Monday, February 28, 2011

Around the Sound: Train derails near Sound, plus other news

By Seth Preston, Communications Manager, Toxics Cleanup Program

I have some catching up to do on recent Puget Sound news since I was traveling during last week’s “Snowpocalypse.” (But that’s another story.)

Train derailment near Chambers Bay

First, here’s the latest from the News Tribune in Tacoma about a train derailment close to Puget Sound in Pierce County. About 50 gallons of sodium hydroxide (lye) spilled onto the shoreline, but emergency responders said the material didn’t reach Sound waters.

And here is a sampling of more weekend coverage of the incident from KING TV and KPLU Radio.

Other news around the sound

  • Today (Monday, Feb. 28), Ecology is opening public comment periods related to two Port Gamble cleanup sites. Port Gamble Bay is a high-priority area under the Puget Sound Initiative. Our Toxics Cleanup Program team will be in Port Gamble on March 9 to talk about the cleanups – see this news release for details on the meeting and the comment periods.

    On a related note, Chris Dunagan of the Kitsap Sun posted this blog entry about plans for developing the Port Gamble area.

  • Dunagan also has a post about the naming of a new director for People for Puget Sound, an environmental group. Here is the organization’s own news release on the selection.

  • Finally, John Dodge of The Olympian offers this portrait of the late Justin Taylor, who launched one of the Sound’s most influential shellfish operations.

Friday, February 25, 2011

Around the Sound: Updates to the Rayonier Mill sampling timeline

By Rebecca Lawson, regional Toxics Cleanup Program Manager

Ecology has an updated timeline for the Rayonier Mill cleanup.

Back in February 2010, we put together an estimated timeline for completing the work under our Agreed Order with Rayonier. One of the big uncertainties was the time it would take to sample the upland property. The Agreed Order did not specify a timeline for Rayonier to complete upland data collection because it was part of the work plan that Rayonier was to develop as a deliverable of the Agreed Order.

Phased sampling takes longer but provides better results

In order to provide the public with a more concrete schedule, we estimated that it would take six months to finish upland sampling. At the time, we thought that Rayonier would do the work all in one stage. As we negotiated the details of Rayonier’s work plan last summer, both parties decided a phased sampling approach would be better. It wasn’t clear at the time if it would take a bit longer. The advantage it offered was that each phase would build on the results of the previous phase, resulting in a more thorough data report.

Rayonier is in its final phase of upland sampling. Given our experience with the first three phases, we estimate it will take about three more months for Rayonier to finish sampling, get lab results, and process the information. Rayonier will then submit a technical memo to Ecology around mid-June 2011. We will make this memo available for public review.

What does this mean for the overall schedule?

Rayonier will complete the upland data summary report in early 2012 instead of late 2011, as we originally estimated. This pushes evaluation of cleanup options to later in 2012. Ecology will likely hold a public comment period on the upland and marine data summary reports and cleanup alternatives in mid-2013. As we move forward, we will look for opportunities to shave time off the schedule—both Ecology and Rayonier want to get this site cleaned up soon.

We are still on track to end this investigation and be ready to negotiate the terms of cleanup for the study area with Rayonier by the end of 2013.

Why didn’t we make an announcement earlier?

Environmental work can be unpredictable, particularly sampling. Unanticipated results are always a possibility and could possibly change the length of work. With this in mind, we weren’t certain how long phased sampling would actually take when we finalized the work plan in August 2010.

In our commitment to keep the public informed of our progress, we’ve posted blogs on Ecology’s EcoConnect site for each round of sampling, issued news releases for key deliverables and come to Port Angeles to meet with citizens and local leaders.

We strive to meet the public’s clearly stated expectation that the Rayonier site be cleaned up thoroughly and quickly. We will continue to keep you updated through the blog.

Thursday, February 24, 2011

Environmental cleanup focus at Forks U.S. 101 accident scene

By Kim Schmanke, Communication Manager, Southwest Region Office

OLYMPIA – Response units from the Washington Department of Ecology, U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, Hoh Tribe, and environmental cleanup crews remain on the scene of Wednesday’s fuel-tanker accident near Forks.

At about 8:25 a.m. on Feb. 23, a Pettit Oil tank truck-trailer overturned and released several thousand gallons of diesel fuel to the shoulder and ditch along north bound U.S.101.

