Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Spill Log: All spills matter

By Dave Byers, Ecology Response Manager, Spill Prevention, Preparedness and Response Program

A fishing vessel owner has published his first-person view of Ecology’s response this past November to an oil spill from his fishing vessel at Shilshole Bay Marina in Seattle. Here is our file about the incident.

We have evaluated our regulatory responsibilities regarding this spill. We believe a warning letter is the most appropriate action for this particular incident. The letter lets the spiller know that any future spills may result in enforcement actions.

Whenever we issue orders, penalties, and other actions, we always inform recipients of their right to appeal and supply information about how to do so. Our actions can be appealed to the Washington State Pollution Control Hearings Board – an administrative review panel that is separate from Ecology.

In 2009 and 2010, Ecology’s Spills Prevention, Preparedness, and Response Program issued 190 enforcement actions including:

  • Field citations

  • Civil penalties

  • Notices of correction or violation

  • Administrative orders

Oil spill response facts

Here’s some background information — always useful to understanding oil spill response in Washington — to fill some gaps left in the unhappy captain’s recounting:
  • All spills matter, regardless of size, due to oil’s toxic properties. Petroleum oil and fuels are toxic chemicals. They cause environmental damage and are poisonous to our birds, fish, and wildlife.

  • A quart of engine oil can easily contaminate 100,000 gallons of water and spread quickly to cover an acre of surface water.

  • Most oil spills in Puget Sound are less than a gallon. Our 2011 Puget Sound Toxics Assessment estimates that roughly 230 tons of petroleum compounds – including diesel fuel, gasoline, and lube oil – are spilled in the 12 counties that border Puget Sound every year. Roughly 165 tons are released to the fresh waters in the Sound region.

  • Every year, Ecology handles roughly 3,800 reports of oil and hazardous material spills and we mount about 1,200 field responses.

  • Most of the oil spills to water that we respond to are less than 100 gallons. Vessels are a common source and the majority comes from recreational boats, fishing vessels and smaller commercial vessels, not our large commercial maritime fleet.

  • We investigate several spills from boats and vessels every week. They are reported most frequently in our major marinas, the Lake Washington-Lake Union Ship Canal system, Columbia River, and Commencement and Bellingham bays.

  • All too often, the spills that get reported to us are “mystery” spills where we can’t identify where the oil came from.

  • Oil and water do mix. A portion of any spill gets absorbed into the water, adding another uptick to background level of toxic chemicals in that water body – this includes Puget Sound and the Columbia River, and our lakes, rivers, streams, and wetlands.

Report spills quickly

When someone spills oil — and there’s no legal minimal threshold — state and federal law requires spillers to report it and begin cleanup right away. The quicker Ecology knows about the spill, the sooner we can mount a rapid, aggressive and well-coordinated response to try and minimize the environmental damage.

Ecology's spill responders don't just react to the oil that actually gets spilled but also the potential for spills to continue or worsen.

Unfortunately, our cleanup technology stops short for many spills we encounter, especially those mystery spills that don’t get reported right away.

Because it floats on water, uncontained oil spreads quickly on the surface. When this coating is less than a few molecules deep, it can be seen a shiny silvery or rainbow coating — also called a sheen.

In general, it is extraordinarily difficult to effectively collect and remove sheen. We often have to declare the spilled oil as unrecoverable, and allow it to dissipate naturally.

Dispersants don’t remove oil

State and federal laws don’t allow the use of dispersants like detergents and other chemicals that remove oil from the water’s surface. Chemical dispersants — like those used during the catastrophic 2010 spill in the Gulf of Mexico — don’t take oil out of the environment.

Instead, these agents just push the oil under the surface and into the water column. Left on the surface, oil stands a better chance of evaporating or degrading under conditions common in the Pacific Northwest.

Dispersants are illegal in Washington as well as other states and many other countries — and can only be used under extraordinary circumstances like responding to a major oil spill once the scientific and environmental pros and cons have been carefully weighed.

