Thursday, July 26, 2012

Fecal Matters: The Beach at Mukilteo Lighthouse Park in Snohomish County is Open for Swimming!

BEACH Program Update

The beach at Mukilteo Lighthouse Park located in the City of Mukilteo is now open for swimming. Additional samples collected this week show bacteria concentrations have dropped to background levels. A swimming advisory was previously issued for this beach on Friday, July 20, 2012.

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

Cleaning Up: Final cleanup starting at B&L Woodwaste site

By Michael Bergman, Public Involvement Coordinator, Toxics Cleanup Program

Now that dry summer weather is here, construction is beginning again at the B&L Woodwaste cleanup site in Pierce County near the border of Milton and Fife.

The B&L Woodwaste landfill received wood waste that was contaminated with soil and Asarco slag (a byproduct of smelting operations). The Asarco slag leached arsenic into soil and groundwater. Arsenic has also been found in ditches surrounding the landfill and wetland area.

Construction will start around Aug. 1 and continue through to mid-October this year. A cleanup contractor is completing construction of a building and treatment system to remove contamination from groundwater. The contractor will test the technology used to treat this groundwater and if tests are satisfactory, full-time operation of the system will begin.

In addition, during the summer’s low-water window a contractor will excavate arsenic-contaminated soils from drainage ditches that surround the site on three sides.

The B&L Woodwaste webpage has more information about the site.

Area residents and people who use the Interurban Trail between Fife Way and I-5 may notice some work noise, a small amount of dust, and a small increase in cleanup-related activity (workers and light vehicles) during construction.

Interurban Trail will be open during most of the construction and a fence will prevent access to the landfill itself, where most of the work is being done. No trail closures are planned at this time, but if closures are needed we will post announcements on this blog.

Wednesday, July 25, 2012

Let’s Talk Science: Breaking down decomposers

By Brook Beeler, environmental educator, Office of Communication and Education

Nitrogen and phosphorus are essential building blocks for living organisms. These elements and others, like carbon, allow organisms to create cells, tissue, and provide energy to complete their life processes. Nitrogen and phosphorus, also known as “nutrients”, are an integral part of living organisms. These nutrients continue to be important to the ecosystem even after the organisms die. If it weren’t for an essential part of the food web known as decomposers these nutrients would forever be trapped in dead plants (like lawn clippings and dead leaves) and animals.

Decomposers, like the ones pictured in this simplified aquatic version, are an important part of the food web. They break down dead organisms and release nutrients like nitrogen and phosphorus for other organisms to use.
Decomposers, such as fungi, bacteria, and invertebrates like earthworms and insects, work to break down the cells and other structures that made up any living organism. Watch this short video that shows how decomposers are nature’s “trash collectors”. In the process of breaking down dead plants and animals, decomposers do two important things:

1) They use oxygen to gain energy and drive their own life processes.
2) They release nutrients back into the environment for other organisms to use.

Understanding these two functions of the decomposer might just help with the bigger picture. Because when you insert human behaviors into the system we can have a big impact on the outcome.

Nutrient pollution

Nutrient pollution is a well documented problem in our waters in the US. You can learn more about it from this short EPA video. Nutrients can directly make their way to waters in a variety of ways including stormwater runoff. When these nutrients hit a lake or river, they act as a fertilizer, accelerating plant and algae growth. It is when the plants and algae die that decomposers step in to do their job.

So as decomposers kick their cycle into high gear, remember they are 1) using oxygen and 2) releasing more nutrients back into the environment. As they consume the oxygen in water there is less available for fish and other aquatic life. Low oxygen also means that some bodies of water may not meet Washington’s water quality standards.

Yard waste can create pollution

Remember the example of grass clippings and dead leaves? These happen to be great food for decomposers. As they break down dead plant tissue, they are freeing nutrients, which in turn make great food for your yard and garden. However, often times this yard waste is improperly disposed. Dumping grass clippings near storm drains, into ditches, and even directly into water can add up to a big nutrient pollution problem. You can learn more about proper disposal of grass clippings from our Focus on Clean and Healthy Waters.

One person’s yard waste may not make a big difference, but when many people do it, the decomposing yard waste can be very harmful to water and fish. So keep yard waste away from streams and lakes. Here are a few other ways that you can prevent nutrient pollution in your local lake, river, and Puget Sound.
You can learn about these and many other ways to protect our water at our Washington Waters website.

