Saturday, July 30, 2011

Combined Sewer Overflow Programs: Protecting our waters from stormwater, raw sewage and industrial pollution

By Kelly Susewind, Manager, Department of Ecology Water Quality Program

Projects to control combined sewer overflows provide an important solution to raw sewage discharges and stormwater treatment in the 11 Washington cities that have combined sewer and stormwater systems. Without controls over combined sewer overflows, heavy rains and snowmelt can cause large quantities of raw sewage from combined systems to flow into Puget Sound and our freshwater lakes, streams and rivers.

For example, Seattle and King County, with more than 120 combined sewer overflow outfalls, discharge an average of about one billion gallons per year of untreated sewage, stormwater and industrial wastewater. These overflows affect Lakes Washington and Union, the Duwamish River, the Ship Canal, and Puget Sound.

Combined sewer overflows (CSOs) are unlike the infrastructure in communities that have separate sanitary sewers and stormwater drainage systems. Combined systems deliver all of the water — both the sewage and the stormwater — to treatment plants. This combined treatment of stormwater is a good thing except that during and after large rainstorms, inadequate CSO systems send untreated sanitary and stormwater sewer overflows directly into our waters. Combined sewer areas with properly functioning CSO controls serve the important function of treating polluted stormwater runoff that would otherwise flow into lakes, rivers and Puget Sound.

Infrastructure investments are needed to address water pollution caused by both CSO and stormwater discharges. In areas served by combined systems, CSO projects provide solutions to both CSO and stormwater pollution.

The investments ratepayers make in their communities’ CSO programs protect public health and Washington’s waters, two principal missions of sewer and stormwater utilities. The success of these projects advances the goals of our state and federal laws to protect, clean up and preserve our waters for present and future generations.

Improving CSOs is especially important in heavily industrialized areas, such as the Duwamish River basin. Numerous industries discharge into a combined collection system, which overflows during some storms. By capturing these industrial flows (as well as sewage and stormwater) in controlled CSOs even during storms, many of the toxic pollutants associated with industrial discharges receive necessary treatment at a wastewater treatment plant and aren’t discharged into our state’s waterways and sediments.

Washington’s approach recognizes the potential costs local governments and ratepayers could face to put CSO controls in place. The state’s program incorporates two key strategies that help CSO communities manage this undertaking.

1. Washington’s rule allows an average of one combined sewer overflow per year per outfall. Storms and rainfall vary from year to year. By using an average of CSOs over several years, the overall discharge is decreased without the need to over-build for high-flow years. It means a city has the flexibility to design its CSO control program in a more affordable manner. The state has allowed Seattle and King County, for example, to spread the average over 20 years.

2. The state also has taken a flexible approach in the time allowed for communities to build their CSO control programs. Spreading project costs over time reduces the effect on utility rates. State law, adopted 24 years ago, requires CSO reduction “at the earliest possible date.” Seattle and King County have received approval to complete their CSO programs by 2025 and 2030, respectively, in order to minimize annual costs. Since adoption of the State law in 1987, King County and Seattle will have about 40 years to implement their CSO reduction programs.

Local governments have flexibility to pick the strategies that are the most cost-effective for them to meet the standards.Washington’s strategy for those cities with combined-systems to treat and reduce their overflows is similar to EPA’s national policy. Our state’s CSO strategy targets high priority pollution sources and protects public health. It is a key to restoring Puget Sound.

Strategies for controlling CSOs include separation, storage or treatment of flows. More recently, cities have built green stormwater infrastructure – alone or in concert with other control strategies — as a cost effective approach for some CSO reduction projects.

A number of the 11 communities have completed their programs to control and reduce their CSOs. The others continue to make significant progress with their CSO programs.

CSOs present a real threat, and corrections are worthy investments. Delaying these investments would miss a chance to reduce a real water pollution problem.

For more information, please see:


Statement from Dennis McLerran, EPA Regional Administrator, regarding CSO/SSO Pollution in Seattle and King County
"Discharging large amounts of raw sewage to Puget Sound and Lake Washington is simply not acceptable. That's why EPA has worked closely with the state, King County and Seattle over many years to address sewage treatment and the ongoing problem of Combined Sewer Overflow
(CSO) pollution. With that work nearly completed, now is not the time to lose our resolve to finish the job visionary leaders in the Puget Sound region started some 40 years ago.

"Combined systems — and climates like Seattle’s — often conspire to produce huge sewage and storm water overflows during the wet winter months. It's our view that there are few better investments than protecting our citizens and waterways, especially Puget Sound, from millions of gallons of raw sewage. We understand the concern over major construction expense in these tough economic times, but we are convinced this is a critically important step in protecting the Sound and the citizens who rely on it. We also believe a prudent approach, one that includes phasing the construction, tackling the biggest challenges first and looking for other ways to economize, can help make it more affordable in the long run.

