Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Behind the lens: Ecology posts new video about Manchester Environmental Lab

By Elisa Sparkman, Administrative Assistant, Environmental Assessment Program

About a year ago, I was new to the Department of Ecology and new to state service. I have always been passionate about environmental issues and was thrilled to join an agency with a mission I strongly believe in. As an outdoor enthusiast who was born and raised in Western Washington, I feel a personal connection with our state’s natural beauty.

I have no background in environmental science, engineering, or policy — other than college level introduction to environmental studies and my own research out of personal curiosity. I wondered how I would fit into my new state role in providing administrative support to Ecology’s Environmental Assessment Program, a program full of scientists and engineers. The past year has been wonderful, full of working with fun, friendly and extremely intelligent people. I continually learn more about environmental issues and gain a better understanding of how government agencies function to support a strong and healthy Washington state.

I have a background in media production, so I got an opportunity to create a short, informational video about Ecology’s Manchester Environmental Laboratory.

This is Ecology’s full service environmental lab. It’s located on the Kitsap Peninsula in the beautiful town of Manchester. The facilities are right on the water, nestled among trees where it is common to spot sea lions, great blue herons, deer, coyotes, bald eagles, and other wildlife. It is such a gorgeous location — the perfect reminder of why the work we do at Ecology is so important.

In my visits to the lab, I was introduced to the staff, hard at work, performing scientific tests in their white lab coats and safety goggles. They greeted me with smiles and told me a little bit about what they were working on. It was really cool to connect certain lab analysis with projects I had worked with back at headquarters. I got a unique opportunity to sit down and interview Stuart Magoon, Ecology’s Manchester Lab Director. Stuart told me about how the lab functions and what role the lab plays within the agency. The scientific results yielded at the laboratory are the basis for Ecology decisions about areas of the state which need environmental attention.

I enjoyed learning about the lab and how significant its contributions are to the agency and to the state’s future.

Please take a few minutes to watch the video to see for yourself how the Manchester Environmental Lab supports Ecology’s mission.

Monday, December 20, 2010

Around the Sound: An unhappy anniversary, and other news

By Seth Preston, Communications Manager, Toxics Cleanup Program

One last roundup of Puget Sound news before the holidays...

First off, the Peninsula Daily News takes a look back at a massive oil spill that happened on Dec. 21, 1985, near Port Angeles. The newspaper’s coverage includes a gallery of historical photos.

The article details some of the changes that followed this spill in terms of response. For more information on how Ecology responds to and tries to prevent such incidents, see our Spills Program website. You can also follow Spills issues on Facebook.

Other items of interest:

Friday, December 17, 2010

Cash Awards Available for Sustainable School Projects

By Alissa Ferrell, School Award Coordinator, Waste 2 Resources Program

It’s time for public and private school around the state to apply for the 2011 Terry Husseman Sustainable School Awards!

Garfield Middle School (Whitman County) students used their award to monitor the Palouse River, using scientific techniques to measure the health of the ecosystem. Gatewood Elementary (King County) diverted more than 20,000 pounds of compostable waste and significantly increased recycling rates since receiving their award. And Neah Bay Elementary (Clallam County) students reduced plastic bag use by using their award to purchase reusable shopping bags adorned with the school mascot for students and staff.

The awards promote sustainability and reward school efforts to reduce waste and increase environmental curricula. Ecology gives awards to schools for implementing activities such as recycling, environmentally preferable purchasing, organic gardening, composting, resource conservation, and more. All K-12 schools in Washington are eligible to apply.

Awards are presented in three categories:

  • Seed Awards fund start-up costs for programs promoting waste reduction, recycling, and sustainability both within the school and in the community.

  • Sustainable School Awards recognize ongoing efforts to maintain and expand programs that focus on waste reduction, recycling, and sustainability.

  • Creative Environmental Curriculum Awards recognize original curricula that introduce students, teachers, staff, and administrators to the concepts of waste reduction, reuse, recycling, and sustainability. Ecology supports curricula that inspire a sense of environmental stewardship in the students.

Applications are due at the Department of Ecology, 300 Desmond Drive SE, Lacey, WA 98503 no later than 5:00 pm on Feb. 28, 2011.

