Thursday, March 24, 2011

Let’s talk about Hanford!

By Dieter Bohrmann, Communications Consultant, Nuclear Waste Program

After decades as the nation’s plutonium-making plant, the Hanford site in southeastern Washington is one of the largest environmental cleanup projects in the world. And we want to talk about it! Bring your questions and concerns about the progress, challenges and priorities of cleanup. Let’s hear what’s on your mind.

That’s our — Ecology, EPA and the U.S. Department of Energy — invitation to stakeholders and the public over the past several weeks as we prepared to hold “State of the Hanford Site” conversations around the region.

More than 100 people took us up on the offer on March 16 in Richland. The evening began with an open house, where the agencies, the Nez Perce tribe, some public interest groups and others set up information tables and displays.

The main discussion kicked off with a video about Hanford followed by short presentations from top managers at the three agencies (Ecology’s presentation is included below). But the bulk of the time was reserved for dialogue. And no single issue dominated the conversation. Questions ranged from worker health and safety to federal budget concerns to how to get waste out of Hanford’s 177 underground tanks. The 90-minute chat was civil, thoughtful and well-facilitated.

The lively conversation continues at the next “State of the Site” meetings March 29 in Seattle and March 31 in Portland. Check out our “State of the Site” web page for more information. If you’re unable to make it to one of the meetings, we at the Nuclear Waste Program always enjoy talking about Hanford. That’s what we do.

Drop us a note anytime at or call us at 800-321-2008.

Thursday, March 17, 2011

Around the Sound: Phase Four of Upland Investigation at the Rayonier Mill site

By Hannah Aoyagi, Public Involvement Coordinator

In early March, Rayonier started its fourth phase of investigation work on the former mill property. This phase involves drilling more groundwater sampling wells. “Infill wells” are going into areas of the property where we need more information, and to complete the groundwater monitoring network.

Phase four is actually the last phase of the upland investigation, assuming the new data do not suggest we need more sampling. Phase five is ongoing monitoring. Rayonier has been taking samples from its groundwater wells every three months. It will use this information to develop a long-term monitoring plan.

Once the phase four data are back from the lab, Rayonier can write its Upland Data Summary Technical Memo. This memo will summarize the findings from all four phases of sampling. Once we have done our review, we will make it available to the public.

Keep checking back for more information on the Rayonier cleanup...

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Closing Hanford tanks: How long will they last?

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

While we retrieve the waste from Hanford’s 149 single-shell waste storage tanks, one of our concerns is how long these tanks can last. We know they were built tough, but we also know they have been stretched to their limits. The tanks were constructed as part of the Manhattan Project during World War II, when knowledge of the temperature of high-level waste (HLW) was unknown. And because it was war time, there may have been a shortage of stainless steel, which would affect the construction of these tanks.

We are about ready to wrap up the planning efforts to core, sample, and test a single-shell tank concrete wall. This will help determine the current integrity of the sampled tank and give us clues about the other tanks and their ability to continue safely storing HLW.

When we complete our planning meetings, the US Department of Energy will write a Data Quality Objectives report and a Sampling and Analysis Plan. After these documents are finished, they will be available on the Tri-Party Agreement (TPA) Administrative Record and Public Information Repository.

Then the field planning, drilling, sample collection, and analyses will begin. Check out our TPA changes (number M-045-10-01) to see what other work we have planned to ensure SST structural and leak integrity. As we complete these milestones, this information will help us ensure that these tanks are still able to hold waste until they are emptied (presently planned to be completed by January 2043).

Regardless of the integrity of the tanks, our near-term focus is for closing tanks one farm at a time. Our first is Tank Farm C (C-Farm). Much planning is required for retrieving the radioactive and dangerous HLW, investigating spills, and closing the tank farms. We continue to plan soil cleanup and are deciding which tanks to retrieve next.

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Ecology, Coast Guard, others on scene of boat sinking

By Seth Preston, Communications Manager, Toxics Cleanup Program

Late Tuesday night (March 15), Ecology, U.S. Coast Guard, North Kitsap Fire and Rescue, and a cleanup contractor are at the scene of a 40-foot sunken pleasure boat at a private dock at Indianola in Kitsap County.

At about 7 p.m., North Kitsap Fire and Rescue responded first to a report that the boat sank while moored at the dock. Firefighters placed boom around the boat to contain leaking fuel. The boat reportedly is carrying 100 to 150 gallons of fuel. Ecology and Coast Guard responders are at the site.

The boat owner has hired a private cleanup contractor to send down a diver to plug vents on the boat to prevent a fuel spill. The boat owner reportedly plans to try to raise the vessel on Wednesday.

The Coast Guard encourages boat owners to make sure their vessels are secured during severe winter weather. For more information, see Winter storms, ice and snow can sink boats, pollute Puget Sound.

Washington’s natural resources are always put at risk whenever oil is spilled or hazardous materials are released to the environment. All oil spills matter, regardless of size. The damage starts as soon as oil hits the water. Oil products are poisonous to the environment and they add to the toxic load to our water bodies. Spills also are difficult and costly to clean up. That’s why Ecology works to prevent spills from occurring in the first place.