Spills and the human environment

Our spill responders encounter people from all walks of life. Most spills, while preventable, happen by accident. Most people never expect to become a spiller. We understand this. People react in many ways to such news, and the human atmosphere is often no easy part of our work.

Ecology’s staff works in a professional, courteous, and respectful manner. It is our job to provide spillers with guidance the proper steps to follow to contain and clean up an oil spill.

Under state law, they can be held liable for polluting state waters, be responsible for reimbursing Ecology for its response costs, and they may have to compensate the citizens of Washington for environmental damage to public resources such fish and wildlife, beaches and habitat areas.

Someone responsible for a spill has much new information to know. Our responders give spillers a verbal overview and leave them with written materials that provide details they will need. These include:
Many spillers tell us when they’ve caused a spill — and are ready to cooperate with state and federal responders with the cleanup and investigation. Being cooperative really helps speed things up. And a speedy response is critical for helping stop spills at their source. This can significantly diminish related environmental damages and costs for everyone.

Investigations based on science

During a spill, Ecology responders frequently collect samples – even when it’s not clear where the spill came from. Sometimes our investigation turns up a potential source — and we’ll seek to get direct samples from these places, too, if possible. Sampling can also rule out suspected sources. That's why it's an important part of a response and investigation.

Our scientists at Ecology’s environmental laboratory analyze all these samples as part of our investigation. The lab first can classify oil by general type and grade. A longer, more in-depth procedure can then produce a spectrographic fingerprint to figure out whether two or more samples originated from the same batch.

Spill responders take investigations and enforcement actions very seriously. No matter how things appear at the scene of a spill, we rely on the firm evidence this testing provides.

Oil spill response a serious matter

Oil spills are not pleasant, and preventing them is our highest priority. Yet, they do occur, and that’s when everyone’s cooperation is key to protecting our waters and keeping environmental impacts to a minimum.

We recognize that our potential actions can cause spillers stress and that's why we strive to make our decisions in as timely a fashion as possible.

Air Time: Burn bans in Chelan, Douglas counties

By Seth Preston, Communications Manager, Air Quality Program

Burn bans start at 4 p.m. today (Tuesday, Jan. 31, 2012) in Chelan and Douglas counties, where air quality is expected to worsen this week, according to the Washington Department of Ecology.

Ecology’s Stage 1 burn bans for Chelan and Douglas counties will continue until at least 10 a.m. Monday (Feb. 6), when they could be called off or extended. The Stage 1 bans apply to unnecessary use of uncertified wood-burning devices (including wood stoves, inserts and fireplaces) and to all outdoor burning.

Ecology’s burn bans do not apply to tribal lands, where the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has jurisdiction.

Smoke from outdoor burning and wood-burning devices builds up where cold air is trapped near the ground. Fine particles in smoke are so small they can easily get into your lungs. Once there, they can cause heart and breathing problems, and even death. Children, people with asthma and respiratory illnesses, and adults older than 65 are most at risk.

Under a Stage 1 ban:
  • Use of uncertified wood-burning devices – including fireplaces, wood stoves and inserts – is prohibited unless they are a home’s only source of heat. Uncertified units typically were built before 1990 and lack a certification label on the back of the unit.

  • All outdoor burning – including residential, agricultural and forest burning – is prohibited.

  • Use of certified wood-burning devices and pellet stoves is allowed. Ecology recommends burning hot fires using only clean, dry wood.

  • No excessive smoke is allowed from any wood-burning device beyond a 20-minute start-up.

Burn ban violators are subject to civil penalties.

A 2009 Ecology analysis estimates that fine particles contribute to about 1,100 deaths and about $190 million in health-care costs each year in Washington.

For burn ban updates:
You can report burn ban violators by calling Ecology’s smoke complaint hotline (1-866-211-6284).

Ecology for Educators: upcoming workshops!

By Brook Beeler, Environmental Educator, Office of Communication and Education

Did you know? Ecology provides science-based, interdisciplinary environmental education curricula and award-winning materials. These quality environmental education resources teach problem solving and critical thinking for students. Ecology also has exceptional databases and research links.