"Also central to this discussion is the very real and serious threats stormwater poses to the Sound. Make no mistake, we are equally as committed to stormwater control efforts as we are to controlling CSOs."

"We stand ready to work with Seattle and King County to do whatever it takes to reduce these threats and protect the people's health, the Puget Sound and our precious lakes and streams."

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Around the Sound: Coal! Cleanups! And whales! Oh my!

By Seth Preston, Communications Manager, Toxics Cleanup Program

I’ve been on the road for most of the past two weeks, so I have some catching up to do. Let’s get to it …

Cherry Point marine terminal

Gov. Chris Gregoire spoke Monday (July 25) to a packed room at the Bellingham City Club forum. The audience was eager to hear what she had to say about the idea of building and operated a coal terminal at Cherry Point near Ferndale.

As now proposed, coal would be transported to the terminal via rail, then shipped to China for use. Supporters tout an expected increase in jobs and the resulting economic boost. Opponents decry the surge in train traffic and providing China with coal to burn, which would produce more climate-changing greenhouse gases.

Here’s what the Governor had to say, according to the Bellingham Herald.

Ecology will be the co-lead along with Whatcom County on overseeing the preparation of an environmental impact statement (EIS) for the terminal proposal.

Sightline Daily provides this look at an economist’s view of the issue.

Port Gardner cleanup

The Herald in Everett recently published this story about a Washington Department of Health review of potential health risks posed by eating fish and shellfish from Everett’s Port Gardner Bay.

Health used samples collected by Ecology during our work to take a wider look at contamination in the bay.

You can look here for more about our cleanup work in and around Port Gardner Bay under the Puget Sound Initiative.

Whales in love

And here’s a Seattle Times article about concerns over the breeding habits of some Puget Sound orcas.

Chris Dunagan of the Kitsap Sun offers some other news about orcas, along with some notes about whale breeding.

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Fecal Matters: Pomeroy Park - Manchester Beach Open for Swimming

BEACH Program Update

Pomeroy Park - Manchester Beach in Kitsap County is open for swimming. Additional samples collected show bacteria concentrations have dropped to background levels. Kitsap County Health District removed the closed signs today previously posted on July 12, 2011.

Visit the BEACH web site to find the latest results for these and other saltwater beaches:

Stay updated about water quality at your beaches by keeping up with us on our blog Fecal Matters, on Facebook, or join our listserv.

Julie Lowe is the BEACH Program Manager and can be reached at

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Around the Sound: Work in full swing at Anacortes cleanup site

By Seth Preston, Communications Manager, Toxics Cleanup Program

Check out these photos of work being done to clean up part of the old Custom Plywood mill site in Anacortes.

Ecology is overseeing the cleanup of part of the site off 35th Street and V Avenue. A sawmill, a wood box factory and a plywood mill previously operated on the site. Fire destroyed the closed plywood mill in 1992.

Cleaning up this site will help to reduce pollution and restore Puget Sound habitat and shorelines. It also will clear away for economic development at a major piece of industrial land on the Anacortes waterfront.

Current site owner GBH Investments LLC plans to use the property for building and repairing boats.

Work will focus on cleaning up about 6 upland acres this year. It will include removing pilings and other structures to allow excavation of about 33,600 tons of contaminated soil; off-site disposal of the soil, structures and pilings; and backfilling the site with about 39,000 tons of clean soil. In-water work will start in the summer of 2012.

Here’s a news release with details on the project and the site.

And here’s more background about the Custom Plywood site.

Air Time: Beware of blowing dust!

By Seth Preston, Communications Manager, Air Quality Program

Have you seen the images of the massive dust storms rolling through Arizona? Jaw-dropping, freaky … pick your own description.

Here are some more photos and TV footage from the latest big storm on Monday, July 18. (The image at the right was published in the Seattle Times.)

Thankfully, we haven’t seen that kind of craziness here in Washington. But we occasionally do have smaller-scale dust storms that pose localized health risks and other problems in the central and eastern parts of the state.

In Washington, dust storm season runs from spring through fall. During this period, wind speeds pick up and turn the air gritty with dirt particles from dry farming areas, construction sites and dirt and gravel roads.

Dust storms may occur when wind speeds are as low as 18 miles per hour. Under some conditions — such as extreme drought — dust storms have been observed at wind speeds as low as 13 mph.

Winds stir up dust particles, which can be inhaled deeply into lungs. Dust particles can irritate or damage sensitive tissues in the respiratory system. People with respiratory illnesses, the elderly, young children, pregnant women and anyone engaged in strenuous physical activity outdoors are most at risk.

Protect yourself

Here’s how you can protect yourself during a dust storm:
  • Stay indoors as much as possible.
  • Wear a mask designed to block dust particles.
  • Watch for sudden changes in visibility while driving.
  • Avoid driving during windy conditions when windblown dust is likely.
  • Turn on headlights as a safety precaution.

