Monday, November 29, 2010

Asarco Cleanup Settlement: Hitting the ground running in the Tacoma Smelter Plume

By Amy Hargrove, Soil Safety Program Coordinator

In late 2009, the state received a $94 million settlement from Asarco for the future costs of cleaning up the Tacoma Smelter Plume — a 1,000 square mile area with arsenic and lead contamination from the former Asarco smelter in Ruston.

This spring we got the news that we’d have $3.9 million to jumpstart our work over the next year, starting July 1, 2010. Luckily, we had soil cleanup and outreach programs already up and running, so we were ready with a plan for what to do next!

Off to a sprint

We started by expanding the popular Soil Safety Program. This program provides free soil sampling and cleanup for school and childcare play areas. Now we can do the same for public parks, camps, and public multifamily housing.

Dirt AlertWith new funding, we can continue outreach and education about plume contamination without taking away scarce tax dollars from other cleanup work. Tacoma-Pierce County Health Department and Public Health—Seattle & King County run great “Dirt Alert” programs targeting children and adults, and providing many services to their communities.

As the Soil Safety Program coordinator, I’ve had a busy fall! I have been working with our sampling contractor to line up access to parks, camps, and public housing in King County. The Tacoma-Pierce County Health Department is already doing sampling at Tacoma and University Place parks. Results coming back from the lab will then help us plan cleanups where they are needed.

The marathon ahead

Though we’re focused on sampling right now, there is an important long term goal—to protect all communities from this widespread Tacoma Smelter Plume contamination. To do that, we’ll have to spend every dollar wisely. We expect to physically clean up the most highly contaminated areas, but also educate every resident about what they can do to protect themselves.

As this project moves forward, we’ll share more details about our long-term plans, while keeping you up to date with our current work!

Friday, November 19, 2010

Air Time: Swaps bring in over 500 illegal burn barrels

By Seth Preston, Communications Manager, Air Quality Program

The results are in from a joint effort by Ecology and the Washington Department of Natural Resources (DNR) to reduce wildfires and the harmful smoke they produce.

DNR and Ecology targeted burn barrels. It’s illegal to use them in Washington, and they can spark wildfires that damage property, threaten people and scar the environment.

Over several months, Ecology and DNR worked with several counties and other local organizations to swap free compost bins for burn barrels. Events were held in participating Washington counties and in conjunction with the Confederated Tribes of the Colville Reservation.

Here’s our news release about the project’s wrap-up.

This is the second consecutive summer that Ecology and DNR have worked together on a burn barrel collection program. Last year, the two state agencies cooperated on collections in Okanogan and Stevens counties. Four events (two in each county) were held; more than 220 burn barrels were collected.

EPA proposes tools to help locate new schools at safe sites

By Seth Preston, Communications Manager, Air Quality Program

This week, EPA announced that it’s trying to help communities keep kids safe by providing some tools to make sure new schools are not built at or near sites with environmental hazards.

Here’s an EPA news release on the subject.

You have until 1 p.m. Feb. 18, 2011, to comment on the draft guidelines.

And you can find more information here on the draft guidelines and on protecting children’s health in existing schools.

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

What makes shellfish unhappy? Ocean acidification

Ecology staff carry out ocean monitoring and data collection projects.

By Eli Levitt & Rhonda Hunter

In the 1990s, scientists started to investigate where carbon dioxide pollution from burning fossil fuels was going, since only about half of it was showing up in the atmosphere.

They found that about 50 percent of carbon dioxide is absorbed by the world’s oceans. Absorption of increasing levels of carbon dioxide alters the ocean’s natural state – making the ocean more acidic (this move toward the lower end of the pH scale is called ocean acidification).

Our actions affect critters with shells

Excess carbon dioxide emissions from humans burning fossil fuels such as oil and coal are causing ocean water to grow more acidic. Studies indicate that ocean acidity has increased about 25 percent since the start of the industrial age (more details are in Ecology’s FAQ on ocean acidification).

And it turns out that more acidic sea water will likely have a negative impact on ocean species – especially those that form shells such as corals, oysters, and plankton.