You can find links to upcoming workshops, useful publications, and links to great resources and databases on our Ecology for Educators and Students page. Bookmark it or subscribe to the RSS feed on this blog to stay current with Ecology for Educators.

Upcoming workshops:


Healthy Water Healthy People


Project WET 2.0 Curriculum Guide
February 23, 2012
Vancouver, WA

Project WET 2.0 – NEW Curriculum Guide
March 8, 2012
Vancouver, WA
Storming the Sound Conference: Central Sound
March 30, 2012
Bainbridge Island, WA

Project WET
April 19, 2012
Yakima, WA

For more information including registration contacts please see the full listing on our Teacher Workshop page.

Friday, January 27, 2012

Conversations on Washington's future quality of life

By Ted Sturdevant, Ecology Director

Today, I am launching a new Web page, "Conversations on Washington's Future". I am hoping it will help stimulate a statewide conversation about what quality of life means to the people of Washington in the 21st century.

Most of us would agree that quality of life includes an economy in which we can all prosper, strong communities and a healthy environment. The question — and it is a challenging one — is how best to achieve and protect that quality of life.

About every week, I will share my thoughts on specific topics that affect us all, and how solving some of our thorniest issues may require some new thinking. It certainly requires us to honor differing viewpoints and realize how actions in all of these areas — the environment, the economy and communities — are intertwined.

More and more, I have seen solutions that work well for all parties, and I am excited about the possibilities that lie ahead for our state.

To learn more: Conversations on Washington's Future

Follow these messages on: Facebook and Twitter.

More info: Washington’s Environment Works

Wednesday, January 25, 2012

Water's Edge: New blog helps promote Green Shorelines

By Annette Frahm, Green Shorelines Outreach Coordinator for WRIA 8

To promote more salmon-friendly shorelines around Lakes Washington and Sammamish, an interagency team in the Lake Washington/Cedar/Sammamish Watershed (WRIA 8) has started a Green Shorelines Blog.

The blog is aimed at local people but may be useful for other lake settings. It provides a platform for sharing case studies about shoreline projects, updates on policies and projects, and information you can use to communicate about improving salmon habitat and shorelines.

Posts to date include:
The WRIA 8 team welcomes your ideas for topics to cover, project case studies, or updates. Please contact me at 206-296-8013 or email at annette.frahm@kingcounty.gov.

Tuesday, January 24, 2012

Cleaning Up: Thursday meeting focuses on Spokane-area site

By Seth Preston, Communications Manager, Toxics Cleanup Program

We’re inviting the public to come to a public meeting Thursday (Jan. 26, 2012) to learn about plans to clean up contamination at the Kaiser Trentwood Works site near Spokane.

The site covers 512 acres along the north bank of the Spokane River over the Spokane Valley-Rathdrum Prairie Aquifer.

Historic aluminum production operations and current uses as an aluminum sheet and plate rolling mill contaminated the site. Kaiser has done some cleanup work, but some contaminants still exist there, including volatile organic compounds, polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs), and metals such as lead, arsenic and chromium.

Thursday’s meeting will start at 7 p.m. at Trent Elementary School, 3303 N. Pines Road, Spokane Valley. Those who attend will hear descriptions of cleanup alternatives and documents that will guide cleanup at Kaiser.

Ecology is asking the public to review cleanup documents and submit comments by close of business March 6.

Here are some links for more information:

Monday, January 23, 2012

Our Changing Climate: More about WA's shrinking glaciers

By Seth Preston, Communications Manager, Air Quality Program

The Peninsula Daily News recently published this article on melting glaciers in Olympic National Park.

(Coincidentally, it was published right before last week’s big snow and ice storm.)

You can find more here about the study and see some striking photos that show how much specific glaciers have melted off over the decades. The web page gives as a good summary of the study and puts it in context with melting glaciers worldwide.

In case you missed the “Our Changing Climate” post on Jan. 9, the Yakima Herald-Republic published this story about melting glaciers on Mount Adams.

For more information on Cascade Mountains glaciers, check out the North Cascade Glacier Climate Project from Nichols College in Massachusetts.