Dust control is required for all construction projects. Control measures include clearing no more land than necessary, working in phases to minimize the amount of exposed land area, using a commercial dust suppressant to replace or reduce the use of water, covering bare ground with gravel, and curtailing activities on windy days.

After the wind stops blowing, dust can remain suspended in the air as vehicles kick up dust deposited from the storm. In some low-lying areas where the air is stagnant, particles may settle out of the air slowly. Sensitive people who want to prepare for dust storms should pay attention to local weather forecasts.

What you can do

You can help reduce airborne dust by driving slower on unpaved roads and by postponing projects at home that stir up dust.

You can track air quality in your area by using the Washington Air Quality Advisory (WAQA). This is Ecology’s tool for informing people about the health effects of air pollution. It’s very similar to the federal Environmental Protection Agency’s national information tool, the Air Quality Index (AQI). Both use color-coded categories to show when air quality is good, moderate or unhealthy.

The difference is that WAQA shows that air quality is unhealthy earlier – when there are fewer particles in the air. See this Ecology focus sheet for more information.

You also can contact Ecology’s Eastern Regional Office in Spokane, 509-329-3574; Ecology’s Central Regional Office in Yakima, 509-454-4193; or your local air quality agency:
  • In Spokane County, call the Spokane Regional Clean Air Agency at 509-477-4727.
  • In Benton County, call the Benton Clean Air Agency at 509-783-1304.
  • In Yakima County, call the Yakima Regional Clean Air Agency at 509-834-2050.

Monday, July 18, 2011

Rayonier Mill Soil Dioxin Study: What do the dioxin levels mean?

By Connie Groven, Project Manager

Whenever I hear a number or statistic, I instinctively look for a comparison point. I also think about how that number impacts me personally. The soil dioxin study results we released last week probably raised the same questions for many people.

How are dioxin levels measured?

Dioixn levels are usually reported as a toxic equivalents or TEQs. We multiply concentrations of 17 different dioxins and furans by a factor based on how toxic each one is compared to the most toxic one. Then the concentrations are added together. So the number reported represents a mixture.

What were the levels found in the study?

The soil dioxin levels we found ranged from 0.8 to 76.3 parts per trillion (ppt) TEQ. Of the 85 total samples, 45 were below 11.1 ppt. TEQ. So why is 11.1 ppt important?

Using 11.1 parts per trillion as a point of comparison

The 11.1 ppt is what we call the “Method B” direct contact value for protection of human health. In this case of dioxins, direct contact means accidental ingestion of soil. Based on risk calculations, exposure to soil with 11.1 ppt dioxins TEQ increases cancer risk by one-in-a-million.*

Using our state cleanup regulation, Method B values can be calculated for many common contaminants, including dioxins. Depending on the situation, they can be used to set cleanup levels. However, we have not done enough evaluation to know what cleanup levels would be appropriate for Rayonier’s contamination. In this case, we are using 11.1 ppt just as a comparison point.

*There is a direct relationship between cancer risk and soil dioxin level, so 22.2 ppt is a two-in-a-million additional risk, and so on.

What do soil dioxin levels in Port Angeles mean for my health?

We did not design this study to assess health risk from exposure to soils. To do that, we would need to look at areas where people could be exposed, like gardens or play areas. However, at the levels we found, we did not feel that it was necessary to take immediate action.

If you are concerned about your soil, there are several things you can do. The greatest exposure risk for soil is accidental ingestion and not skin contact. This means that things like hand-washing and keeping dirt out of your home are very effective. With any soil contaminant, children are the most vulnerable because of their small size, developing bodies, and behaviors like putting their hands in their mouths. See page three of the fact sheet for a list of tips.

For more information on dioxins, please visit the Toxic Substances Portal (Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry)

Friday, July 15, 2011

Dog poop solution: It’s in the bag

by Justine Asohmbom, Puget Sound Educator

Summertime is an exciting, beautiful time of year to enjoy the Puget Sound outdoors with our families and our family pets – particularly our dogs. But I’ve done more than a few quicksteps around doggie poop on our sidewalks and open spaces. It’s something that’s given me cause to pause and ponder.

Have you ever stepped in dog poop?

Have you ever walked your dog and kept going after Spot, Fido, or Wrinkles made a pile?

There’s no doubt that picking up after your dog isn’t fun. But believe me, it’s worse for the poor souls (and soles!) that come after you. And, believe it or not, dog poop is a human health hazard. It is a source of pollution for our streams, lakes and Puget Sound.

Stepping in poop is a nuisance (and can ruin parties, too)

You may think a few dog piles in the grass by the roadside doesn’t really hurt anyone. My daughter and her friends know better. They will tell you it certainly does!

