Thursday, March 22, 2012

Around the Sound: Port Angeles Harbor open house recap

By Hannah Aoyagi, Public Involvement Coordinator, Toxics Cleanup Program

graphic by Hannah Aoyagi
graphic by Hannah Aoyagi
Last week, Ecology’s Port Angeles cleanup team held an open house to share the results of a major study of contamination in Port Angeles Harbor. Project manager Connie Groven presented the main findings of the study, condensing over 1,000 pages of reports into one slide show (available in PDF or PowerPoint).

The audience asked a number of questions about the results and how the study was done. They also raised some concerns over who would pay for cleanup and whether the harbor would be recontaminated by continuing sources of pollution. These are some of the major questions that came up...

Why is wood debris a problem in the harbor and how much is there?

Wood debris from log rafting, pulping, and other activities cover about 25% of the harbor bottom. We do not know the average depth of woodwaste and cannot estimate a total volume. What we do know is that wood debris degrades habitat for bottom-dwelling creatures, and decomposition releases sulfides and ammonias, which can further harm them.

Who will pay for harbor cleanup?

The parties responsible for the contamination—we refer to them as Potentially Liable Persons, or PLPs—must pay for the cleanup.

What is Ecology going to do to prevent recontamination after the harbor is cleaned up?

One of the three main recommendations of the study is to do “source control.” This means identifying possible sources of recontamination and finding ways to prevent those pollutants from reaching Port Angeles Harbor. We don’t have all the answers yet, but source control will be one of our major goals for cleanup.

Will biomass burning proposed at the Nippon Paper Industries USA plant recontaminate harbor sediments with dioxins?

Past sources produced far more pollution than modern, regulated biomass cogeneration plants, which must meet federal health standards for air emissions. Before the 1970s, air and water pollution were not regulated, so untreated wastewater and boiler ash deposited dioxins directly into the harbor. Also, facilities like the Rayonier Mill burned salt-laden wood, which produced much higher levels of airborne dioxin.

It took decades for contaminants to build up in the sediments to their current level. Several of the sources that produced the contamination found in harbor sediments no longer exist. Remaining sources are regulated in a manner that is much more protective of human health than in the past.

More information on biomass burning

Reminder: The comment period for the Port Angeles Harbor Sediments Investigation reports runs through May 22nd!

Wednesday, March 21, 2012

Eyes Over Puget Sound for March 19, 2012

By Sandy Howard, communication manager, Environmental Assessment Program

We’ve just posted our aerial photos from our March 19 Puget Sound flight (pdf).

Do you recognize this photo? (It’s Capitol Lake in Olympia.)

Eyes Over Puget Sound” combines high-resolution photo observations with satellite images, en route ferry data between Seattle and Victoria BC, and measurements from our moored instruments.

Sign up to receive email notifications about the latest “Eyes Over Puget Sound” by subscribing to Ecology’s email listserv here. Learn more about Eyes Over Puget Sound.

Tuesday, March 20, 2012

Let’s Talk Science! Gravity, the moon, and all this talk of King Tides

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

Here at Ecology we are dedicated to understanding the effects of climate change in Washington. One of the ways to visualize what sea level rise could look like is to document high tides. Spring tides occur naturally when the sun and the moon align, causing an increased gravitational pull on the Earth’s oceans. Note that spring tides are the scientific term commonly used to describe tides and don’t refer to the season. The very highest spring tides are called “King Tides”. Ecology’s King Tide photo initiativeis an exciting interactive way to get citizens engaged in science. But how many of us can actually explain how tides work? It turns out that many adults know it has something to do with the moon, but explaining the process can be complicated.

Let’s start with gravity. All objects that have mass have a force between them. There is gravitational force between me and my laptop, me and my coffee table, and me and the chair across the room. It is also important to remember that the gravitational force gets weaker with distance. The closer I am to the chair the greater the pull of the gravitational force. As I move further away, that pull decreases. Note gravitational force is pull, not push. When talking about tides, we’re referring to the force of the moon’s pull.

So what is the moon pulling exactly? If the moon is pulling the Earth’s water towards itself, why is there also a bulge on the opposite side of earth-moon alignment? A common misconception among many folks attributes the second bulge to the earth’s rotational force. To be honest, when researching this blog, my mind was a bit boggled. I wasn’t “getting” it either. Then, the January issue of Science & Children published by the National Science Teachers Association landed on my door. 

Here is what I learned: It helps to imagine the moon exerting its force on three things. 1) It pulls the water closest to the moon, 2) It pulls the Earth, and finally, 3) It pulls the water farthest from the moon. Remember the strength of the moon’s pull is weaker on the “things” it is farther from. Therefore water closest to the moon receives the strongest pull causing a water bulge. The Earth receives a medium pull, separating it from the water farthest from the moon, causing a water bulge. The water farthest from the moon receives a small pull, but not enough to diminish the water bulge. Now add the Earth, its continents and ocean basins rotating. Twice a day the continents and ocean basins pass through the gravitational pull causing the bulge and water slowly rises then falls. Boom, tides!