Higher than normal acidity prevents shelled critters from forming their shells, and a shell-less ocean critter is less likely to survive. Plankton floating in ocean water have small shells, and these plankton are the basis of the ocean food chain. Other shelled species such as oysters, mussels, and corals are also at risk from acidification.

Acidification can harm Washington's oysters

The disturbing part is that on Washington’s own coast, scientists are seeing impacts that could be due to ocean acidification. For the last six years, Pacific oysters in Willapa Bay have not reproduced (see the story in The Seattle Times). Although the cause has not been determined, acidic waters may have contributed to the recent declines in oyster survival. As scientists work quickly to learn about the potential impacts, the data they have found so far has been put to use by hatcheries. Oyster hatcheries now monitor pH and actively seek out noncorrosive water to use and the larvae are back this year.

And scientists working on a study in Neah Bay recently confirmed that coastal shellfish such as mussels and barnacles are also showing signs of weakened shells – see a new video on the project. The research and monitoring by scientists is crucial to determining the threat. Developing ways to adapt to changing conditions and sharing information among the various groups involved will be key, too.

The time to take action is now!

Ocean acidification is very concerning to people in coastal communities, scientists, and those working in the shellfish industry in Washington. Of course, more research and monitoring needs to be done. But the evidence is growing: ocean waters are becoming more acidic. The big question that still needs to be answered is: what will be impacted and how quickly?

There are many reasons to work hard to slow climate change and avoid the worst impacts. And now, the health of our planet’s oceans makes the case to accelerate our response to climate change. Ocean acidification is a growing concern in Washington state and a compelling reason to take action.

If you want to track what our state is doing about climate change, sign up with our listserv to receive updates. And get involved at the local level to show your concern. See Ecology’s Ocean Resources webpage for more information.

Monday, November 15, 2010

Around the Sound: Rayonier groundwater sampling

By Steve Teel, Hydrogeologist

If you’ve walked by or ridden your bike down the Olympic Discovery Trail recently, you may have seen trucks at the Rayonier gate and people out on the property. Work is underway, but what’s actually going on at the property?

One of Rayonier’s main tasks is collecting groundwater samples. They are looking for contamination in the water that sits under the ground’s surface. To do this, they use a special type of well.

Groundwater sampling wells

The wells are drilled from the ground surface straight down into groundwater. On the Rayonier property, the depth to groundwater varies from about 3 to 17 feet. Groundwater depths can change throughout the year, so the well must be deep enough to reach the lowest groundwater levels.

The well casing can be plastic or metal. The upper part of the well casing is solid, but the lower part—the screen—has slits to allow water into the well (see diagram). Materials such as concrete and clay are used to seal around the outside of the solid casing. Also, sand is placed around the outside of the screen to make sure that it does not become plugged with silt or clay.

Taking a sample

The sampler first cleans the well of any stagnant water and waits for fresh groundwater to flow into the well. The sample can then be pumped up or a container can be dipped into the water.

The samples are processed, labeled and sent to the lab for analysis. The lab will look for the level of contaminants such as pesticides, metals, petroleum-related chemicals, and more.

Here are some photos of the sampling process...

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Air Time: How clean is your air?

By Kendra Robinson-Harding, Community Outreach and Environmental Education Specialist, Eastern Region

Since the early 1990s, programs for reducing emissions from motor vehicles, issuing permits for businesses and industries, reducing outdoor burning emissions, and monitoring air quality around the state have helped improve air quality significantly.

Ecology is working collaboratively with federal, state, and local agencies, citizens, and industry partners to provide quality service and products.

But it is not enough. Ecology alone won’t be able to keep the air clean; we need your help. This year, choose to be the difference. Choose not to burn your yard debris, and choose to find an alternative. Visit our website for resources and more information.

Grant Funding Available for Environmental Public Involvement

By Alissa Ferrell and Jason Alberich, Public Participation Grant Officers, Waste 2 Resources Program

Students look for ingested plastic waste in seagull boluses (regurgitated waste)

Students conduct study of plastic waste washed up on the beach

Do you feel like public involvement in environmental issues is lacking? Do you find that funding for environmental education and outreach is scarce? Well, perhaps Ecology’s Public Participation Grant program can help.