A couple of years ago, my daughter invited her friends for her birthday party. When they arrived, everyone noticed an awful smell and dark spots on our carpet. One girl, holding her nose, yelled out, “Something stinks!” Lo and behold, three girls had dog poop on their shoes.

Now I don't own a dog but someone had left fresh dog poop on the parking strip in front of my house. This was embarrassing! We spent nearly an hour trying to scrape that awful stuff out of the shoes and carpet. Not the fondest of birthday memories!

I understand if you dislike picking up after your dog but don’t think it will just decompose and do no harm.

Poop can be hazardous to your health

Dog poop is raw sewage. It contains bacteria like Giardia and parasites like roundworms that can cause diseases. A single gram of dog waste can contain an estimated 23 million fecal coliform bacteria — known to cause cramps, diarrhea, intestinal illness, and serious kidney disorders in humans. According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, pet waste can contribute to diseases animals pass to humans, called zoonoses (zoo’-oh-nos’-is).

When you leave your dog’s infected poop on a lawn, roundworm eggs and other parasites can linger in the soil for years. Anyone who comes into contact with that fouled soil – while gardening, playing sports, walking barefoot or other means runs the risk of coming into contact with those parasite eggs. Dogs especially run the risk of being infected.

Poop pollutes our local waters

When it rains, stormwater carries dog poop from sidewalks, lawns and other open spaces directly to local water bodies and eventually washes into Puget Sound. The bacteria in dog poop can make water unsafe for recreation and fishing. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) indentifies pet waste as a major cause of water pollution. The EPA says that two or three days of droppings from just 100 dogs in a 20-square-mile watershed can contribute enough bacteria and nutrients to temporarily close a bay to swimming and shellfish harvesting.

By leaving your dog’s poop un-scooped, you not only risk someone’s nice shoes, you risk your own, your neighbors’ and your children’s health and the environment.

Dog poop is a problem, but it’s easy to solve. Check out this new video about scooping your dog’s poop.

What can you do to help?

Take a plastic bag with you on every walk with your dog. With the bag over your hand, pick it up, bag it and trash it. That’s it. Nothing fancy, expensive, or even dirty!

Be a great neighbor for good health, clean yards, clean shoes (and paws!), clean carpets and clean water.

For more information about the video, see The Scoop on “Dog Doogity” and dog waste in our waters

To learn more about what you can do to help, see: Washington Waters - Ours to Protect

Also see the Pacific Shellfish Institute's brochure: "Pet Waste: What's the problem?".

Tell us your dog poop stories. Have you ever stepped in dog poop? And would you tell a stranger to scoop their dog’s poop?

Thursday, July 14, 2011

Old Hanford misconceptions come home to roost again

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

Nothing is as frustrating as watching history repeat itself negatively.

A July 10th Tri-City Herald article highlighted the findings from a recent federal advisory board’s report on tank waste treatment. The report recommends delaying a decision about additional low-activity waste treatment for another 3 to 5 years. Hanford’s Waste Treatment Plant, or Vit Plant, currently under construction may vitrify as little as one-third of Hanford’s low-activity waste, leaving a substantial gap in the plan to safely treat all 56 million gallons of waste.

This recommendation is a 180-degree switch from the recently negotiated, legally binding agreement setting the schedule for cleanup that was agreed to by U.S. Department of Energy (USDOE), EPA and Ecology. It reminds us of two recurring misconceptions in Hanford cleanup logic: “Everything at Hanford can be solved by delaying it to a future funding cycle” and “There is always a magical technology awaiting us in the future.”

Assumptions like these have led to a 20-year delay in starting the Waste Treatment Plant. This, in turn, caused the projected end of treatment to slip from 2028 to 2047. Further delays are probably inevitable if USDOE puts off making critical decisions. For Ecology, the path is clear: A second Low-Activity Waste Vitrification Facility is needed.

If USDOE cannot fully test another treatment method by 2015, then the default is to build another vitrification facility. Limited time remains to research other technologies given the current schedule. And we do not feel confident that delaying the decision 3 to 5 years will allow us to reach our mutually agreed endpoint.

If the Waste Treatment Plant starts without a plan for treating the additional low-activity waste, our current information indicates that the High-Level Waste Vitrification Facility cannot run at full capacity. In that scenario, we will not meet the 2047 deadline for treating all of Hanford’s tank waste.

We agree with the federal advisory board’s recommendation to start the current Low-Activity Waste Facility early. The lessons learned from this process would inform startup of the rest of the Waste Treatment Plant. However, technical issues in this plan also need resolution.

More information:

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

Dog Doogity: A good return on the state’s investment

By Sandy Howard, communication manager, Water Quality Program

Polluted stormwater runoff is the leading pollution problem in our state’s most populated areas. Lots of people and lots of dogs are a big part of that pollution problem.