Friday, July 20, 2012

Fecal Matters: Swimming Advisory at Mukilteo Lighthouse Park Snohomish County

BEACH Program Update

Today, July 20, 2012, the BEACH Program issued a swimming advisory at Mukilteo Lighthouse Park in Mukilteo, WA. The advisory is issued because of elevated bacteria levels in the marine water and in a nearby stormwater discharge outfall.

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.

Thursday, July 19, 2012

Pacific Steel and Recycling takes the downside out of recycling - sometimes a visit is all it takes

By Elaine Snouwaert and Jani Gilbert, Water Quality Program, Eastern Regional Office

Pacific Steel and Recycling, with Washington Department of Ecology’s help, has recently undergone some big changes in Spokane so their recycling operation is part of the solution instead of part of the problem.

Surface water, like lakes, rivers and streams, is especially vulnerable to pollution in urban areas because it is next to human activities. Industries, businesses, and residential areas all are sources of pollutants that can run off to stormwater systems. These stormwater systems then transport the pollutants to streams or groundwater.

Radiators had leaked and storage bins had no lids. Problem solved!
In August 2010, staff from the Department of Ecology’s Urban Waters Program conducted an inspection at Pacific Steel and Recycling on North Ralph Street, which revealed problems that could result in heavy rain and snow carrying pollutants into the Spokane River and the aquifer below. Within two months, the recycling company had hired an environmental firm and an engineering firm to develop plans and designs to address the problems.

The problem

Recycling bins and dumpsters did not have lids, so when it rained, stormwater mixed with the materials and carried pollutants to the nearby stormwater system. The inspectors also noted there were no catch basins upstream of several drywells. Without catch basins, recycling process waste could reach the drywells, which hold the water until it percolates to the aquifer. In addition, inspectors found automobile fluid collection areas and several pieces of machinery that were leaking fluids.

“Obviously recycling is a good thing, but it can be messy and it can actually be a source of pollution.” said Urban Waters inspector Ted Hamlin.

Hamlin explains that recycling facilities, like Pacific Steel, collect and process many different materials from many places, which can result in a lot of different pollutants all at a concentrated site. The recycling process may produce pollutants, or the recyclable material may have a polluting residue in or on it. Without methods of containing and disposing of these materials, a rain event could result in a toxic stew of pollutants running off the site and into natural water sources.

Pacific Steel installed a brand new grassy swale to filter pollutants.

The solution

Pacific Steel and Recycling hired Schwyn Environmental Services, LLC (Schwyn) to develop a plan, and Schwyn submitted it to Ecology in October 2010. Several of the recommendations from the inspection had already been put in place. Schwyn and Pacific Steel began training staff in how to contain pollutants and how to keep house to prevent contaminants from leaving the site.

In November 2011, Ted Hamlin made a follow-up visit to Pacific Steel and Recycling and found that all the needed changes had been made. New roof gutter systems were channeling roof runoff away from processing areas to new drywells; a new grassy swale was scheduled for construction; catch basins were in place to intercept debris; and no fluid leaks were evident on site.

“Sometimes a visit to the site is all that is needed to launch actions that will protect water quality,” Hamlin said.

Department of Ecology responds to EarthFix post: “Clean Water Act’s Anti-Pollution Goals Prove Elusive”

By Sandy Howard and Larry Altose, Department of Ecology communications

Recent online reporting published in EarthFix takes a critical look at efforts by Washington to enforce the industrial point source requirements of the Clean Water Act. The article focuses in particular on the Washington Department of Ecology’s work to control pollution discharges from a particular firm.

We believe this reporting misses the point with its focus on unaddressed enforcement and reported violations. The real point is how effective are the Clean Water Act National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System (NPDES) permit programs in the various states. For example, states that issue permits without limits on copper will always have fewer violations to respond to than states that have limits on copper. Similarly, lax limits mean fewer violations than more protective limits.

By most objective measures, we believe Washington state has one of the best water quality permitting programs in the country. We have good, largely current/up-to date permits; an effective data management system; field presence with experienced inspectors; knowledgeable and dedicated staff; a comprehensive compliance assurance program which includes inspections; technical assistance, and enforcement, where needed.

While assisting the writer, we provided the following background information that did not make it into the reporting:
Ecology has used administrative orders and permits to move Seattle Iron and Metals into compliance with the State Water Pollution Laws over the past 15 years. The company has responded by working at correcting problems, most lately with stormwater runoff. Ecology is concerned with the high level of pollutants in their stormwater runoff and their dust emissions.

We work with many businesses at correcting problems with pollutants in stormwater runoff, with compliance schedules, administrative orders, and permit requirements. This industrial facility has one of the more severe problems compared to other businesses with controlling pollutants in their stormwater runoff because their industrial process involves the dismantling and crushing of automobiles and other machinery for scrap metal recovery. Ecology’s approach here is consistent with how we have dealt with water pollution from businesses and government entities for decades.