Today’s efforts are focused on identifying the extent of environmental impacts and cleaning up as much as possible. This includes soil excavation around the accident scene.

The southbound lane of Highway 101 near mile post 167 is being used to move traffic in alternating directions through the scene. Traffic impacts are likely for several more days as soil excavation is expected to take three or more days to complete.

The latest information indicates an estimated 4,300 gallons of diesel fuel may have spilled from the tank trailer.

Protecting wetlands from spilled diesel

“This is an unfortunate accident,” said Jim Sachet, Ecology’s spill response manager for the Olympic Peninsula and Southwest region. “Pettit Oil responded quickly by hiring a cleanup company and environmental consultant. Efforts are focused on collecting as much diesel as possible from the accident scene and nearby wetland.”

Ecology responders say the diesel made it into a wetland by traveling from the accident scene in a drainage ditch, through a culvert under the highway and into an unnamed creek. Information provided from on scene today indicates that the wetland drains into Chalaat Creek.

Some diesel sheen was observed on the creek near the site of the truck accident. Fletcher Creek, which runs parallel to the wetland, was not affected. No impacts have been noted or expected in the Hoh River.

Crews from the Washington State Patrol, Washington State Dept. of Transportation and Ecology responded to the accident yesterday and were assisted by local and tribal responders.

See the Spills Incident website for more information on this and other spills.

Ecology responds to diesel spill after trucks collide near Walla Walla

By Jani Gilbert, Communication Manager, Eastern Region Office

SPOKANE – The state Department of Ecology responded today to a diesel spill that occurred this morning on State Route 730 at milepost 1 on the Washington side of the Columbia River, west of Walla Walla. The Washington State Patrol responded originally to the injury collision that involved two semi trucks.

The spill was reported to Ecology at about 10 a.m. Approximately 200 gallons of diesel oil was spilled onto the highway and into a ditch, but it did not go to any surface water, such as a river or lake.

One truck was owned by Medelez Inc. of Hermiston, Ore. The other was from the Vidal Fuendes Co., also of Hermiston. The 200 gallons of fuel were released from fuel tanks on both of the semis.

Also responding to the incident are the Washington Department of Transportation and Union Pacific Railroad. State Route 730 is next to and runs parallel to the railroad. Together, the agencies and the railroad are working to identify the extent of the contamination, plan cleanup strategies, and bring in private spill contractors to conduct the cleanup.

You can find information on this and other incidents on the Spills Program Incident page .

Friday, February 18, 2011

Around the Sound: Anacortes meeting focuses on old mill site cleanup

By Seth Preston, Communications Manager, Toxics Cleanup Program

Staff from Ecology’s Toxics Cleanup Program will meet Thursday, Feb. 24, with Anacortes-area residents to talk about cleanup work planned this year at the former Custom Plywood mill site.

Proposed work in 2011 includes removing pilings and other structures to allow excavation of contaminated soil, as well as off-site disposal of the soil, structures and pilings.

Public Meeting on February 24

We’ll start with an open house at 4:30 p.m. at Anacortes City Hall in City Council Chambers, 6th Street and Q Avenue. A presentation will begin at 5:15 p.m., followed by an informal question-and-answer session.

The meeting coincides with a public comment period on draft documents related to the proposed cleanup work – a draft investigation report, draft interim cleanup action plan and draft State Environmental Policy Act (SEPA) checklist.

You can read our news release to learn how to review and comment on the documents.

About the mill cleanup site

The property – located on the Anacortes waterfront off 35th Street and V Avenue – once was a busy industrial site. A sawmill, a wood box factory and a plywood mill previously operated there.

But the mill eventually closed. And in 1992, it burned down. Now the abandoned site is littered with building remnants and debris, which make it a public hazard.

The accompanying photo, which I took in March 2010, shows what the site looks like.

Soil, groundwater and in-water marine sediments at the site are contaminated with a variety of pollutants. They include metals, petroleum products, dioxins, and wood debris.

The Custom Plywood site is one of several on Fidalgo and Padilla bays that Ecology is cleaning up under the Puget Sound Initiative. That’s an effort by local, tribal, state and federal governments, business, agricultural and environmental communities, scientists, and the public to restore and protect the health of the Sound.

An Ecology team is working with site owners, area tribes and others to help shape the cleanups.