When it rains, pollution on the land washes downstream, moving that pollution along into our waters.

Protecting our waters

Regulations alone cannot keep Washington’s waters, including Puget Sound, pollution-free. We have learned that people will generally do their part to change their behaviors and prevent pollution if they have an awareness of the problem, and if they know what to do.

Building that awareness is not free. But we believe spending money to inform people is a cost-effective way of address pollution problems in Puget Sound.

Since 2005, our state has invested more than $100 million to help local governments build locally designed stormwater programs. Washington made these investments through grants to local governments and intergovernmental partnerships, with funding from dedicated environmental accounts intended to prevent pollution. Our state made these investments to help us clean up our waters and restore Puget Sound and other waters of the state

If we do it right, our lakes, streams and Puget Sound receive huge benefits.

We all can help

By far, the least expensive way to fight pollution is to prevent it in the first place. Cleaning our waters is much more costly. Pollution problems in the Spokane River, and in many parts of Puget Sound, are good examples of how expensive cleanup can be.

A small example of how this investment is beginning to show up is the recent “Dog Doogity” video, produced by a consortium of counties that border Puget Sound, calling themselves STORM.

The state helped provide funding for this video project through funding it has passed along to local governments to help them develop local stormwater programs that meet local needs.

STORM launched its Puget Sound Starts Here education effort — a broadly based, Sound-wide approach to give Puget Sound residents the information they need to make their own decisions about protecting the Sound.

The Dog Doogity video is one small effort by the STORM communities. It’s specifically aimed at dog owners in Puget Sound communities.

Low cost, high value

A video like this is cost-effective because it is meant to spread rapidly like a virus — to become “viral.” People share it with their friends — it passes from one dog owner to another, and on and on.

Update for July 11, 2014
New numbers about the video:

· We are currently at 205,200 views.
· 95 percent of the viewers who vote like us.
· The video has been covered more than 80 times by media outlets locally and nationally – approximately 94 percent of the coverage has been positive.

Dog Doogity is doing exactly what we hoped: drawing attention to the issue of pet waste and its impact on Puget Sound. It’s working!

Read more here:

When Washingtonians get involved in preventing pollution, everyone gets our money’s worth.

For more information about the video, see The Scoop on “Dog Doogity” and dog waste in our waters

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Fecal Matters: High Bacteria Results in Kitsap County

BEACH Program Update

The Kitsap County Health District closed Pomeroy Park - Manchester Beach today. The District received a complaint and marine water sample results identified high bacteria levels.

Indianola Dock and Fay Bainbridge State Park in Kitsap County also had elevated bacteria results. The County will collect additional samples from all three beaches tomorrow.

Increased pathogen and fecal bacteria levels in marine waters can come from both shore and inland sources. Inland sources can consist of stormwater runoff, sewer overflows, failing septic systems and even animal waste from livestock, pets, and wildlife. Shore sources can consist of swimmers, boats, marine mammals, birds, and other wildlife.

We often observe high bacteria results following rain events. In general, the BEACH Program recommends avoiding contact with marine waters 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.

Visit the BEACH web site to find beach closures, swimming advisories and the latest results for these and other saltwater beaches:

Stay updated about water quality at your beaches by keeping up with us on our blog Fecal Matters, on Facebook, or join our listserv. Julie Lowe is the BEACH Program Manager and is available at 360-407-6543 or for questions.

Rayonier Mill Soil Dioxin Study Report Available to the Public

By Connie Groven, Project Manager

Three years ago, Ecology began a study of dioxins and furans (we refer to them together as dioxins) in surface soils in areas of Port Angeles near the former Rayonier Mill. We looked at two things—the concentration of dioxins in soils, and whether the former Rayonier Mill’s air emissions could have contributed to what we measured. The report is now in and it indicates Rayonier did have a contribution to soil dioxins we found in the study.

Why study soil dioxins?

Ecology is already working with Rayonier on the cleanup of the mill property and nearby marine environment. Ecology did this study to figure out if Rayonier also needed to investigate soil dioxins outside of its property. Under state law, a cleanup site is defined by everywhere contamination has come to be. This means that soil dioxins from Rayonier must be addressed as part of the final cleanup.

What happens next?

Rayonier and Ecology are currently discussing how to use the study results to plan next steps. Meanwhile, the public can comment on the report from July 14 to August 30, 2011. We will respond to comments and questions at the end of the comment period and consider them in finalizing the report.

How can I find out more information?

We have a fact sheet on the study evaluation, plus a “reading guide” that goes into more technical detail. Our website has background information and links to the 2008 study design, 2009 data summary, and older fact sheets.