Monday, March 14, 2011

Threats of tsunamis and radiation in Washington

The devastating earthquake in Japan and the resulting tsunami and nuclear reactor damage concerns all of us. While our hearts and minds are with those suffering in Japan, it’s also natural to worry about what it might mean for us here in Washington. State and federal agencies are monitoring potential dangers, and numerous websites contain useful and timely information.

Check these sites for updated information regarding public health and safety in Washington state.

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

Fecal Matters: No Water Contact Advisory Issued for Kitsap County

BEACH Program Update

Kitsap County Health Department has issued the following press release:

CONTACT: Shawn Ultican
March 10, 2011 (360) 337-5622

Heavy Rains Create Health Risks

Health Advisory Issued for Streams, Lakes, Marine Water and Shellfish Harvesting
Drinking Water Wells and Onsite Sewage Systems May Also Be Vulnerable

BREMERTON, WA - Due to widespread storm water runoff and a few sewer overflows caused by heavy rains over the last several days, the Kitsap County Health District has issued a “No Contact” advisory for lakes, streams, and marine waters throughout Kitsap County until March 17, 2011. The Health District is also advising the public to be aware of the following health risks associated with excessive surface runoff, flooding or sewage spills.

Avoid contact with murky or muddy streams or other water that appears to be affected by storm runoff.

Local shellfish should not be harvested or eaten after heavy rains as they may be
contaminated by stormwater runoff.

Assume flood water is contaminated. To stay healthy:
  • Wash your hands with soap and disinfected water before preparing or eating food, after using the toilet, or handling contaminated items.

  • Discard all food that has come in contact with floodwater. Disinfect the can before opening any canned food.

  • If your power has gone out, keep food safe by using food that spoils rapidly first. Most foodborne diseases are caused by bacteria in raw or undercooked foods of animal origin such as meat, milk, eggs, or fish. Keep your refrigerator and freezer doors closed to conserve cold air or keep food cold with ice or dry ice.

If your drinking water well is flooded, assume that the water in your home is
Either use bottled water that has been stored less than six months in tightly sealed containers, or sanitize the potentially contaminated well water as follows:
  • If the water is clear, boil it for one minute to kill disease-causing bacteria and parasites, or add 1/8 teaspoon household bleach per gallon of water and let it sit for ½ hour.
  • If the water is cloudy, pour it through a coffee filter, paper towel, or cheesecloth, and then boil it for one minute. If you can’t boil it, filter it and add ¼ teaspoon of bleach per gallon, then let it sit for one hour.

A flooded well may require disinfection. Contact a professional well driller or the Health District for guidance on proper disinfection techniques.

Septic systems may fail if soil in the drainfield area becomes saturated. Overusing a septic system when the drainfield is flooded may cause a catastrophic failure, in which sewage backs up into the house or rises to the ground surface in your drainfield area. When soil has dried sufficiently, it’s probably safe to resume normal water use.

To protect your septic system and your property investment during times of heavy rains, minimize water use in the house as much as possible. Stay well below your sewage system’s maximum volume capacity - normally 120 gallons of water use per bedroom per day.
  • Try not to use the washing machine, cut back on toilet flushes, reduce bathing and showering, and run the dishwasher only when full.
  • Identify and repair all leaky plumbing fixtures - a running toilet or a leaky faucet can discharge many gallons of extra water each day to your drainfield.
  • Keep your septic tanks and risers in good repair – cracks and leaks can allow surface or ground water to damage your drainfield, potentially leading to expensive repairs.
  • Spread water use throughout the day and week to even out the flow to your drainfield.
  • Divert all outdoor runoff water and downspouts away from your septic system.
Additional information is available online at, or by calling the Health District at (360) 337-5235.

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.

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.

Ecology skeptical of alternate waste form for Hanford

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

For the last 16 years, Washingtonians have expected that Hanford’s low-activity waste will be immobilized in glass (vitrified). The 2010 settlement agreement between the Tri-Party agencies also requires vitrification of some type. This stable waste form is so important to us because low-activity waste is destined to stay onsite in a landfill—above the groundwater that feeds the Columbia River. Vitrified glass is proven to successfully capture the contaminants and protect human health and the environment. For these reasons, I believe this is the best solution for low-activity waste disposal at Hanford.

The U.S. Department of Energy (USDOE) is considering a new technology called steam reforming to treat a portion of the low-activity waste. Steam reforming uses super-heated steam and charcoal to bind liquid radioactive wastes into clay. USDOE hopes the process will save money.

Although steam reforming is used commercially and is planned at USDOE’s Idaho site, neither of these scenarios compare to Hanford. Commercial processes don’t produce mineral waste, as is proposed for Hanford, and Idaho’s steam reforming non-mineral waste will go to a deep geologic repository, not an onsite landfill.

Between 2003 and 2006, USDOE tested a variety of other waste forms. Ultimately, nothing proved to be as durable and protective as glass, and none of the technologies were cheaper or faster. All of the options considered would cost as much and have similar implementation schedules as vitrification.