In other news:

Chris Dunagan at the Kitsap Sun recently wrote about the status of the Puget Sound Partnership. Here’s his report on the agency, as well as a follow-up blog post.

Thursday, February 17, 2011

Landowner attention key to restoration success

By Jani Gilbert, communication manager, Eastern Regional Office

Replanting damaged riparian areas on our shorelines is not always successful. Sometimes these projects are only partially successful. It all depends on whether the landowners, who host the project, care enough to take care of the burgeoning trees and shrubs that do so much to protect our water quality.

This is the kind of landowner who saw to it that a riparian restoration project along their shoreline, four miles south of Ione on the east shore of the Pend Oreille River, was not just successful, but nearly 100 percent successful.

Grant supports successful restoration

Matt and Susan Hobbs used a $6,500 grant from the Washington Department of Ecology to restore their shoreline where approximately 160 feet of river bank erosion had destroyed the viability of the shoreline environment.

The Hobbs’ restored the shoreline without using rock or sloping – only planting. With the help of the (former) Pend Oreille Conservation District, consultant Sandie Durrand, and Jon Jones of Ecology’s Water Quality Program in Spokane, the river bank is well on its way to full restoration.

“Probably the most outstanding thing about this project is that there is near 100 percent survival of the plantings due to the diligence of the Hobbs,” said Jones. “The project was a success because of the landowners’ watering, weeding, and general hard work. Some of our projects fail because there isn’t buy-in by the owners. This one succeeded because the owners wanted it to work.”

“To improve the odds on the ground, we’ve followed-up the plantings with the best weeding and watering we can manage,” said Susan Hobbs. “Frankly, as a grant recipient, we consider it our duty.”

They had help from Sandie Durand of Cascara Consulting in Ione, Wash., who designed and planted the project and was right down on her knees with the Hobbs’ weeding and trimming the plants.

River stewards make the difference

“I care a lot about my work,” Durand said. “This river matters to me. Susan and I did the weeding and trying to keep down the canarygrass. And it was not an easy site to water. We used watering cans and a hose.”

As Durand explains, the site suffered as a result of a 1996-1997 high water event. When the water returned to normal, much of the shoreline had slumped into the river taking with it the natural vegetation and canopy that protected the river.

After that, a large section of the shoreline became dominated by reed canarygrass, along with other assorted, introduced noxious weeds and grasses.

“Reed canarygrass is an aggressive, introduced species of grass that becomes very deeply engrained,” Durand said. “Once it becomes established, it’s very difficult to eradicate it. We needed to remove the sod down several inches.”

Durand planted more than 600 plants, and 25 species, on the site and plans to plant more black cottonwood and local stock douglas spirea (Spiraea douglasii). Eventually the canopy will shade out any remaining canarygrass.

“This may be the only project in this river system done with this diversity of species,” said Durand. “A lot of the success is due to choosing the correct plants and planting them correctly, but that landowner participation is the key.”

By the way, 100 percent success is a bit of an overstatement, but not much! Six plants died out of more than 600. (The culprit may have been a vole but it was more likely a variety of factors.)

Learn more about caring for our living shorelines.

Used crankcase oil threatens Silver Creek in Eastern Washington

By Cathy Cochrane, Communications Manager, Eastern Regional Office, Spokane

“YUK!” was the word that first came to mind when I saw these photos yesterday of a thick ribbon of used crankcase oil slithering out of a culvert in Garfield and into the water of Silver Creek.

This is what happened, all because someone ignored the rule of Only Rain Down the Drain and chose to dump gallons of used crankcase oil down a drain somewhere in Garfield’s stormdrain system.

The Palouse Conservation District was conducting water sampling on Monday near Third Street in Garfield when they saw the goop oozing into Silver Creek, lethally coating grasses and generating a sinister sheen in a long stretch of water downstream. Town of Garfield personnel quickly placed hay bales and sheets of tin to build a catch basin at the storm drain outflow to stop any further migration to the creek. An Ecology spill response team placed absorbent boom in the area to soak up the oil and minimize damage to the environment. No source has been found, but based on the amount of used oil recovered—about 5 gallons—investigators believe that someone dumped used oil from a large diesel engine down the storm drain. (For more information, read the news release.)

Dumping oil down storm drains or onto roads is illegal

Many people think that whatever goes down a storm drain passes through a treatment plant where the water will be purified. What they don't realize is that all those harmful materials are flowing straight into waterways. Dumping used motor oil on the ground, roads, and into storm drains is illegal.