Public Participation Grants competitively provide funding to not-for-profit public interest organizations and citizen groups. The grants encourage public involvement in monitoring contaminated site cleanup, waste reduction, and pollution prevention activities. They provide an opportunity for the public to have a voice and become directly involved in solving the state’s environmental problems.

The application period for the 2011-2013 Public Participation Grant cycle is now open.
A few examples of education and outreach projects that grant applicants might want to consider are:
  • Protecting Puget Sound.

  • Promoting recycling and reuse.

  • Preventing the use of toxic chemicals in and around the home.

  • Raising awareness and use of green building materials, methods, and services.

  • Increasing the recovery of organic materials for beneficial uses.

  • Sustainable living practices.

The projects must provide substantial and measurable public benefit to Washington residents through education and outreach.

Applications are due at the Department of Ecology, 300 Desmond Drive SE, Lacey, WA 98503 no later than 5:00 pm on Jan. 6, 2011.

We expect to have just over $1.8 million available for the 2011-2013 funding cycle. Public Participation Grants can fund up to $120,000 for a project. There is no requirement for matching funds. Selected applicants must complete their projects between July 1, 2011 and June 30, 2013.

Visit our website to learn more about the program or get application materials.

Monday, November 8, 2010

Around the Sound: Follow up on the October 27 Rayonier open house

By Hannah Aoyagi, Public Involvement Coordinator

In late October, the Rayonier cleanup team came up to Port Angeles to watch sampling at the property, and to share that information at an open house. We showed slides of what the property looks like today, and how sampling works. We also brought posters on the upland sampling work plan and details on groundwater sampling.

For those who missed the event, I will be making all of these visuals available soon through our blog and website. Please click on the image to the right to view a larger version of the upland sampling process.

Next week, I will post a blog from our hydrogeologist about how groundwater sampling works.

For more information about the cleanup, please visit

Friday, November 5, 2010

Around the Sound: Cleanup moves ahead at Hansville store

By Seth Preston, Communications Manager, Toxics Cleanup Program

Work is in full swing on a cleanup project at the Hansville General Store in Kitsap County.

The store is located at 7532 Twin NE Spits Road in Hansville on the northern tip of the Kitsap Peninsula. It’s a stone’s throw from Puget Sound. (See this image.)

The store has a long history — prior to 1934, it operated as a farmer’s store. The operation expanded between 1934 and 1988 to add the general store and gas station. In 1988, the gas station portion closed but the store remained open.

In 1990, an adjacent site, formerly Captains Landing, underwent an independent cleanup. During the cleanup, petroleum products observed appeared to originate from the Hansville General Store property. Two underground fuel storage tanks (USTs) on the store property were thought to be the source.

Since then, testing and monitoring identified gasoline and diesel in soil and in shallow groundwater at the store site. A couple of underground storage tanks have been pulled out. You can read more about the store’s history and Ecology’s role.

The project cost is about $500,000. Some of the funding is coming from stimulus money Ecology received under the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act. It’s one of several projects our agency is funding with ARRA stimulus dollars.

The contractor is Wyser Construction Inc. of Snohomish. The project involves 11 workers.

The work causes traffic delays through Hansville at times. One lane is open at all times; both lanes are open from 7 p.m. to 6 a.m. Businesses remain open.

Here’s a rundown on some of the work that’s been done as of this week:

  • Crews removed an asbestos concrete water line that provided drinking water to the community. A bypass is in place to make sure water is available.

  • About 700 tons of contaminated soil have been removed.

  • An oxygen reducing compound has been placed in backfill soil at a depth of about 9 feet to treat groundwater.

  • Temporary controls are in place, like a silt fence to contain water, plastic sheeting to cover soil stockpiles and prevent erosion, and measures to stop sediment from reaching storm drains.

  • Temporary supports are in place for the store to protect it while excavation and backfilling are done next to the building.

