the sixth and final question of the Online Forum:

    "Based upon the information provided in Appendix A of the 2010 Report to the Legislature and Governor, how can Ecology’s Water Resources Program be more efficient and/or cost-effective in managing the water resources of Washington state to meet the present and future water needs of people and the natural environment?”

    To participate in the forum, go to Ecology’s home page and click on the Water Smart Washington logo.

    Comments on Question 6, which will be taken through Tuesday, Oct. 12, will be included in a future supplement to the report.

    Ecology appreciates the comments and suggestions of those who have participated in the Online Forum. For the most part, it’s been a civil discussion. Archived comments on all of the forum questions will remain available on the forum Web page after Oct. 12. If you found the forum useful or have suggestions on how we can improve Ecology’s next online forum, please contact me at dpar461@ecy.wa.gov.

    Take a look at the draft permits for Spokane River

    By Jani Gilbert, Communications Manager, Ecology Eastern Regional Office

    The blue-green toxic algae that is hanging on and growing at Lake Spokane right now will be much less a problem in the future, thanks to new requirements in updated water quality permits soon to be issued to the four facilities that discharge waste water into the Spokane River.

    But first, the public has a 45-day chance to review and comment on the draft water quality permits before they become final.

    The permits will go to the city of Spokane’s Riverside Park Water Reclamation Facility, Inland Empire Paper, Kaiser Aluminum, and Liberty Lake Sewer and Water District. They are designed to increase the amount of oxygen in the water by limiting the amount of nutrient pollution, such as phosphorus, that can be discharged to the river. Phosphorus actually fertilizes aquatic plant life such as algae, and in the right conditions they can turn toxic and dangerous to people and animals. When the algae die off, they consume oxygen, robbing fish of the oxygen they need to survive.

    The permits are called National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System (NPDES) permits. They are required for any municipality or industry that discharges waste water to lakes, streams and rivers. They are based on a water-quality improvement plan called the Spokane River and Lake Spokane Dissolved Oxygen Water Quality Improvement Report, also called a Total Maximum Daily Load report or TMDL. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency approved the report on May 20, 2010.

    The limits imposed in these water quality permits require reducing the load of total phosphorus by more than 90 percent from all the dischargers during the critical period of March 1 – October 31.

    In order to meet their permit limits, dischargers will install advanced wastewater treatment technologies and may take other actions such as reducing nutrient pollution from other types of sources.

    A public workshop will be held at 6 p.m. and a formal public hearing will begin at at 7 p.m., Wednesday, Nov. 10, 2010 at the Spokane Regional Health District auditorium, 1101 W. College Avenue.

    The permits are available for review at the Department of Ecology’s Spokane Office, 4601 N. Monroe St., Spokane, Wash., 99205. Please call 509-329-4004 for an appointment. They also are available on line.

    The deadline for submitting comments is 5 p.m., Nov. 17, 2010. They should be submitted to the Permit Coordinator at stra461@ecy.wa.gov or by mail at 4601 N. Monroe St., Spokane, WA 99205.

    Friday, October 1, 2010

    Around the Sound: A busy week for Sound news

    By Seth Preston, Communications Manager, Toxics Cleanup Program

    Let's start off the news roundup with this piece published today (Friday, Oct. 1) in the Seattle PostGlobe.

    Martha Baskin of Green Acre Radio focuses on the threats stormwater runoff poses to Puget Sound. You'll find information on stormwater and much more information on the Sound via Ecology's Puget Sound portal here.

    In other stormwater-related news:
    • Boeing and EPA signed an agreement for building a new stormwater system to stop contamination in an area from reaching the Lower Duwamish River. Here's an EPA news release that includes information about Ecology's role, plus our web material on the Lower Duwamish.

    • The Peninsula Daily News offers this piece that notes the city of Port Angeles is poised to acquire part of the old Rayonier mill site. The property includes a water tank, which the city plans to use to help keep stormwater out of Port Angeles Harbor. The harbor and the Rayonier site are high priorities for cleanup under the Puget Sound Initiative.

    • And the Kitsap Sun notes that EPA fined the Puget Sound Naval Shipyard for hazardous waste violations. Among the violations was leaving an open drum of paint solvent in an area where it could have spilled into the Sound. Here's the EPA news release.