Ecology is holding an afternoon technical workshop and evening open house on August 3rd at the Port Angeles Senior & Community Center at 328 E. 7th Street. The workshop will be in the craft room (upstairs) from 3-5 pm and will cover more of the technical details of the data evaluation. The open house will be in the Multipurpose Room from 6:30 – 8:30 pm, with a presentation starting at 7:00 pm.

Check back for more blogs on this study and feel free to send me comments or questions at

Friday, July 8, 2011

Boat grounding

Image of D’Boat on Long Island on June 24
Another boat is reported to have grounded in the San Juan Island area. This is the second in the last two weeks. Seven people were on board and two of them had to be airlifted to Harborview Medical Center in Seattle.

The weather has been unpredictable and the tides rather extreme. When boating, be safe not sorry.

For more information:

Air Time: Summer brings welcome heat ... and air problems

By Seth Preston, Communications Manager, Air Quality Program

Well, it looks like summertime temperatures are settling in after the long, cold, wet winter/spring.

But with nice weather and heat come air quality challenges.


What would summer and the Fourth of July holiday be without a barrage a fireworks in just about every community in the state?

Well, for one thing, there would be a whole lot less smoke in the air.

For example, the shooting off of fireworks shot fine particle readings through the roof in Puyallup. Starting at 11 p.m. July 4, fine particles in the local air shot into the “unhealthy for sensitive groups” category, according to Washington Air Quality Advisory monitoring data. (Here’s an explanation of WAQA.)

They peaked in the “unhealthy” category at 1 a.m. and stayed there until 5 a.m. Air quality returned to the “moderate” category by 6 a.m.

In prior years, air monitors have shown similar high levels of fine particles in the air because of fireworks. These fine particles are made up of soot, dust and unburned fuel. Breathing them can cause or contribute to serious health problems, including:
  • Risk of heart attack and stroke

  • Lung inflammation

  • Reduced lung function

  • Asthma-like symptoms

  • Asthma attacks

  • Cancer
Those most at risk for health effects are children, the elderly and people with lung or heart disease.

Even people who are healthy may have temporary symptoms such as irritation of the eyes, nose and throat; coughing; phlegm; chest tightness; and shortness of breath.

Wildfire smoke

Fireworks can spark wildfires. And wildfires are common during the summer, as are the clouds of unhealthy smoke they produce.

Fine particles in smoke are so small they can easily get into your lungs. Once there, they can cause or worsen heart and breathing problems like asthma, and even lead to death. Children, people with asthma and respiratory illnesses, and adults older than 65 are most at risk.

This news release details the dangers of wildfire smoke, how you can use alternatives to burning yard waste and how you can protect yourself against breathing harmful wildfire smoke.


Sunlight and heat mean higher levels of ozone. There are two kinds of ozone. “Good” ozone forms naturally about 10 to 30 miles above the Earth’s surface. It helps protect life on Earth from the sun’s harmful rays.

But ozone at ground level is considered “bad.” It is the main ingredient of smog, and can cause health problems.

Ground-level ozone is a gas created by a chemical reaction between nitrogen oxides (NOx) and volatile organic compounds (VOCs) in the presence of sunlight. Vehicle and industrial emissions, gasoline vapors, chemical solvents, and natural sources emit NOx and VOCs that help form ground-level ozone. Many urban areas tend to have high levels of ozone. But high ozone levels can also be found in rural areas, because wind carries ozone and ozone-forming pollutants hundreds of miles away from their sources.

During July we expect EPA to announce a new, lower ozone standard to better protect human health and the environment. We're waiting to see how that might affect communities in Washington.

Here's an Ecology YouTube video about ozone.

Unhealthy ozone levels can affect people with lung disease, children, older adults, and people who are active. Breathing ozone can:
  • Trigger airway irritation, coughing and pain when taking a deep breath.

  • Cause wheezing and breathing difficulties during exercise or outdoor activities.

  • Inflame lung tissue.

  • Aggravate asthma.

  • Increase susceptibility to respiratory illnesses like pneumonia and bronchitis.

  • Permanently scar lung tissue after repeated exposures.

Here’s what you can do to help reduce ozone:
  • Drive less. Combine errands or use public transportation.

  • Postpone travel until cooler evening hours, if possible.

  • Don’t use lawnmowers or other small engines that emit air pollutants.

  • Observe bans on outdoor burning because of high fire danger and health protection.

  • Don’t idle your engine. Turn it off while your vehicle is parked or waiting in line.

  • Wait for cooler morning or evening hours to refuel your vehicle.

  • Don’t paint or use aerosol sprays until temperatures cool off.

Ecology, Coast Guard respond to grounded vessel

By Seth Preston, Communications Manager

The state Department of Ecology and the U.S. Coast Guard are responding to the scene of a grounded vessel near Shaw Island in the San Juan Islands.

The Coast Guard has removed seven people from the commercial crabbing vessel, which ran aground west of San Juan Island.