We expect to distribute close to $30,000 for the 2011 award cycle. Awards range from $100-$5,000. Award recipients are recognized at a ceremony on the Capitol Campus in May. Learn more about the program or get application materials.

Here’s what some of our recent award winners have done:

Creston School, Lincoln County — 2010 Seed Award $3,150

“The year (2010) has been very productive already with regards to recycling at Creston School. First, we purchased a metal storage building to organize and protect our collected materials. Next, the shop class built a recycle pick-up bin with wheels so the Creston Environmental Sustainability Program (CRESP) crew can efficiently collect materials weekly. The class also has constructed a large bin to house cardboard until we take it to the recycle company. Our lunchroom milk distributor has donated the use of 25 bins to assist the classrooms in sorting white paper to assist the CRESP crew.

We have established a shared relationship with the local recycling company to lower the number of trips into Spokane to deliver materials. This will save us 50% of the number of trips which amounts to 150 miles round trip times 20 trips, or 3,000 miles per year. It also provides the local recycler with materials they can accumulate and sell to recycle brokers. This is a win-win situation for everyone.

"We will begin accepting recycle materials from the community of Creston on December 1, 2010 which will increase the volume of collected materials significantly. We are, however, up to the challenge. Overall, the year has picked up where we left off last June and the level of excitement is growing." — Earl Hill

Creston students receive their award from Ecology Director, Ted Sturdevant, at the ceremony on May 21, 2010.

Garfield Middle School, Whitman County — 2010 Environmental Curriculum Award $750

Garfield Middle School received an award for their water quality and ecosystem-based curriculum. Students monitor the Palouse River utilizing various scientific techniques and parameters that measure the health of the ecosystem including flora and fauna. Seventh and eighth grade students gain hands-on experience in data collection, observations, and analyses. This program creates student awareness of the importance of maintaining a healthy environment and communicating concerns with appropriate organizations.

“The project, which started several years ago, is an ongoing project testing the quality of water, as well as flow rate of the Palouse River. They gather information 4-5 times a year, and then the students compare the results of each test from year to year.” — Phil Weagraff

Eighth Grade students from Garfield-Palouse Middle School refine their skills at testing the water quality of the Palouse River in Elberton, WA.

Gatewood Elementary, King County — 2010 Sustainable School Award $500

Gatewood began diverting cafeteria wastes for composting and recycling in 2007 and since then has diverted over 20,000 pounds of compostable waste and significantly increased recycling rates. In addition, Gatewood is working on other programs related to environmentally friendly procurement, including less toxic cleaning products, less toxic white board markers, and hopes to begin procuring recycled content paper.

“With an additional 60 students over last years' headcount, Gatewood has had to ramp up a bit on our compost and recycling sorting in the cafeteria. We are using three to four bio-based composting bags of food waste each day (as compared to two to three last year)” We have been able to purchase more bags with award funds.

In the area of environmentally preferable purchasing, we purchased non-toxic, refillable white board markers for a few classrooms as a pilot program. Students use these during individual slate work, often with 24 students simultaneously, and it has dramatically reduced the odor in the classroom. “The new markers are fabulous in that they have almost no odor, and if they do dry out, we simply refill them. Several other teachers would like to get these markers for their classrooms as well.” — Michelle Gaither

Cape Horn-Skye Elementary, Clark County — 2009 Seed Award $1,302

This award allowed students to purchase a composter bin, educational materials, and supplies. They partnered with knowledgeable representatives from Clark County Solid Waste and the Master Gardener programs for educational assistance.

“In the fall, students and teachers collected leaves from our campus and students also brought leaves from home. We put them in plastic bags to use later in the winter/spring when brown matter is scarce. Fourth and fifth grade teachers and students are the leaders in our school for the composting project. Each day, they collect apple cores, lettuce, etc. from K-5 classes and students take turns putting food scraps and leaves into the composter.” — Mary Lou Woody

Students learn about composting from the county’s organics specialist, Gregg Hayward.

Fifth Graders placing leaves into their compost bin.

Gregg explains how the compost bin works.