  • A passive soil vapor barrier is installed under the store.

    Watch ECOconnect for project updates as work progresses.

  • Thursday, November 4, 2010

    Massive melters on the move

    By Suzanne Dahl, Tank Waste Treatment manager, Nuclear Waste Program

    I can hardly contain my excitement about the arrival of the first melter for the Low-Activity Waste treatment facility at Hanford’s Waste Treatment Plant (WTP). For many years, we have celebrated events like the new cross site transfer line, the ground breaking at WTP, and the installation of the first big tank. Each time, we said, “This gets us closer to vitrifying the waste.”

    Well, this time, we really have something to cheer about! This is one of two melters that will receive the chemical and radioactive waste after it’s been mixed with glass formers. Then, the melters will heat the mixture to 2,100 degrees Fahrenheit (1,150 degrees Celcius). Finally, the molten liquid will be poured into stainless steel storage containers where it will cool into solid, robust glass — which will protect human health and the environment for thousands of years to come. Simply said, this mechanism will make the waste safe.

    Leading up to this momentous occasion, numerous tests in pilot melters on surrogate waste helped to improve the design of these truly unique melters by increasing waste throughput. These melters are engineering marvels able to treat 15 metric tons of glass a day each, which is at least three times more than other melters in the world. They will be the heart and soul of the LAW facility and will vitrify the low-activity portion of the waste, which will stay on the Hanford Site for disposal.

    So this equipment is extremely important to Tri-Cities residents and all Columbia River users, because it will help to keep Hanford’s toxic legacy out of the river and our groundwater.

    For more on melters, visit Bechtel’s LAW melter blog.

    University students dig deep into Hanford burial ground issue

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

    To prepare for the recent public workshops about cleaning up Hanford’s 200 Area radioactive solid waste burial grounds, John Price, our Tri-Party Agreement Section manager, presented to 96 amazing students whom we hope to continue working with in the future.

    The first stop on our west coast tour was at Avram Hiller’s undergraduate environmental ethics class at Portland State University. Next, we headed north to the University of Washington to visit two more classes: Amy Hagopian’s graduate-level public health policy seminar and Holly Barker’s undergraduate cultural anthropology special studies course on Hanford.

    To gain fresh perspectives, we also enlisted these students’ help in unearthing this complex topic. The public health policy students, who had recently taken a Hanford Site tour, produced two research reports that the Hanford Advisory Board are considering as they weigh in on the issue. You can read these reports (Protecting Health: Criteria for the Hanford Burial Grounds and Hanford Radioactive Solid Waste Burial Ground Position Paper) and the informative flier they created about the burial grounds.

    The cultural anthropology students created posters, started a Facebook group (Team Hanford), and hit the campus to spread the word about Hanford to their classmates (see photo right). Thanks to their efforts, we had significantly higher attendance at the Seattle public workshop than we did in Hood River and Portland.

    As planning for burial ground cleanup continues, we need continued public input and interest. To find out more, check out the factsheet and frequently-asked-questions. You can also view the public workshop presentation and the Department of Energy’s work plan.

    Air Time: Learn Not to Burn

    By Kendra Robinson-Harding, Community Outreach and Environmental Education Specialist, Eastern Region

    Every time you light a campfire or burn leaves and sticks in your yard, you are releasing hundreds of air pollutants that can cause cancer and other health problems.

    The tiny particles in wood smoke are especially dangerous to health. Because they are so small, our bodies’ natural defenses cannot filter them out.

    Instead, we inhale them deep into our lungs, where they become lodged, causing reduced lung function, heart disease, and cancer. Our kids are especially at risk. Watch this video and visit our website for more information.

    Wednesday, November 3, 2010

    Thursday meeting focuses on Everett smelter cleanup work

    By Seth Preston, Communications Manager, Toxics Cleanup Program

    On Thursday, Nov. 4, Everett-area residents are invited to learn about and talk over plans to clean up the toxic legacy of the old Asarco smelter.