Our enforcement decisions are often subject to criticism for either being too lenient or too severe. We understand the feeling among some people that after the amount of time involved the company should incur heavy fines.

On the other hand, Ecology’s orders and permit requirements have cost the company millions of dollars in compliance costs, very likely more than our ability to fine.

Ecology’s goal is protection of water quality and for this facility to achieve the standards. We use fines when a facility skirts or disregards its obligation to comply. In the case of Seattle Iron and Metals, the company has complied with Ecology orders, permits and other requirements, and pollutant levels have decreased over time. Ecology expects to hold the company to continued progress.

We also recognize that some individuals and organizations oppose the use of mixing zones. We allow this approach on a limited basis, subject to public review and comment, only if an applicant meets specific criteria. We then pursue the reduction and elimination of the mixing zone in subsequent permit renewals.

For more information on mixing zones:

The reporting also referred to Ecology’s water quality assessment. The reference to Washington formally assessing only 3 percent of these waters leaves out some important background we provided the reporters:
Ecology’s current assessment methodology considers assessment data for small segments of stream and rivers – in other words, our state has a more thorough process for assessing polluted waters than other states. Other states may claim entire rivers or watersheds as assessed, however we currently use the township/range/section to identify a “segment” and we are further working to refine our assessments.

While this is a small percentage of the total waters in the state, it is important to keep in mind that the assessed segments are often indicative of problems that are then investigated at a larger watershed level, to determine the extent of the source causing the problem.

For more information on Ecology’s water quality assessment, go here:

Tuesday, July 17, 2012

E-Cycle Washington reduces waste and helps manage clutter

Elisa Sparkman, Hazardous Waste & Toxics Reduction Program
I suppose I could find a tiny bit of silver lining to the huge winter storm that affected Western Washington in January. The storage shed in my back yard caved in from snow weight and broken branches. And though the repair has been a pain, the past few months have forced me to finally purge some major clutter.

If I am honest, I would probably not have done this any time soon… or ever. Over the course of the repairs, I made plenty of trips to the local transfer station. With what I can only describe as a mini-museum of obsolete electronics, I became a frequent participant in E-Cycle Washington, a free electronics recycling program that is overseen by Department of Ecology (Ecology). As an Ecology employee, it is really nice to experience firsthand how an agency-run program helps reduce waste in the statewide community.

It’s been three years since E-Cycle Washington began. E-Cycle Washington is a product stewardship program. Product stewardship is an environmental management strategy that directs all those involved in the design, production, sale and use of a product to take responsibility for minimizing the product's impact to human health and the natural environment throughout the life of the product.
Since 2009, E-Cycle has collected almost 100 million pounds of covered electronics.
Since 2009, E-Cycle has collected over 140 million pounds of covered electronics.

E-Cycle Washington is a manufacturer funded program that is managed by the manufacturers through an independent party, the Washington Materials Management and Financing Authority, overseen by the state and is free to consumers. Since the program began three years ago, 140 million pounds of electronics (TVs, computers and monitors) have been collected, with almost all of this recycled. That is a lot of waste kept out of our landfills! In 2009, there was still 64 million pounds of electronics (all types) thrown in landfills. This shows that consumer participation is the key ingredient for success.

Programs like E-Cycle Washington pave the way for product stewardship programs for other materials and products. Ecology is working with producers of fluorescent lights on a product stewardship program for mercury containing lights, which will be available starting in January 2013.

Product stewardship programs are ways that we, as humans, can take an active role in managing the amount of waste and toxic chemicals on our planet and help pave the way for a more efficient future. And they can help us make more space in our storage sheds!

Friday, July 13, 2012

Fecal Matters: Swimming Advisory at Little Squalicum Park in Bellingham, WA

BEACH Program Update

On July 12, 2012, the Whatcom County Health Department issued a swimming advisory at Little Squalicum Park in Bellingham, WA. 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.

Tuesday, July 10, 2012

Water's Edge: New video focuses on young salmon and shorelines

By Annette Frahm, Green Shorelines Outreach Coordinator, King County (WRIA 8)

Salmon are a Pacific Northwest icon.

As a keystone species, salmon help support wildlife – from birds to bears and otters to seals, sea lions and Puget Sound orcas.

Young salmon need healthy shorelines to help them survive. A new video explains the shoreline elements that are important to these endangered fish.