Neah Bay Elementary, Clallam County — 2009 Seed Award $1,200

Students reduced plastic bag use by purchasing reusable shopping bags adorned with the school mascot for student and staff use. The school also collaborated with the Makah Environmental Division and Port Angeles Public Works to give each classroom a presentation on Reducing, Reusing, and Recycling in early December. Helen Freilich from Port Angeles Public Works emphasized the importance of reducing the amount of waste that students produce. She encouraged students to reuse and recycle products where possible. At the end of the presentation, Mrs. Murner, Neah Bay Elementary Principal, presented the students with the reusable bags with their Thunderbird mascot.

“…[S]tudents and staff will be using these bags at the local grocery store, ‘Washburn’s,’ instead of plastic bags. This will be one way that Neah Bay Elementary students will begin their journey to reduce, reuse and recycle.” — Alice Murner

Neah Bay Elementary students posing with their reusable bags.

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Tacoma Smelter Plume: Finding out what’s in your soil

By Amy Hargrove, Soil Safety Program Coordinator

I got a comment on my last blog from a parent asking what they could do to test their soil and be sure their children were safe playing outside. I have two young boys at home and I understand wanting to make sure your children are safe, healthy, and happy.

Are you inside the Tacoma Smelter Plume?

You can check our interactive map. There is a search function on the left side of the page, where you can type in your street address and zip code. Any part of the plume could have arsenic contamination, but the chances are higher in the darker zones.

Note: Not all properties inside the plume have soil arsenic contamination. Levels can depend on when your home was built and how much the soil has been disturbed (by landscaping or other activities).

Sampling your soil

If you live in Pierce County, your local health department has a free program for residences. Just call or e-mail and they can schedule a time to come out to your home and take a few samples from parts of the yard your family uses the most.

Ecology considers arsenic levels above 20 parts per million to be “elevated”. The health department can talk to you about your soil levels and different options for covering bare soils to reduce exposure.

If you live outside of Pierce County, you can sample your own soil using our brochure. You don’t need any special tools, just a trowel or shovel, stainless steel bowl and spoon, some Ziploc™ bags, and a permanent marker. You will have to pay the lab costs yourself—about $30 per sample.

Actions to take no matter where you live

Ecology is concerned about arsenic and lead in soils within the Tacoma Smelter Plume, but there can be soil contaminants wherever you live. For example, any older home could have lead-based paint that has flaked off into soil in the yard. As a precaution, there are several things you can do:

  • Have the whole family wash their hands after being outside, and before meals.

  • Start a shoes-off policy in your home, or at least use doormats at every door.

  • Vacuum and damp-dust your home often—dust can contain all kinds of contaminants.

If you have questions about sampling or for a hard copy of the sampling brochure, please contact us:

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Fecal Matter: Combined Sewer Overflows in Port Angeles

BEACH Program Update

Clallam County Environmental Health Division issued the following press release last evening.

December 13, 2010 5:30 p.m.
Liz Maier, Environmental Health Specialist
Clallam County Environmental Health Division

Combined Sewer Overflows in Port Angeles

Due to heavy rains over the weekend, the four combined sewer overflow (CSO) outfalls in Port Angeles discharged approximately 15 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 is advising the public to avoid recreational water contact in Port Angeles Harbor for the next seven days. 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"

Jessica Archer is the BEACH Program Manager. She can be reached at 360-407-6543 or

Monday, December 13, 2010

Fecal Matters: Recreational Water Contact Advisory Due to Extreme Rainfall and Sewage Spills

BEACH Program Update

The Washington BEACH Program is advising the public to avoid recreational water contact in Western Washington’s rivers, lakes, streams, Puget Sound, and the coast for 7 days. Extreme rainfall in most of Western Washington has overwhelmed many sewage districts resulting in sewage discharges to surface waters.

The BEACH Program strongly urges SCUBA divers, surfers, and all recreational beach users to avoid water contact for at least 7 days.

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.

For more information about staying safe at the beach, visit the BEACH Program website.

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

New, easy access to Hanford info

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

Have a question or comment about Hanford? We’ve taken one more lurching step into the 21st century with a new email for you to use. is at your service.

You can ask questions about cleanup, request documents, submit comments on draft proposals, or tell us your opinion of our website.