In the news recently, USDOE admitted they would abandon the idea if it could not be proven in the next 1 to 3 years. We question the ability to complete all the necessary testing and demonstrate that it is as protective a waste form as vitrified glass in 3 years.

Let’s keep our commitment to glass for the waste staying in Washington. Continuing to look at new technology is important, but, with limited resources, we should focus on solutions for existing problems, perhaps exploring melter technologies or vitrification advancements.

Monday, March 7, 2011

Air Time: Update will change program support

By Seth Preston, Communications Manager, Air Quality Program

Ecology’s Air Quality Program staff is working to straighten out a budget tangle.

Ecology uses its new source review program to issue pre-construction permits for new sources of air pollution. Washington air quality law and regulations require new sources of air pollution to have pre-construction review and approval before starting to build a proposed project or modify an existing air pollution source.

Covering the costs

We charge a fee for this permit work. But the current fee doesn’t cover the program’s cost. So we receive money from the state’s General Fund — the big pot of taxpayer money — to make up the difference.

And that’s a problem. As we all are painfully aware, the state’s General Fund is billions of dollars in the red. So taking money out of the fund for our new source review program doesn’t help.

To fix this specific budget tangle, the 2009 Washington Legislature authorized Ecology to increase new source review fees during the current budget cycle. At the same time, lawmakers cut our general fund subsidy effective July 1, 2011. (The 2011 Legislature reauthorized these actions.)

We’re not going to “make money” off this fee change – the Air Quality Program won’t expand or hire any added staff because of the increased fees. We’re simply changing the fee structure to make sure the permit-seeker pays the full cost of the program without the need to dip into the General Fund.

You can find this proposed rule change and supporting documents on our Air Quality website.

Open for public comment

We’ve started a public comment period – you can submit comments through April 15. Here’s how:
  • E-mail your comments to

  • Mail comments to Elena Guilfoil, Air Quality Program, Washington Department of Ecology, P.O. Box 47600, Olympia, WA 98504-7600.
We also plan to hold three public hearings to take public comments:
  • 7 p.m. April 5 at Ecology’s headquarters, 300 Desmond Drive SE, Lacey

  • 6:30 p.m. April 6 at the Hal Holmes Center, 209 N. Ruby St., Ellensburg

  • 6:30 p.m. April 7 at Ecology’s Eastern Regional Office, 4601 N. Monroe St., Spokane
Note: We will hold an open house starting one hour before each hearing. That will give people time to look over information and talk with staff before the formal events begin.

We expect to adopt changes no earlier than May 23. The fees would not take effect before July 1.

Around the Sound: Join us to talk about Port Gamble cleanups

By Seth Preston, Communications Manager, Toxics Cleanup Program

On Wednesday (March 9), Toxics Cleanup Program staff will venture to the Kitsap Peninsula to meet with Port Gamble area residents about two cleanup sites there.

We’re holding the community meeting at Hood Canal Vista Pavilion at 4740 NE View Drive, just off Highway 104 in Port Gamble. An open house will start at 4:30 p.m., followed by a 5:30 p.m. presentation and an informal question-and-answer session.

We’re working with property owners, area tribes, state agencies, and others to help shape cleanups at these two sites: For more details, see this Ecology news release.

Port Gamble Bay is a high-priority area under the Puget Sound Initiative.

Here are articles from the Kitsap Sun and the North Kitsap Herald about the meeting, the cleanup work and Port Gamble in general.

Tuesday, March 1, 2011

Make a difference

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

I used to think “public involvement” was a joke. Government doesn’t pay attention to the Little Person, I thought. But then I became a reporter for the Ketchikan Daily News, in Alaska. I covered public meetings, where only one or two people showed up, and I saw for myself the really significant influence those few people had over the issue at hand. Government officials — local and state — actually responded to those few, lone voices. They did what the “Little Person” asked! Because two people took the time to voice their concerns and their opinions, their community changed.

That Ketchikan experience is long over, but I have ever since been an impassioned supporter of public involvement. In the three years that I’ve been with the Washington Department of Ecology, I’ve seen many instances where the public’s voice changed the conditions in a permit, helped us think differently about an action or a rule, showed us that yes, the people we serve really do care about what happens to the state’s environment.

One of the reasons I love working for Ecology is that the agency truly wants the public to know what’s happening in the environment, to get involved, to exercise their voice. We invite public comment on every permit we write, and on those issues where we’re aware that the public wants more involvement, we hold a public meeting. In addition, some types of permits or regulatory actions require that we hold a public hearing and take testimony. I’m not the only cheerleader touting the benefits of public involvement. Many others with whom I work every day echo my thoughts. Watch this short video to hear their voices.

Most importantly, keep up with the many ways you can have a voice in Ecology’s activities. From this link, you can sign up to receive our news releases, tweets, and public emails so you’ll know right away about the opportunities you have to weigh in on many of the issues that really matter to Washington’s environment. You can vist our public involvement calendar anytime to find out what’s going on.

We want to hear from you. Please take the time to read the documents we post about permits and other actions, and then please comment. Attend a public hearing. Send us an email. Give us a call. Whatever form it takes — have a voice! Get involved! I’ll hope to see you at a public meeting soon.