The video features Roger Tabor, biologist for the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service, who has studied salmon in Lake Washington for 20 years.

Find out more at the Lake Washington/Cedar/Sammamish Watershed (WRIA 8) Green Shorelines website. Or visit the Green Shorelines blog.

WRIA 8 partners are working to restore and conserve Chinook salmon, listed as threatened under the federal Endangered Species Act. WRIA 8 is a cooperative effort of 27 local governments, citizens, businesses, scientists and environmentalists.

For more information, contact me by phone at 206-296-8013 or send me an email.

Cleaning Up: Check out video of Everett Smelter cleanup

By Seth Preston, Communications Manager, Toxics Cleanup Program

We’ve just posted a video showing the cleanup work to dig up soil in Everett neighborhoods where historical contamination from the former Everett Smelter is present.

The video has no audio, but it uses text to describe each part of the work.

And be sure to look over our Everett Smelter homepage, where you can find information about the cleanup project and more.

Monday, July 9, 2012

Air Time: Summer weather sparks wildfire season

By Seth Preston, Communications Manager, Air Quality Program

Rising summertime temperatures and lightning storms mean Washington’s wildfire season is officially under way.

This news release from the Washington State Department of Natural Resources (DNR) details the current conditions and provides a number of useful links to find more information on wildfires.

The photo (at right) of the Navarre Fire in the Okanogan-Wenatchee National Forest comes from InciWeb, which tracks wildfires throughout the United States.

From an air quality standpoint, wildfires produce plenty of harmful smoke. The biggest threat comes from the fine particles in smoke. These tiny particles can get into your eyes and lungs, where they can cause health problems such as burning eyes, runny nose and illness such as bronchitis. Fine particles also can aggravate heart and lung diseases, and even lead to death.

Here are some steps you can take to protect your health from wildfire smoke:
  • When there are wildfires in an area or region, the severity of the smoke impacts depends on weather patterns. If the air isn’t moving, the concentration of fine particles increases in the air.
  • Smoke from a fire can travel rapidly, affecting air quality hundreds of miles downwind.
  • Smoke from wildfires can impact the air you breathe and harm your health, especially if you have existing health conditions.
  • The Washington State Department of Health recommends that people who are sensitive to air pollution limit the time that they spend outdoors when smoke is in the air.
  • Children also are more susceptible to smoke because:
    • Their respiratory systems are still developing.
    • They breathe more air (and air pollution) per pound of body weight than adults.
    • They’re more likely to be active outdoors.
  • When smoke levels are high enough, even healthy people may be affected. To protect yourself, it’s important to limit your exposure to smoke – especially if you are susceptible.

Thursday, July 5, 2012

Cleaning Up: Another season of Everett Smelter cleanup work under way

By Meg Bommarito, Everett Smelter Cleanup Project Manager
The first phase of the Everett Smelter cleanup work, which removed contaminated soil from 24 properties, finished up this May. Work is already under way for the second phase.

In early June, Ecology contractors began work on 55 additional properties. Work will continue through the summer and fall and will wrap up in early November.

Ecology is also finishing sampling properties that will be included in the cleanup schedule for 2013 and 2014 this summer. This fall, Ecology will share the results of summer sampling with property owners and meet with those included in the 2013 cleanup group.

We want to keep you in the loop. Several methods will be used during the construction season to keep the property owners in the cleanup area and the general community updated on our work. These include:
  • Ecology’s website: Visit our Everett Smelter site to get the latest schedule for work and check out the photo gallery.
  • Watch the video: Everett Smelter Cleanup — What does cleanup look like?
  • Site signs: Three signs have been established in the cleanup area where people can get the latest information. We will be posting flyers at the end of each week that will detail work to occur in the following week. Signs are located at
    • 518 Winton
    • 5th Street
    • 906 East Marine View Drive
  • Written material: We have fact sheets, posters, kids activity sheets and brochures available. These can be found online or you can call or email us for copies. Fact sheets will be mailed out a couple times a year with project updates.
  • Presentations: If you’d like Ecology staff to come and speak to your community or neighborhood group, let us know.
  • Local information line: This is a local Everett line. Our staff will return your calls within 24 hours. Call (425) 530-5169 with questions or concerns.
  • Public meetings: We will hold public meetings each year to share information about our progress and what’s next on the schedule. The latest meeting was held June 21, 2012.
We’d also love to hear your ideas on how we can better share information with the community.