People who have to breathe the dust from unpaved roads may think it’s OK to apply used oil to the road, to keep the dust down. But used motor oil is not the same as the commercial oil applied for dust control. Used motor oil is full of toxins, including heavy metals and many cancer-causing chemicals. What if a child is exposed to that now-contaminated road dust? What if pets pick it up on their paws and bring it into the house? What if livestock ingest it? And that’s to say nothing of the very real certainty that the used oil will eventually make its way to nearby creeks and streams.

Oil and fuel poison water

All oils and fuels are environmental poisons. The longer oils and fuels are in the water, the more damage they can cause. A single quart of motor oil can potentially contaminate 100,000 gallons of water and spread over an acre of surface on the water.

There is no charge for dropping off used oil at any transfer station, including those in Whitman County. So why do people still make the mistake of dumping oil out into a drain or onto a road? Maybe they don’t know any better. I’m hoping that if you know of people who do this, you can tell them there’s an easy, free, and responsible way to get rid of their waste: Take it to the nearest transfer station.

Get more information about reporting spills on Ecology's how to report an environmental problem web page.

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Air Time: An 'A' for efforts to limit harmful wood smoke

By Seth Preston, Communications Manager, Air Quality Program

A group called the Alliance for Green Heat says Washington earned the nation’s highest marks for efforts to protect residents from harmful smoke caused by burning wood for home heating.

Washington is one of only three states that earned an “A” grade. In fact, Washington scored the highest marks of those states, according to the alliance “report card.” (The others, in order, are Oregon and New Hampshire.)

You can read the full report card.

California and Colorado earned “A-” grades. At the other end of the spectrum, several states received “D” grades.

The nonprofit alliance based in Maryland graded each state on six categories, including policies that help reduce wood smoke, promote the cleanest appliances and restrict the most polluting ones, and provide educational information on best wood heat practices.

The alliance notes that Washington is “the model for strict state emission standards.”

You can learn more about what Ecology’s Air Quality Program and our partners do to protect you and your family from breathing harmful smoke.

Here’s some more information on the health risks posed by wood smoke. Also, you can find timely information on air quality in your area using the Washington Air Quality Advisory (WAQA). Here’s an explanation of WAQA.

Thursday, February 10, 2011

Sharing news from our friends at the Washington Dept. of Natural Resources

By Jeanne Koenings, Environmental Planner, Shorelands and Environmental Assistance

DNR has been removing old creosote pilings from the waters off Cypress Island (near Anacortes). Those that can’t be pulled are being cut by divers and swam over to a nearby boat for collection.

What a surprise to everyone in the boat when a large octopus began to emerge from a rotted-out piling that had been hauled into the boat. Apparently he or she was very determined to stick to home, so to speak. Once the shock wore off, deck hands gently returned the critter to the water to find some healthier place to hide.

DNR’s work is part of efforts to restore and protect the health of Puget Sound. Creosote pilings can leach unhealthy chemicals into the water and affect wildlife and other marine life.

Ecology provided DNR with a $1 million grant to pull pilings from around the sound. Thanks to the Woodard Bay project coming in under budget, DNR could expand its work to a couple more locations, including Cypress Island. Ecology’s grant comes from what’s known as the state toxics control account – a tax on hazardous substances purchased in our state.

Read more about the octopus encounter at Washington Department of Natural Resources blog, Ear to the Ground . Photos courtesy of Lisa Kaufman, DNR.

Wednesday, February 9, 2011

Around the Sound: Come talk about Everett waterfront cleanups

By Seth Preston, Communications Manager, Toxics Cleanup Program

Staff from Ecology’s Toxics Cleanup Program will be in Everett on Feb. 16, 2011, to talk with Everett-area residents our cleanup sites around Port Gardner Bay.

You’re invited to take part. The meeting will be in the Snohomish Public Utility District No.1 auditorium, 2320 California St. An open house will start at 6 p.m., followed by a 6:30 p.m. presentation and an informal question-and-answer session.

We will talk about all 10 Puget Sound Initiative sites around Port Gardner. We will focus on the Everett Shipyard site, because we’re starting a public comment period on draft investigation and cleanup reports for that site.

