Monday, October 16, 2017

Our website search tool – bad news, good news

The world of search engines is changing and the Ecology website is experiencing the shift. Google is discontinuing their Site Search product, the tool Ecology has been using on our site since 2015. (Our previous search engine, USASearch, was also retired. Apparently this is a trend.)

Google’s process for discontinuing this paid service is to transition accounts to the free version of their search tool, Google Custom Search. The free version is supported by advertising.

The bad news

On October 9, Ecology’s search account was downgraded to the free Google search tool. This means ads began appearing at the top of our search results pages.
  • Ecology has no control over which ads display. We do not sell ads, select ads or have any ability to filter the ads that display.
  • The ads you see may be influenced by your search history. If you have a Google account and you’re logged in, Google may be “remembering” the topics and types of sites you look for and visit.
  • We have no options for a free tool to replace the Google search. If the ads are too disruptive, we can completely remove the tool from our pages. This would mean no ability to search from within our site.

The good news

Ecology is in the final stages of building a brand new website. This site will feature a new search tool that's integrated with our new content management system. We do not have a launch date scheduled yet, but our plan is to go live before the end of the year.

We will continue to monitor our search results and evaluate their impact on our site’s usability. If you have any concerns or questions, please contact us!

Thursday, October 12, 2017

Cu L8r, copper and zinc

Where would we be without copper and zinc?

Ecology scientist Andy Bookter collects a runoff sample from siding in Lacey.

We’re not talking multivitamins here. We’re talking copper water pipes and copper-based treated wood, galvanized steel for fencing, copper-based pesticides for your yard and zinc-based moss killer for your roof. Copper and zinc are all around us, and as Washington grows, so does the use of these useful, ubiquitous metals.

The challenge is that using copper and zinc comes with costs as well as benefits. Copper (atomic symbol: Cu) can harm fish and other aquatic organisms – it reduces the ability of salmon to detect predators. Zinc is likewise toxic to fish and plants (that’s why it gets rid of the moss on your roof).

Copper and zinc are among the most common pollutants found in Puget Sound. So, while no one is proposing getting rid of copper and zinc completely, reducing their use where we can seems like a smart move.

Washington is already a national leader in this work. Our state’s 2010 Better Brakes Law paved the way for a national agreement phasing out the use of copper in vehicle brake pads and will eventually keep 250,000 pounds of copper a year out of our state’s rivers and lakes.

That’s one source of copper down. What’s next?

A new study from Ecology’s Environmental Assessment program tries to answer that question.
Ecology scientists intensively studied a 7.2-square-mile section of Lacey in south Puget Sound, looking for potential sources of copper and zinc. The sample section, which included warehouses, manufacturing facilities, strip malls, box stores, apartment complexes and ordinary suburban homes, was a good stand-in for the Puget Sound region as a whole.
The study area in Lacey where Ecology scientists are trying to estimate zinc and copper releases.

“This study provides information and tools for future source control efforts,” said Andy Bookter, the Ecology scientist leading the new study.  “The sources of copper and zinc found in this study are similar to the sources found in urban areas around Puget Sound.”

Heavy metal

Potential zinc loading by source

Potential copper loading by source
The nickel version of the report’s findings is that vehicle wear and building materials are the biggest sources of copper and zinc reaching Puget Sound.

“On average, an estimated 800 pounds of copper and 5,900 pounds of zinc are released each year from the materials reviewed in the Thurston County study area,” Bookter said.  “This is from a relatively small urban area with similar land use to other urban areas in Puget Sound.”

Just to hammer the point home: That’s 6,700 pounds of zinc and copper coming off a single, representative 7-mile square sample. Every year.

Vehicle brake wear is still the dominant source of copper – the Better Brakes Law won’t totally phase out copper until 2025, although copper levels in new brakes have already fallen sharply. Roofing materials and treated lumber are other major contributors.

For zinc, moss control is the biggest slice of the pie. We northwesterners seem to wage a constant battle against moss devouring our roofs. The new study’s findings raise questions about the cost of that fight. Other major zinc sources are the siding on homes, car tires and parking lots (parking lots tend to collect all the stuff that washes off of cars – they don’t produce toxics by themselves).

Drip, drip, drip

The new study looked at potential sources. Ecology’s scientists did stuff like talk to roofers about what kind of shingles they were installing, and walk the aisles at garden stores to see which fungicides they sold. To come up with an estimate of the copper or zinc coming off those objects, they took that information and plugged it into calculations like this:

 OK, so the new study gives us a better estimate of potential sources. The science is sound, but it’s not crazy to want to turn those educated guesses into hard numbers, right?