Now add the sun’s gravitational pull. When the sun isn’t in alignment with the earth and moon the gravitational pulls cancel each other out. These are called neap tides. When the sun is in alignment it reinforces the moon’s pull causing spring tides, the highest “King Tides”. That is where our climate connection comes in. Earth and moon interactions, in the form of “King Tides”, can provide a glimpse of what sea level rise caused by climate change might look like in Washington. King tides are a natural part of the earth's tidal cycle and are not a result of climate change but they do provide a view of the locally highest tides, which may occur more frequently as sea levels rise due to the effects of climate change.

Illustration credits: NSTA Journal Science & Children

Monday, March 19, 2012

Washington sets model for prioritizing toxic chemicals

By Joshua Grice, Reducing Toxic Threats Section, Waste 2 Resources

Photo by Myra Klarman
The United States Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) recently finalized its plan to identify priority chemicals under the federal Toxic Substance Control Act for further study. EPA drafted this plan in 2011 and gathered stakeholder input. Ecology is proud to be a trail blazer in prioritizing chemicals for further study, and its work is now getting nationwide attention. In its process, EPA used many of the same approaches Ecology created to develop its list of chemicals of high concern to children.

One of the greatest challenges in working on the problem caused by toxic chemicals is simply deciding where to start. According to EPA, there are more than 84,000 chemicals in commerce, 7,000 of which are produced in volumes of 25,000 pounds or more each year. Prioritizing which chemicals deserve further attention to prevent harm to our health or the environment requires careful thought.

As part of the Children’s Safe Product Act (CSPA), Ecology conducted an extensive prioritization process involving thousands of candidate chemicals. To develop this process, Ecology worked closely with the Washington Department of Health and the Northwest Pediatric Environmental Health Specialty Unit at the University of Washington.

A list of 66 chemicals of high concern to children was the end result. Manufacturers must report to Ecology if their products contain any of these 66 chemicals. Ecology staff published their approach to the first phase of this work in a peer-reviewed scientific journal, and more information on later phases can be found on the CSPA website.

EPA used a two-step prioritization scheme, starting with toxic chemicals identified by authoritative sources, and “narrowed the focus of the Step 1 prioritization factor to chemicals identified as being in children’s products either through IUR reporting or through the process used by Washington State to generate its list of children’s product chemicals.”

Other similarities to Washington’s process included:
  • They removed chemicals that were already substantially regulated in other ways (like pesticides and drugs).
  • They scored the chemicals based on their hazard to human health or the environment.
  • They scored chemicals on their likelihood of exposure based on exposure, use, and release data.
  • Chemicals that are persistent, bioaccumulative, and toxic were prioritized.
In the end, EPA identified 83 candidate chemicals, seven of which will be reviewed in 2012.

Fecal Matters: Dakwas Park Beach is Open

BEACH Program Update

Neah Bay - Dakwas Park Beach in Clallam County is open for water recreation. Additional samples collected show bacteria concentrations have dropped to background levels. The Makah Tribe BEACH Program removed the swimming advisory signs March 14, previously posted on March 6, 2012.

Additional information about the Makah BEACH Program:

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, March 13, 2012

Fecal Matters: Swimming Advisory Issued at Dakwas Park Beach in Neah Bay

BEACH Program Update

On March 6, 2012, the Makah Tribe BEACH Program in Clallam County issued a swimming advisory at Dakwas Park Beach in Neah Bay. The advisory was issued due to elevated bacteria results in water samples collected at the beach.

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.

Stay updated about water quality at your beaches by keeping up with us on Facebook, checking beach status on Coastal Atlas, or joining our listserv. Julie Lowe is the BEACH Program Manager and is available at 360-407-6543 or for questions.

Monday, March 12, 2012

Around the Sound: March 13 Open House on Port Angeles Harbor Study

By Hannah Aoyagi, Public Involvement Coordinator, Toxics Cleanup Program

Tomorrow night, Ecology is hosting a public open house in Port Angeles. The purpose of the event is to share the results of the Port Angeles Harbor Sediments Investigation. The two draft reports from this study are available for public comment until May 22.

Tuesday, March 13, 2012
6:30 - 8:30 p.m., presentation at 7:00 p.m.
Olympic Medical Center, downstairs in Linkletter Hall
939 Caroline St., Port Angeles
(360) 417-7000

Project manager Connie Groven will present the results of the study and what Ecology plans to do next. A question and answer session will follow the presentation.

Come at 6:30 or stay after to browse the posters, review a copy of the reports, and talk to Ecology staff. Light refreshments will be served.

Thursday, March 8, 2012

Around the Sound: Rayonier Mill cleanup schedule update

By Rebecca Lawson, regional Toxics Cleanup Program manager

Port Angeles Harbor Sediments, photo by Connie GrovensA year after our last update, we are releasing a new estimated cleanup timeline. We now believe it will take until December of 2014 to finish the last task in Rayonier’s current cleanup agreement, instead of the end of 2013.