Here’s a full news release, which details how to review and submit comments on the Everett Shipyard reports. You can send comments to Ecology from Thursday (Feb. 10, 2011) through March 14.

The Port of Everett owns the Everett Shipyard site, which ESY Inc. and its predecessors operated for about 60 years before shutting down in September 2009. The site is located within the Port Gardner Wharf project boundaries along West Marine View Drive.

Metals, petroleum products, anti-fouling agents and other substances contaminate the site. Sandblast grit from sandblasting marine vessels, leaks and spills from former tanks, stormwater runoff, boat washing, and maintenance and other shipyard activities likely caused the pollution.

Port Gardner Bay is a high-priority, “early-action” cleanup area under the Puget Sound Initiative. That’s an effort by local, tribal, state and federal governments, business, agricultural and environmental communities, scientists, and the public to restore and protect the health of the Sound.

Under the initiative, Ecology is managing or assisting with the cleanup of 10 Port Gardner sites contaminated with gasoline, diesel fuel, metals, and other substances. An Ecology team is working with the Port of Everett, other site owners, area tribes, and others to help shape the cleanups.

Tank waste, robots and waxing… Recipe for a viral video?

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

Check out this new video about removing the dangerous radioactive and chemical waste from Hanford’s underground tanks (“closing” the tanks). Then, please forward it to your friends, family, neighbors, colleagues, acquaintances, etc.

As Part 1 of the series The Scoop on Hanford Tanks, this video, The Tanks are Out There, begins explaining the process and risks associated with tank closure.

Currently, we’re in the process of making decisions about how to close the 16 single-shell tanks in Waste Management Area C (WMA-C), with 2019 being the deadline for completing this task. Before we make any decisions, Ecology and the U.S. Department of Energy will hold a public comment period for the proposed WMA-C Closure Plan. This Closure Plan will be developed in the next 1-2 years. Some of the questions surrounding this issue are:
  • Do we dig up the tanks after they’ve been emptied? Or do we stabilize them and leave them in the ground?
  • What does “empty” really mean?
  • What do we do about the potentially contaminated soil around the tanks?

We want your input before we draft the Closure Plan. Please comment here, email, or call 800-321-2008. For more information, see our Tank Waste Storage Project page.

We’re currently working on more videos in this series, so stay tuned…

Tuesday, February 1, 2011

A spill response guide is available for marinas with or without a fueling station

By Mary-Ellen Voss, Spills Program

You may wonder why a spill response plan might be important to your marina but the fact is when spills or other accidents happen, you can waste time in the confusion and panic of the emergency. Planning and practicing the steps you take to respond to a spill or a sinking boat can dramatically reduce the amount of time it takes to respond and reduces the impact a spill can have on the environment.

We know that as little as a quart of spilled oil, diesel or gasoline can contaminate acres of water and prove deadly to marine life. A planned response can reduce the adverse effects of a spill on environmental, economic, and cultural resources as well as the marina’s ability to keep operating. This can also reduce the size of penalties levied and the cost of cleanup.

This spill response guidance document contains step-by-step information and several tools that can help marinas meet the oil transfer requirements in Washington Administrative Code (WAC) 173-180. Paired with the proper training, this information can help your staff respond effectively to an emergency.

Two of the components of a spill response plan are:

Initial Actions List
  1. Assess scene for safety hazards.

  2. If safe, stop the flow.

  3. Contain the spill if safe to do so.

  4. Make the required notifications.

  5. Clean up spill if safe and within your level of training. If necessary, contact a spill response contractor for additional resources.

Required Notifications
  • Call 911, if necessary.

  • Notify marina manager/operator.

  • Manager/owner or after-hours contact.

  • Contact the Spill Response Contractor, if necessary.

  • Report spill to the U.S. Coast Guard National Response Center at: 800-424-8802.

  • Report spill to the Washington Division of Emergency Management at: 800-OILS-911 or 800-645-7911.

In addition, there is a spill report form and other materials available that can assist you in gathering all the information needed when you make those emergency calls. A packet is also available that provides FREE oil spill prevention signage, an absorbent pad, a fuel pump notification tag and other materials simply by sending an email with your mailing address to Ecology.

The bottom line is, if a spill occurs, stop the flow and warn others in the area immediately. Shut off any ignition sources, including cigarettes, and contain the spill. Then, immediately call 800-OILS-911. By law, ALL spills must be reported.