We’re with you. Along with all of the estimates of how much zinc and copper was coming from where, our scientists also estimated how much uncertainty they had about those numbers. Based on past research, we have a pretty good idea how much copper comes out of vehicle brakes and the zinc running off galvanized guard rails. We are not quite as dialed in on how much comes from your car’s exhaust system, or runs off your deck.

The next step for our Environmental Assessment team is to take a closer look at five sources that we believe to be major contributors to copper and zinc pollution, but ones where we don’t have a lot of real-world monitoring data. Those five sources are:
  • Siding
  • Chain link fencing
  • Roofing
  • Gutters
  • Streetlights
Our scientists will sample the runoff coming from those potential sources and test it to see how much copper and zinc is in there. That will give us the data needed to refine the other estimates – and eventually help to inform our recommendations about reducing the pollution from those sources.

Save the world – start at home

If you own a home in the Puget Sound region, there’s no need to wait for Ecology’s next study to start making a difference in the health of our environment. And you don’t need to rip up your chain link fence (unless you want to). One good place to start is by using fewer pesticides on your lawn and in your garden. Baking soda is an environmentally friendlier alternative treatment for moss on your roof.

And, if you happen to be buying new brakes for your car, take a look at the box they come in. New brakes should have a leaf symbol on the box – the more leaves that are filled in, the less copper that is in the brakes:

Read the study

By Andrew Wineke

Thursday, October 5, 2017

Cleaning up: Over half of Everett Smelter Site residential yard cleanups done!

We’re making progress cleaning up contamination left behind by the Asarco smelter in northeast Everett.

The smelter operated more than 100 years ago, but contamination discovered in 1990 may affect 170 acres with 720 properties. We’ve been working for several years with residential property owners to sample and clean up their yards as needed.

Cleanup is complete or not needed for 378 of those homes. We have now finished sampling soil for lead and arsenic on all the properties that requested it.  If you still wish to have your property sampled, call our hotline at 425-446-1024.

Construction for the 2017 cleanup group is under way!

Our contractor is getting ready to replace contaminated soil with clean soil in 11 more yards, most on the block between Pine, Maple, Ninth and Tenth streets.

You may notice crews surveying and conducting site assessments on many of the cleanup group properties. In addition, next week, the contractor will begin putting up fences, mobilizing equipment and begin preparation for digging work on the properties in yellow below.

To help keep safe, please remember to:

  • Look out for heavy truck traffic in the area.
  • Keep pets safe by keeping them on a leash near active cleanup areas.
  • Pay attention to “no parking signs” and avoid being towed. Move your car before 7 a.m. You can return it after 5 p.m.

Lowlands cleanup postponed

Debris from the smelter facility lies under East Marine View Drive, just south of North Broadway. We’re coordinating with the city of Everett for a cleanup project in the intersection where the North Broadway northbound off-ramp and Riverside Road intersect with East Marine View Drive.

This project is part of the state’s capital budget, for which adoption is pending. We’ll work with the city to schedule and announce the work when funding is available.

We’re also planning a new groundwater study to aid in planning further cleanup work in the Lowlands.

Thank you, Everett!

We know cleanup, like other construction, can disrupt a community’s routine. We greatly appreciate the cooperation and patience of northeast Everett residents, drivers, and businesses as we pursue cleanup of the smelter site.

As always, our website provides updates on our cleanup work, plus a wealth of information about the history of the site and the former smelter.

Sandra Matthews, Project Manager

Wednesday, October 4, 2017

Boots on the Ground:

Staying mentally healthy during disaster deployment

Twenty-four Washington Conservation Corps (WCC) AmeriCorps members just finished up a 30-day deployment to Texas assisting communities affected by Hurricane Harvey. We served alongside numerous other programs including the Texas Conservation Corps at American YouthWorks, Conservation Corps Minnesota and Iowa, AmeriCorps' Corporation for National and Community Service, and American Red Cross.

This week, we will send 12 WCC staff and AmeriCorps members to both Puerto Rico and U.S. Virgin Islands to help with the response to Hurricane Maria. Six more AmeriCorps members and staff are heading to Florida to assist communities affected by Hurricane Irma, and a new wave of 30 AmeriCorps members and staff will head for a second 30-day deployment to Texas.