    The Everett Smelter Site, located in northeast Everett, is contaminated with lead, arsenic and associated metals. The smelter operated from 1894 to 1912. The smelter was built by the Puget Sound Reduction company and sold to ASARCO Inc. (Asarco) in 1903. Asarco operated the smelter until 1912, and demolished it between 1912 and 1915.

    During the 1930s and 1940s, the former smelter property was developed into residential properties. In 1990, Ecology received and confirmed reports of elevated concentrations of arsenic and lead in the soil near the site.

    Since then, more than 100 residential properties have been cleaned up. Hundreds more remain.

    Asarco declared bankruptcy in 2005. The state of Washington pursued a settlement to make the company pay for past and future cleanup costs. In late 2009, the state received a settlement of $188 million for several contaminated sites, including the Everett Smelter Site.

    Thursday’s meeting is scheduled at the Snohomish County PUD auditorium at 2320 California St., Everett. The doors open at 6 p.m. A presentation starts at 6:30 p.m., followed by questions and answers at 7 p.m., and an open house at 7:30 p.m.

    Check the following links for more information:

    Tuesday, November 2, 2010

    Combined Sewage Overflows in Port Angeles

    BEACH Program Update

    The Clallam County Health Department has issued the following press release:

    "Due to heavy rains on Monday, the four combined sewer overflow (CSO) outfalls in Port Angeles discharged approximately 1.3 million gallons of a mixture of stormwater and raw sewage into Port Angeles Harbor. Two of the CSO outfalls are near Hollywood Beach.

    Clallam County Environmental Health Division recommends avoiding contact with waters in Port Angeles Harbor 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.

    The City of Port Angeles is currently designing a project to significantly reduce the frequency and volume of these discharges. Provided the City receives adequate funding, this project will be constructed beginning in July of 2011.

    For questions about the advisory, contact Clallam County Environmental Health at 417-2543. For more information about the Port Angeles combined sewer overflows, visit or call 417-4811."

    Liz Maier, Environmental Health Specialist is the Clallam County contact for this press release. She can be reached at 360-417-2543.

    Jessica Archer is the BEACH Manager. She is available at 360-407-6543 or for questions.

    Monday, November 1, 2010

    Here comes the rain again

    By Sandy Howard

    Now that Annie Lennox is singing that song in your head, here’s my point.

    The first fall rains have arrived in Washington. If the puddles are getting deep in your neighborhood, you could be thinking there’s not much you can do about it. Well, my blog is to tell you what people are doing about it and maybe I can get you thinking about actions you can take, too.

    After all, polluted runoff is the number one threat to our waters and to Puget Sound.

    Some of you are becoming detectives and learning the locations of your neighborhood stormwater drains. You can help flooding problems in your neighborhood by raking the leaves away. The city of Olympia offers this "Rake a Drain" advice.

    Of course rainwater runoff picks up and carries a lot of pollution, too. Some folks are making use of a rainy day to go online to get their kids educated about why it’s important to keep only rain going down the drain. Check out how they can become Drain Rangers, thanks to the Puget Sound Partnership!

    Are you a small business owner? Here is some advice to protect your storm drain from pollution – one easy step is to close the lid on your dumpster! That’s it, Only Rain Down the Drain!

    People are becoming inspired by a neighborhood that’s taking control of the situation by installing rain gardens in their yards to cut down on flooding and pollution problems. We like the idea of a neighborhood getting off the stormwater grid. What a great way to think about this. And we applaud their volunteer spirit! Watch KING-TV news “Rain Gardens Take Neighborhood by Storm.”

    Pierce County is doing some work to allow rainwater runoff to soak directly into parts of its large parking lot at Sprinker Recreation Center. Construction of the Sprinker low impact development project is now 100 percent complete, and the only remaining task is to install the signs. Ecology funded this work under the Stormwater Management Implementation Grant Program in fiscal year 2008. See this video clip from PCTV news about the project.

    If you know of any interesting news or happenings about rainwater runoff, or how people, local organizations and governments are dealing with it – especially video and web content, let us know. We’d like to blog about it. Email me at