Thursday, January 19, 2012

Winter road treatments have environmental considerations

By Jani Gilbert and Sandy Howard

Every winter the phones at Ecology light up with questions about de-icers and anti-icers. Are they safe? Do they pollute? Is one product better than another?

Good questions, since nationwide we dump millions of tons of de-icing and traction materials onto our roadways every year.

"There is no black and white answer," said Mike Hepp of Ecology’s Spokane office. "National studies show there are advantages and disadvantages to each material used on the roads. Putting sand and chemicals on the roads is never a good thing for the environment, but it does keep cars out of creeks."

Managing public safety, costs, impacts

When the snow flies, we recognize that public safety is the priority. Department of Ecology stormwater regulations do not specify how local governments may use de-icers, however we encourage the use of less toxic formulas.

The economics of road treatment suggest that over-application is not likely. Costs for road treatment are high for staffing and overtime, operating equipment and purchasing the materials.

Given the contrary claims of product manufacturers, differences between parts of the state, and the fact that different measures should be taken for different phases of a storm, it's difficult to say definitively what's best for the environment.

Here in the Northwest, most local and state governments responsible for keeping the roads clear look at the problem on a case-by-case basis so that the right product is used in the right place.

Product application combinations are chosen after maintenance workers evaluate factors such as air temperature, pavement temperature, humidity levels, dew point temperatures, exposure to solar radiation, type and rate of precipitation, weather forecast, weather radar data, and satellite data.

What are de-icers?

Both anti-icers and de-icers are winter road treatments that work as freezing-point depressants. Some are salt products. Some are organic compounds, and many are mixtures. However, the organic compounds are agricultural byproducts known to contain soluble organic carbon as well as nutrients such as nitrogen and phosphorus. As a result, it is possible for de-icing operations to have an adverse effect on regional waterways, by adding to nutrient and organic carbon loading.

In some areas of the state, our local governments most often use magnesium chloride, a pre-snow anti-icer. The use of anti-icers means that a significantly smaller amount of chemical needs to be used, which is good for the environment.

Anti-icers, or preventive winter road treatments, are liquid forms of salt compounds used to prevent the formation of bonded snow and ice for easy removal. They are used before the onset of a winter weather storm. They work by forming a brine that has a lower freezing point than ice and snow. They keep the ice and snow from sticking to the road so it's much easier to physically remove. They also reduce the amount of sand that is used on the roadway, thus cutting down on the air pollution that arises from dry, sandy roads in the spring and summer.

A de-icer is a product that is used after it snows and after ice forms to melt the snow and ice away. De-icers, or reactive winter road treatments, are usually salt compounds used to break the bond of already existing snow and ice. They dissolve downward and penetrate until they reach the pavement. They then fan outward to undercut and separate the snow from the pavement surface.

Environmental impacts?

Both salt-based de-icers and anti-icers are easily transported with runoff water and can contaminate surface and groundwater when excessive amounts are applied. They also inhibit the growth of roadside vegetation and harm roadside habitats.

So, anti-icers may have a slight environmental edge over de-icers simply because not as much is needed. One emerging alternative is calcium magnesium acetate, or CMA, made from limestone and acetic acid. It has a lower environmental impact because less is used. However, it costs more and still has a nutrient load if it reaches water.

Meanwhile, homeowners should avoid the use of fertilizers to de-ice. They're expensive, they perform poorly and you have to use quite a lot. Sand will work, but you need to sweep it up later. Don't use cat litter or ashes — they turn into goo.

This comes from the King County Stormwater Pollution Prevention Manual, "Shoveling of snow is always preferred to dumping excessive amounts of de-icing materials in an effort to avoid shoveling."

Perhaps the best thing for the environment involves getting more exercise.

Friday, January 13, 2012

Air Time: Kittitas County burn ban expires Saturday

By Seth Preston, Communications Manager, Air Quality Program

A burn ban in Kittitas County will expire Saturday (Jan. 14, 2012) because forecasts show changing weather conditions will improve air quality there.