AmeriCorps Disaster Response Teams capacity expands

It's amazing how fast 24 hours can go by. When you’re serving on an AmeriCorps Disaster Response Team assignment, so much happens in 24 hours it feels like an entire week. It’s hard to believe that our WCC disaster response team members arrived in Austin just three weeks ago.

We have been serving 13-hour days, seven days a week, to maintain and support the overwhelming amount of donations and volunteers. If you were to ask anyone on the WCC response team how long they’ve been deployed to Texas, they might reply, “between 45 to 60 years.” That’s how long three weeks can feel during an emergency response.

A little more than a week ago, 38 Texas Conservation Corps (TxCC) and 52 Minnesota and Iowa Conservation Corps (CCMI) members arrived in Austin and we have been providing disaster response training and hands-on experience for the projects our new colleagues will support.

Two WCC AmeriCorps members in front of a bulletin board, one woman kneeling on the left, one woman standing.
WCC AmeriCorps members Kelly Lewis (L) and Kayla Seaforth
(R) lead the AmeriCorps Disaster Response Team planning section.

Training new teams through
 peer-to-peer dialogue

As part of the training, we engaged in an exercise that meant a lot to me when I received it as part of my WCC service. We divided the group into two sections: Those who had previous disaster response experience and those who did not.

The seasoned responders wrote down the top five things they wish they had known before embarking on a response assignment. We asked those serving on their first disaster assignment to write their top 10 questions about what it's like to serve on a disaster response team. After much deliberation and conversation, representatives from each group reported back.

Our Texas colleague Byron Zuniga kicked off the session sharing a pointer from someone with response experience: “Remember to take a token or a favorite snack from home because it truly cannot be expressed how comforting a little bit of home can be when you're away for this long.”

As things got rolling, the dialogue opened up, turning into a conversation that helped those with any jitters about heading out to be deployed. The questions reminded more seasoned responders how much advice they had to offer.

AmeriCorps members sit in tables in a large auditorium, listening to a training presentation.
WCC AmeriCorps members train with other A-DRT programs
to prepare for upcoming projects across Texas.

Taking time to focus
on mental health and self-care

I think everyone in the group soon realized they would be able to make it through a deployment alongside their friends and fellow AmeriCorps members. We also discussed a few light-hearted issues like ways to spend our down time such as reading books, learning new card games, and engaging in general relaxation activities.

Some of the questions were more serious – such as the best strategies to help people feeling overwhelmed by the disaster and sympathetic stress. That answer wasn't so cut and dried. We discussed taking time to get in touch with loved ones at home, talking with a close member of your crew, or asking for a day off to help with mental health. The atmosphere in the room was one of genuine kinship. The knowledge that everyone there really wanted to help felt supportive and encouraging.

Focused trainings worthwhile across programs

All too often in times of distress, mental health is pushed to the side. However, talking about these issues is one of the healthiest, most important things we can do to help people lower their emotional and physical stress during a disaster. Some of the things that happen during a disaster may not hit a responder until days or even weeks after they’re home and away from the incident.

Providing space for those feelings and talking with people with similar experiences helps responders process the experience. It was extremely reassuring to be in a room full of people telling everyone these feelings are normal and OK.

The issues surrounding mental health during and after a disaster was a critical part of my second- year disaster training as a WCC AmeriCorps member. I was excited to bring some of the same curriculum to a larger audience.

At the end of our training session in Texas, we handed out feedback sheets. Among the questions: “What was your favorite part of disaster training?” I was thrilled to see that overwhelmingly, people said the group discussion about what to expect and how to take care of yourself during and after a disaster response deployment was one of their top sessions.

Trained, geared up, and ready to assist communities in need

A group of AmeriCorps members are wearing white Tyvek suits and yellow hard hats to protect themselves before they enter a home for debris removal.
WCC AmeriCorps members utilize safety gear when entering homes for debris removal and other projects. Photos by Rob Crawford, Alex Wunder and Dillon Benitez.

CCMI is headed to Houston to begin home assessments and gutting projects while TxCC is off to Corpus Christi to do the same. I was honored to provide training for my colleagues in these amazing programs. I wish them all the best as they head out to their assignments, armed with a little more information and ability to better serve affected communities of Texas and themselves.

By Alex Wunder, WCC AmeriCorps Disaster Response Team public information officer

Join the WCC

Do you want to help the environment, meet great people and make a difference in your community? Recruitment for six-month WCC AmeriCorps positions will open in February 2018! Lean more and apply online today. See photos of the types of projects WCC members support during their service in our WCC projects Flickr set and WCC featured projects story map.