Tacoma Smelter Plume: Soil cleanup and signs planned for Federal Way parks

By Hannah Aoyagi, Tacoma Smelter Plume Project, Toxics Cleanup Program

Three Federal Way parks have arsenic and lead soil contamination from the former Asarco smelter in north Tacoma.  This fall, we are cleaning up the worst of the contamination and putting up signs in places we can't do cleanup.

Lake Grove Park

Part of the park (photo to right) has some very high lead levels.  In this area, we will be digging out contaminated soil and replacing it with clean soil and sod.  In the woods, we can't dig because it could damage the trees.  Here, we will put up signs to encourage people to stay on paved paths and take healthy actions to limit their exposure. 

Adelaide and Heritage Woods Parks

At both parks, only one sample out of many had elevated arsenic and it was outside of the play area.  We won't remove any soils, but we will use signs to let people know about how to limit exposure.

Contamination has been in the soil for decades--why put up signs now?

In the summer of 2010, with new funding from a settlement with Asarco, we were able to include parks in the Soil Safety Program.  Until then, we only had funding to work on school and childcare play areas.

We spend the next year doing soil sampling for arsenic and lead at park play areas throughout the Soil Safety Program service area.  Once we got the results, we began working with park districts to plan cleanup work.  The results also helped us figure out where parks should post signs.

What about other parks in Federal Way?

Most parks in Federal Way have arsenic and lead below state cleanup levels and do not need cleanup.

Open house events this summer

We are holding open houses at each of the three parks to provide more information about soil contamination and what we're doing about it.  All events are on Wednesday evenings from 6:30 - 7:30 p.m.
  • July 11, 2012 at Heritage Woods Park, 28200 24th Place S
  • July 18, 2012 at Adelaide Park, 30196 16th Avenue SW
  • August 1, 2012 at Lake Grove Park, 833 SW 308th Street

More information
For more details about the Lake Grove Park cleanup and a complete list of parks sampled in Federal Way, please see our fact sheet.  For more about the risk from soils at parks, check out our blog about Dottie Harper Park in Burien.

Tuesday, July 3, 2012

Air Time: Enjoy fireworks, but protect your lungs

By Seth Preston, Communications Manager, Air Quality Program

Fireworks will light up neighborhoods and the sky in communities throughout Washington this week in celebration of Independence Day.

And where there are fireworks, there’s smoke … and the potential to breathe in harmful fine particles made up of soot, dust and unburned fuel.

Fireworks displays – the large, professional kind and even the smaller neighborhood or family type – can produce high levels of unhealthy smoke. In past years, Ecology’s air monitors have shown high levels of fine particles in the air in some communities because of fireworks.

Breathing fine particles in fireworks smoke 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

Ecology recommends that people with breathing problems or heart or lung disease avoid areas of heavy smoke by viewing fireworks displays from a safe distance. People who are especially sensitive should stay indoors (especially during the evening) and close the windows to avoid breathing the smoke.

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.

Monday, July 2, 2012

Three vacant positions on ocean policy advisory group

By Jennifer Hennessey, Shorelands and Environmental Assistance Program

Photo source: Dept. of Natural Resources
Do you know someone who might be interested in helping direct and guide ocean policy and management issues along Washington’s Pacific Coast?

Ecology is seeking to fill current vacancies on an advisory group for ocean policy. We need experts to help represent three distinct interest groups:
  • Energy
  • Recreation
  • Tourism

Advisory group helps State Ocean Caucus

The group advises the State Ocean Caucus – an interagency team made up of the governor’s office and state agencies with a management role or expertise in ocean and coastal issues. Ecology coordinates this team and formed the advisory group on behalf of the State Ocean Caucus.

Nominees needed for energy, recreation, and tourism interests

We need experts to fill three vacant positions covering energy, recreation, and tourism interests. We’re looking for people interested in and knowledgeable about ocean and coastal issues on Washington’s Pacific Coast – western Clallam and Jefferson counties, and Grays Harbor, Pacific, and Wahkiakum counties.

The unpaid advisory group will meet about four times a year. Members will serve up to a three-year term and may be reappointed. The Coastal Advisory Body will review nominations received and provide recommendations to Ecology Director Ted Sturdevant who will appoint the members.

How to nominate a candidate

Ecology must receive all nominations by 5 p.m. Friday, July, 13, 2012.

Any group or individual can nominate a candidate to the advisory group. We also accept self-nominations and candidates don’t need to be affiliated with an organized group.

Nominations must include specific information – see our online directions for nominations. Nominations can be sent electronically – or mailed to:

Jennifer Hennessey
Washington Department of Ecology
PO Box 40173
Olympia, WA 98504-7600

For more information, contact Jennifer at or call 360-407-6595.