The Port Angeles Harbor Sediments Investigation has shifted the timeline.

Our study of Port Angeles Harbor sediments has taken longer than expected and the Rayonier’s next steps hinge on the study report being final. Once that happens, Rayonier can use the data to complete their Marine Data Summary Report.

We originally expected to finalize the sediments study in July of 2011. It is currently in a 90-day public comment period that runs through May 22. We will likely finalize the report around July.

Why this is an estimated timeline

Rayonier’s cleanup agreement does not give calendar due dates. All of the tasks build on previous tasks or milestones, such as Rayonier completing its field sampling or Ecology completing the harbor sediments study. We created a graphic with estimated calendar dates to help give a more concrete timeline, and for planning purposes.

A more comprehensive sediment study helps get Port Angeles Harbor cleaned up sooner.

The sediment study became far more complex than we anticipated, and took longer as a result. The good news is the additional work actually gets us a lot closer to identifying those liable for cleanup in other parts of the harbor. Cleanup is a priority for the community and a goal of Governor Gregoire’s Puget Sound Initiative.

One example of why the study took longer is that we needed three separate studies to help explain how sediments might move along the bottom of the harbor. This is crucial information for figuring out where contaminants may have come from, and where they might move in the future.

We also extended the public comment period from 30 days to 90 to accommodate requests from the Olympic Environmental Council, Nippon Paper, Georgia Pacific, the City of Port Angeles, and the Port of Port Angeles. More time will allow for a more thorough review of the reports.

Rayonier has submitted all of its deliverables on time and we continue to work together to find ways to speed up the cleanup process. While it is frustrating to wait longer for the Rayonier cleanup, it is also good to know that we are a major step closer to cleaning up the harbor.

Wednesday, March 7, 2012

Let's Talk Science! A new column focused on science at Ecology

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

Photo source: EPA: Role of Science at EPAScience is cool! We think it’s important to have an understanding of the big concepts in life, Earth, and physical science. It’s important not only because our work is based on these concepts, but also because our environment’s behavior is based on basic scientific principles.

It’s not just our scientists who need a good understanding of these principles, but our policy decision makers, permit writers, education and communication staff and even you! Why you? Well, key ideas in science provide the foundation for understanding our universe or, closer to home, our environment. Everything we do in our everyday life, such as taking care of our health and being responsible citizens, relates to sound scientific principles.

We will talk about chemical reactions, atoms and molecules, energy in earth systems, water, weather, habitats, changes in ecosystems, and the list goes on! And for the true science geeks in our midst, we will point out how each simple scientific principle is intrinsic to the work we do every day.

Check back regularly to read and learn about science matters. Then, keep coming back. Next time you are standing around the water cooler, you can be the smarty pants with a great scientific explanation to answer your friends’ and co-workers’ curiosities.

You can sign up to follow and receive RSS feeds to Ecology and ECOconnect on our website. Choose the blog feed for "Let's Talk Science!" You may also be interested in our Ecology for Educators series.

Tuesday, March 6, 2012

Air Time: New video focuses on harmful fine particles

By Seth Preston, Communications Manager, Air Quality Program

Take a look at our new video on how toxic fine particles — from smoke, diesel fuel exhaust and other sources — in the air that you breathe can seriously damage your health.


Also, you can find links to more information on fine particles and their sources by going to Ecology’s homepage and looking for the featured video section.

Cleaning Up: How you can track contaminated sites

By Seth Preston, Communications Manager, Toxics Cleanup Program

Ecology’s Toxics Cleanup Program offers two regular online products that can provide handy information on contaminated sites throughout the state.

Twice a year, we update the state’s Hazardous Sites List, which provides a county-by-county list of cleanup sites.

The most recent update is now online. You can find it and past versions of the Hazardous Site List on this webpage. The list usually is updated every February and August, though that can vary slightly.

The sites are ranked on a scale of 1 to 5 — sites with a 1 ranking are considered to pose the most risk of exposure to people and the environment.

We also offer the Site Register, which is published every two weeks. The Site Register provides information on specific sites that are progressing through the cleanup process. In it, you will find notices on public comment periods and other proposed actions.

You can find Site Register editions online here.

Thursday, March 1, 2012

Now showing: Eyes Over Puget Sound photos from Feb. 27, 2012

By Sandy Howard, communication manager, Environmental Assessment Program

Check it out!

We have just posted our aerial photos from our Feb. 27 Puget Sound flight (pdf).

Lots of very current images here, and something new — we are testing some air quality monitoring equipment this time.

“Eyes Over Puget Sound” combines high-resolution photo observations with satellite images, en route ferry data between Seattle and Victoria BC, and measurements from our moored instruments.

Sign up to receive email notifications about the latest “Eyes Over Puget Sound” by subscribing to Ecology’s email listserv here.

Learn more about Eyes Over Puget Sound.