Learn more about serving as a WCC AmeriCorps member:

Tuesday, October 3, 2017

Shaping Washington’s plan for the $112.7 million to reduce air pollution from transportation

Washington is poised to receive $112.7 million from Volkswagen to reduce air pollution. That’s good news because Washington's largest source of air pollution comes from transportation. 

Before any spending can take place, we need to draft a plan on how to use the funds. That’s what Ecology and our partner state agencies have been working on along with the public.

If you’re not familiar, Volkswagen violated the Clean Air Act by manufacturing diesel vehicles with software that cheated emissions tests by only turning on the vehicle’s emission control systems when the car was being tested. EPA uncovered the fraudulent act and the company known for fun-loving and environmentally-friendly cars was penalized.

Volkswagen entered into multiple settlement agreements with the EPA that affect all 50 states, Puerto Rico, the District of Columbia, and tribes. As a result of the agreements, the automaker must:

  • Provide consumer relief to owners of vehicles that failed to meet federal emissions standards.
  • Invest in and develop zero emission vehicle (ZEV) infrastructure. 
  • Deposit $3 billion into a mitigation trust for states and tribes to offset excess nitrogen oxide emissions from the vehicles. 
On March 15, 2017, Wilmington Trust was appointed by the court as trustee to oversee the funds.

Funds to reduce air pollution

Out of the $3 billion Volkswagen must pay to states and tribes, Washington is eligible to receive $112.7 million. That amount was based on the number of affected vehicles registered in the state and can be used to reduce air pollution from transportation.

Percentage of affected vehicles in Washington counties.

In order to receive the money, Washington must do two things. First we must submit beneficiary certification documents and secondly, submit a mitigation plan that explains how the $112.7 will be spent.

Requirements for spending the money

The court issued a consent decree which specifies how the money can be spent. Funds can be used to:
  1. Reduce diesel pollution by replacing or repowering vehicles and equipment with new diesel engines, alternative-fueled engines (compressed natural gas, propane, or hybrid), or all-electric engines.
  2. Replace specific types of vehicles and equipment:
  •  Airport ground support equipment.
  • Class 8 local freight trucks and port drayage trucks.
  • Class 4-8 school/shuttle/transit buses.
  • Class 4-7 local trucks.
  • Ferries and tugboats.
  • Forklifts and cargo handling equipment at ports.
  • Freight switcher locomotives.
  • Light duty zero emission vehicle supply equipment (limited to 15% of funds).
  • Matching funds for projects eligible under the Diesel Emission Reduction Act (DERA).
  • Shorepower for ocean going vessels.
States must also consider how to fund projects based on the benefits of reducing nitrogen oxides emissions in communities that have been disproportionately affected by them. 

Nitrogen oxides emissions and your health

Nitrogen oxides contribute to harmful pollutants like nitrogen dioxide, ground-level ozone, and fine particulate matter. Exposure to these pollutants has been linked with a range of health effects that can be serious enough to send people to the hospital. These pollutants can cause or contribute to health problems like:
  • Headaches
  • Premature death in people with heart or lung disease.
  • Heart attacks.
  • Irregular heartbeat.
  • Aggravated asthma symptoms.
  • Decreased lung function.
  • Irritation of the eyes and airways causing coughing or difficulty breathing.
  • Respiratory infections.
  • Cancer.
  • Increased health care costs.
People at most risk are children, pregnant women, the elderly, and those with cardiovascular or respiratory disease. Health effect research shows that death rates in several U.S. cities increased when there were higher levels of particulate matter in the air. 

Nitrogen oxides emissions in Washington

The map below includes estimated nitrogen oxides emissions from on-road vehicles (e.g. cars, trucks, semi-trucks, etc.), non-road vehicles/equipment (e.g. for construction, agriculture, airports, etc.), marine vessels and pleasure craft, fuel use by various industries, and railroad equipment.

Drafting Washington’s plan

Ecology is working with the Departments of Transportation, Commerce, and Health as well as holding webinars, surveys, and stakeholder meetings to gather input from the public, local governments, businesses, and environmental interest groups. Recordings and results of these outreach activities, as well as additional details on the federal settlement, are all hosted on Ecology’s website.

Our most recent survey asked people which of the permitted categories were most important to them. The results of that survey, shown below, are helping us draft our mitigation plan. The plan is expected to be released for public comment before the end of 2017. 

Ecology is dedicated to keeping you informed as the settlement progresses.

Sign up for our listserv to receive important updates, notices of stakeholder meetings and webinars via email.

By Kim Allen | Air Quality