For more information

Thursday, July 7, 2011

Abandoned water wells can be life-threatening

by Lynne Geller, Outreach and Communications, Water Resources Program

The sad loss of two dogs who died recently after falling into an abandoned well on Vashon Island again brings to light the importance of properly filling in wells no longer in use.

Old abandoned water wells are fairly common in Washington State. For example, there are estimated to be thousands of abandoned wells in King County alone.

Properly closing these unused wells is called “decommissioning.” Abandoned wells are required under state law to be decommissioned as soon as possible after use stops.

Dangers of abandoned wells include injury or death; groundwater contamination

Abandoned wells pose safety and environmental problems. The greatest risk is the injury or death of children, adults and animals that fall into the well. Shallow, hand-dug wells are the most dangerous type of abandoned well.

Some of you may remember the story of Baby Jessica, an 18-month-old toddler who was trapped in an abandoned well in Texas for 2½ days in 1987. That well was only 8-inches in diameter and about 22-feet deep. Her rescue was followed worldwide. She survived, but had to go through many surgeries.

To date there are no recent reported deaths of people from a well incident in Washington. But every year there are reports of dogs and sometimes horses and donkeys falling into these often deep holes.

Abandoned wells also act as direct paths for contaminants to reach groundwater (water under the ground). These contaminants can harm the quality of the water you and your neighbors drink.

Landowner responsible for decommissioning

Washington law holds the current landowner responsible for decommissioning abandoned wells. The landowner is responsible for any injury or occurrence of contamination caused by an abandoned well not properly decommissioned.

Washington law requires that you use a licensed well driller to decommission a well. A licensed driller will have experience with well construction and decommissioning materials and methods. They also know about the local geology. All of this knowledge is necessary to safely and properly close a well. State law prohibits filling an abandoned well with “dirt” or any other unapproved material.

For more information, visit Ecology’s Well Construction and Licensing Program website.

You can also contact Bill Lum, the Well Construction and Licensing Program Coordinator, directly at 360-407-6648,; or well construction staff at any of Ecology’s regional offices.

A 7-year-old yellow Labrador retriever named Deiter fell down an 85-foot well near Chehalis in November 2010. He struggled for hours to keep his head above water before being rescued by volunteer firefighters and family members. He had some cuts and bruises but survived. Deiter is one of hundreds of animals who fall into abandoned wells each year, many of whom are not as lucky as Deiter. [Photos reprinted with permission of “The Olympian”. Original story by Brandon Swanson, published Nov. 13, 2010]

Tuesday, July 5, 2011

Nuke waste program experiment may improve state soil sampling standards

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

Last week, we completed an exciting service-learning project with statistics students at Columbia Basin College. They helped Ecology’s Nuclear Waste Program do statistical analysis on soil contamination data from Hanford’s 200 Area. Our goal was to see if new multi-increment soil sampling produces similar results to the current discrete sampling methods used statewide: systematic and judgmental.

This was a big step forward in a process that began three years ago.

In 2008, with the U.S. Department of Energy, our program initiated an effort to test multi-increment sampling, a process adopted by state agencies in Alaska and Hawaii. This proposed change to Washington state soil sampling standards would save time and money and potentially improve soil sample quality.

With systematic and multi-increment sampling, a contaminated site is divided into a grid composed of 30-50 units, and a sample is collected from each. Each systematic sample is then analyzed separately, which is costly due to the high number of samples and the time it takes to process that volume of data. Judgmental sample locations are chosen using radiochemical detection equipment and professional judgment, and are also processed individually.

But multi-increment samples are combined into one composite sample and analyzed. With this method, a larger soil sample can be extracted for analysis at a lower cost than it would take to cover the site with discrete samples.

The proof is in the dirtBut do the three methods produce similar results? Volunteer CBC classroom aide, tutor, and statistician-in-training, Kelly Rogers, compared the contaminant levels detected with all three sampling methods. The results below are from her full report.

Out of 44 comparisons of mean contaminant levels, results showed a high correlation between the multi-increment samples and the large number of systematic samples taken. The judgmental samples either overestimated or underestimated the average contamination level, depending on the contaminant. Nitrate contamination is a good example of judgmental sampling underestimating average contamination levels.

When field workers first sampled this dried waste discharge pond, they assumed most of the chemical contamination would be near the radiological contamination, which held true for heavy metals. But nitrates appear to have moved down through the soil, separating from the other major concentrations of contaminants.

Here is a quick summary of the results:
  • Few differences were found between systematic and multi-increment samples, which supports changing state soil sampling standards.
  • Judgmental sampling leaves the possibility of not taking enough samples and taking them in the wrong places.
Now what?We consider this dried pond sample site homogenous because the contamination was fairly evenly spread throughout. Our next step will be to repeat the process, taking samples from a heterogeneous site with many “hot spots,” or areas of concentrated contamination next to areas with little to no contamination.