No more searching the Internet, wondering how to contact the right person. When we (my colleague, Dieter Bohrmann, and I) receive an email, we’ll decide whom to send it to or answer you directly if we can. And, best of all, the response will come from a real person, instead of an autoreply from a computer.

If you prefer speaking to a human, we do that, too. For years, educational outreach staff in our office have answered the Hanford Cleanup Line (800-321-2008) from 8-5, Monday through Friday. After-hours callers may leave a message, to which we will respond in a week or less (messages are checked every Monday). We promise, no menus to listen to! and 800-321-2008 are available to give you access to knowledgeable staff who’ll do their darnedest to respond to your Hanford-related questions.

Thursday, December 9, 2010

12 Ways to Spread Green Holiday Cheer

By Brook Beeler, Community Outreach and Environmental Educator

One of my all time favorite holiday songs comes from an album titled John Denver and the Muppets; A Christmas Together. That’s right I love the Muppets. Miss Piggy lays down an excellent version of “Christmas is Coming”.
You know the one where the goose is getting fat?

You should put a penny in the old man’s hat?


Well, my point is that this little ditty, which always brings a smile to my face, is all about sharing. Here at Ecology we are full of advice for greening your life and in the spirit of the season we thought we would give you 12 ways to spread green holiday cheer. We’ve got ways for you to keep kids and pets safe, your home clean and toxic free, and ways to avoid all that holiday waste!

But that’s not all. We want to hear from you too! How have you greened your holiday? Share your decorating, entertaining, and gift giving ideas that keep your holiday season green.

Here are a few of ours to get you started:

  1. Remember to take re-usable shopping bags on your gift finding excursions, they’re not just for grocery stores.
  2. Keep your pets safe from holiday hazards.
  3. Have a natural, germ free holiday: Use real soap, give real soap.
  4. Give non-toxic art supplies to the little artist on your list.
  5. Save a ton on holiday wrapping. Try the art of re-usable cloths. Alternatively, use baskets, bags or recyclable wrapping paper.
  6. When guests are gone & it’s time to clean. Use safer, thriftier cleaners.
  7. If you unwrapped a new 3D-TV? E-cycle the old one, it’s free!
  8. The kids are home on winter break and old cleaners might be lingering? Keep curious kids safe. Washington Poison Control.
  9. Keep your home smelling sweet with lots of naturals to choose from.
  10. Consider donating food you don't use for the big dinner or party.
  11. Are you dressing up for the holidays? Choose cosmetics and personal care products that are free of chemicals.
  12. After the holidays don’t forget to recycle or reuse paper, glass, plastic, and aluminum and compost scraps from holiday meals
I am sure we’ve missed something. Please share your green holiday tips. Just click on the comment link below, or post your tips and ideas to our Facebook page. Make sure and follow us on Facebook and Twitter for more green holiday cheer.

Read our ECOConnect commenting policy.

Fecal Matters: Sewer Discharge Impacts Dyes Inlet and Around the Sound

BEACH Program Update

With heavy rains the risk of illness from water contact increases. Combined sewage overflows in Port Angeles, Seattle, and Bremerton will release a mixture of sewage and stormwater during heavy rains. The BEACH Program recommends avoiding water contact 48 hours after rainfall.

Kitsap County Health District released the following press release today:

"December 9, 2010

CONTACT: Jim Zimny
(360) 337-5623
(360) 710-2296

Sewer Discharge Impacts Dyes Inlet
“No Contact” Advisory Issued for Shellfish and Recreational Use

BREMERTON - The Kitsap County Health District is issuing a 7- day “No Contact”
advisory for marine waters in Dyes Inlet. This advisory includes the Port Washington
Narrows, Chico Bay, Phinney Bay, Mud Bay, Ostrich Bay and Oyster Bay. The advisory
is being issued because the Eastside Treatment Plant located near Lions Park on the
eastern shore of the Port Washington Narrows has discharged an estimated 200,000
gallons of partially treated raw sewage into the water.

This advisory affects recreational contact, such as swimming, and shellfish harvesting in
this area. The Health District is posting warning signs at public access points in the
closure area. The Health District has an ongoing advisory against collecting shellfish in
the Port Washington Narrows and during periods of heavy rainfall in Dyes Inlet."

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 beaches in Dyes Inlet. 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 for questions.