Ecology’s Stage 1 burn ban for Kittitas County will expire at 4 p.m. Saturday.

During a Stage 1 ban, use of uncertified wood-burning devices (including wood stoves, inserts and fireplaces) and all outdoor burning are prohibited.

These activities may resume after the burn ban expires. However, we urge people to think twice before burning because smoke from outdoor burning and wood-burning devices easily builds up at this time of year, when stagnant air conditions can trap smoke close to the ground.

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

By limiting burning as much as possible, residents of affected areas can help prevent air quality from deteriorating to the point that burn bans are needed. And by following restrictions when burn bans are called, they can help limit the time period the bans are in effect.

A 2009 Ecology analysis estimates that fine particles contribute to about 1,100 deaths and about $190 million in health-care costs each year in Washington.

For burn ban updates:
You can report burn ban violators by calling Ecology’s smoke complaint hotline (1-866-211-6284).

Thursday, January 12, 2012

Our Changing Climate: Mapping greenhouse gas emitters

By Seth Preston, Communications Manager, Air Quality Program

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has released a map showing the largest single-source emitters of greenhouse gases in each state.

The New York Times published this story about the map and what it shows.

Check it out. Pretty interesting.

For more information about greenhouse gas emissions in Washington, see the offerings on this Ecology website.

Wednesday, January 11, 2012

Air Time: Burn ban starts in Kittitas County

By Seth Preston, Communications Manager, Air Quality Program

A burn ban starts at 4 p.m. today (Wednesday, Jan. 11, 2012) for Kittitas County, where air quality is expected to worsen during the next few days.

Ecology’s Stage 1 burn ban for Kittitas County will continue until at least 4 p.m. Saturday (Jan. 14), when it could be called off or extended. The Stage 1 ban applies to unnecessary use of uncertified wood-burning devices (including wood stoves, inserts and fireplaces) and to all outdoor burning.

Ecology’s burn bans do not apply to tribal lands, where the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has jurisdiction.

Smoke from outdoor burning and wood-burning devices builds up where cold air is trapped near the ground. Fine particles in smoke are so small they can easily get into your lungs. Once there, they can cause heart and breathing problems, and even death. Children, people with asthma and respiratory illnesses, and adults older than 65 are most at risk.

Under a Stage 1 ban:
  • Use of uncertified wood-burning devices – including fireplaces, wood stoves and inserts – is prohibited unless they are a home’s only source of heat. Uncertified units typically were built before 1990 and lack a certification label on the back of the unit.

  • All outdoor burning — including residential, agricultural and forest burning — is prohibited.

  • Use of certified wood-burning devices and pellet stoves is allowed. Ecology recommends burning hot fires using only clean, dry wood.

  • No excessive smoke is allowed from any wood-burning device beyond a 20-minute start-up.

  • Burn ban violators are subject to civil penalties.

A 2009 Ecology analysis estimates that fine particles contribute to about 1,100 deaths and millions of dollars in health-care costs each year in Washington.

For burn ban updates:
You can report burn ban violators by calling Ecology’s smoke complaint hotline (1-866-211-6284).

The Washington State Department of Health recommends that people who are sensitive to air pollution limit time spent outdoors, especially when exercising. Air pollution can trigger asthma attacks, cause difficulty breathing, and make lung and heart problems worse. Air pollution is especially harmful to people with lung and heart problems, people with diabetes, children, and older adults (over age 65).

Ecology recommends that people limit vehicle trips, combine errands or use public transportation to reduce air pollution.

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, including fine particles. It uses color-coded categories to show when air quality is good, moderate or unhealthy.

For more information about WAQA, see this Ecology focus sheet.

See a list of certified wood stoves and other information.

Tips on getting the most heat from your firewood.