Washington suspended most rule-making processes last year due to budget cuts. This pushed back the Model Toxics Control Act (MTCA) revision until 2012. MTCA is a state law guiding the cleanup of environmental contamination. This delay actually gives us a chance to further study multi-increment soil sampling, get others in the agency on board, and possibly revise the state standards in MTCA.

More information:

Friday, July 1, 2011

Forests not the problem for toxics in Puget Sound

By Mindy Roberts, Environmental Assessment Program

We want to clarify some of the broad findings of the recent study, “Toxics in Surface Runoff to Puget Sound.” Here are the facts:

The surface runoff study monitored levels of toxic chemicals in streams representing four major land cover types: commercial/industrial; residential; agricultural; and forest/field/other undeveloped lands.

The purpose was to compare concentrations (intensity at the site) and loads (fraction of total contribution) of hundreds of toxic chemicals.

Overall the study found concentrations of toxic chemicals in runoff from commercial/industrial, residential, and agricultural lands to be significantly greater than in runoff from forested and other undeveloped lands. The higher concentrations result from more intense human activities in developed lands.

The same study also noted that despite low concentrations, forested streams contribute the majority of the load (total weight) of several toxic chemicals to Puget Sound and the Straits because they cover such a large part of the watershed.

This pattern reflects the effect of multiplying stream concentrations by the area of land in forest cover, and does not serve as an indication of pollution from forest operations. Rather than suggesting that forestry needs to be addressed to reduce toxics, the actual study findings suggest that forestry is the least polluting land use.

The study suggests that our highest benefit to reduce toxics in Puget Sound might most likely be obtained by focusing control efforts on other land use types.

The highest levels of toxic chemicals found where the most people live and work

Not surprisingly, water draining from commercial/industrial lands, both during storms or between storms, generally carries the highest levels of toxic chemicals of any of the land cover types we surveyed. For example, dissolved copper concentrations were five times higher in stormwater from commercial areas than from forested lands.

Stormwater from residential and agricultural lands also contains higher levels of many toxics compared with forested lands, but generally less than compared with commercial/industrial lands. Residential stormwater typically had twice the dissolved copper levels and agricultural lands had nine times the levels as in forested areas.

Forested and other undeveloped lands cover the majority of the Puget Sound watershed

Forested and other undeveloped lands cover 83 percent of the Puget Sound watershed. Since higher-elevation areas tend to be less developed than the Puget Lowland and have higher precipitation rates, these areas contribute 92 percent of the water that reaches Puget Sound. That’s good, because fewer human activities influence the water quality where most of the water is generated.

When we add up the contributions from different land cover types across the entire Puget Sound watershed, undeveloped lands contribute 78 percent of the dissolved copper. The concentrations are lower for forested lands, but a low concentration multiplied by a high volume means a high load at the Puget Sound scale. Because commercial lands produce only 0.4 percent of the water draining into Puget Sound, a high concentration multiplied by low volume means a lower load when added up across the ecosystem.

Loads at the Puget Sound scale mask hot spots in the ecosystem

Puget Sound is not always the most sensitive water body. Considering only total chemical load for the Puget Sound watershed as a whole may mask hot spots in the ecosystem where high levels occur. Smaller, more developed streams are subject to higher levels of human activities and less dilution from a larger watershed. High copper concentrations have sensory impacts on salmon. Copper inhibits their ability to migrate and avoid predators.

Are toxics a problem in undeveloped lands?

Generally not. Runoff from forested lands isn’t pure, meaning it still may contain toxic chemicals and other potentially harmful substances. However, sources of these compounds are less likely to be found in forested areas. For example, only one sample out of 32 we collected from forested lands during the project failed to meet the dissolved copper chronic criteria. Runoff from agricultural and commercial lands did not meet the dissolved copper chronic criteria more frequently, four and five times, respectively.

Loads from forested lands represent natural and human sources

Our toxics in surface runoff study was not designed to identify the specific sources of the toxic chemicals found in runoff from the various land cover types. Loads from forested lands may represent naturally occurring chemicals, chemicals deposited from the atmosphere, or other human sources within the forested watersheds. Since there are few if any specific sources of toxics associated with forestry management, control of sediment runoff would be the primary mechanism for reducing loading from the forest environment. Programs are underway on private and public forest land to minimize sediment delivery to streams. These programs are under specific timelines and monitored for progress.

Atmospheric deposition can be a major source of pollutants to otherwise undeveloped areas. While not a likely pathway for dissolved copper, other chemicals like mercury and PBDEs commonly reach pristine areas via atmospheric deposition. In addition, human activities do exist in forested lands. Sources associated with these include motorized vehicles, building materials, and incidental spills. Existing programs may address these sources.