Tuesday, January 10, 2012

Free Auto Leaks Workshops: How to not be a drip (from your car, that is)

by Justine Asohmbom, Puget Sound educator

** NEW 2013 Workshops! for more information about FREE workshops see Don't Drip and Drive - Fix That Leak workshops (http://www.ecy.wa.gov/washington_waters/fixcarleaks.html) **


An oil leak in your car can be a frustrating thing, not to mention the fact that oil that drips onto driveways, parking lots and streets can find its way to our local creeks and Puget Sound, hurting wildlife and habitat. A new, free one-morning workshop gives you the basic knowledge to prevent and stop most car leaks.

You can do it!

Even if you never saw yourself as a do-it-yourselfer, these “Free Automotive Leaks” hands-on workshops at South Seattle Community College can jump start your car care knowledge.

Bring your car and learn step-by-step how to prevent, find and correct its leaks.

Check out this one minute video about the workshops and sign up today!

These monthly workshops are organized by Seattle Public Utilities in partnership with the Department of Ecology and South Seattle Community College. They are part of the trio’s incentive-based automotive education and outreach effort, the Automotive Maintenance Program (AMP). They are designed to raise awareness and encourage motorists to check for and fix car oil leaks. AMP aims to help reduce the amount of automotive contaminants that wash into our local streams and ultimately Puget Sound.

Car expert Jesse Ruiz teaches the four-hour workshops. He’s on the Automotive Technology program faculty at the college. You’ll learn how to check the ‘under belly’ of your own car to identify sources of oil and fluid leaks.

The workshop also covers how to repair common minor leaks, clean up spills, and where to take used auto fluids for proper disposal.

“These workshops are designed for only fifteen participants so that the instructor can take the time to look at each individual car and advise them on what to do. We also give participants the information and tool kit they need to mitigate the problem,” said Antony Matlock, the Program Coordinator with Seattle Public Utilities.

Participants in their own words


A video is worth a million words. Check out this testimonial video to hear what participants had to say about the workshop.

Upcoming Workshops:

To register, email Idris.Beamailto:Idris.Beauregard@seattle.gov or call (206)-684-3056.
  • January 14, 2012
  • February 11, 2012
  • March 10, 2012
  • April 14, 2012
  • May 12, 2012
  • June 9, 2012

Education for the next generation of drivers

In an effort to reach our next generation behind the wheel, we have also partnered with some Seattle schools, DECA Washington and KUBE 93 radio station to carry out an automotive oil leaks campaign in schools. As part of this campaign, the students will produce PSAs about car oil leaks and also engage their peers through an integrated on-air, on-line and on-site campaign.

Kick-off for the campaign is scheduled for Spring 2012. Stay tuned!

Monday, January 9, 2012

Our Changing Climate: Mount Adams glaciers disappearing

By Seth Preston, Communications Manager, Air Quality Program

Over the weekend, the Yakima Herald-Republic published this interesting article about how warming temperatures are melting glaciers on Mount Adams.

The photo of Mount Adams is from the U.S. Geological Survey.

For more information on Cascade Mountains glaciers, check out the North Cascade Glacier Climate Project from Nichols College in Massachusetts.

On another note, the Kitsap Sun had this recent blog post on sea level rise. It stems from a reader’s reply to a story on high tides, which stems from Ecology’s call for people to be on the lookout for so-called “king tides.”

You can read more about Ecology’s “king tides” project here. And you can see the photos of high tides that people submitted to Ecology.

Friday, January 6, 2012

Good News for the Environment

By Barbara MacGregor, Web Communications, Lacey

King tide at Birch Bay, photo from the Washington King Tide Flickr initiativeWith all the water that’s been falling from the sky recently, it’s fitting that there’ve been a number of good news stories about water-related topics.

For the third year in a row, Ecology invited folks to get their cameras and snap photos of the season’s unusually high tides. People in Australia, British Columbia, Oregon and other places are doing the same thing, as part of what’s called the King Tide initiative. The idea is to look at the high tides and envision what sea level rise would look like, as a result of climate change.

Read what a number of news sources are saying about Ecology’s King Tides initiative.

So, while the King Tides initiative focuses on an abundance of water, the Olympian featured a story on the ongoing struggle some communities have to obtain adequate water supplies. Here’s a story on a recent success for the cities of Lacey, Olympia and Yelm.