Mayor-elect Mike McGinn’s “open-source” transition encourages the public to tell him their top ideas for Seattle, and so far two ideas have shot to the top, garnering the most votes on his web site: “Expand as much light rail and subway as possible” stands far and above at No. 1. Lagging behind at No. 2, “legalize marijuana and tax it.”
McGinn is in favor of both. Speaking on the public radio station KUOW today, he said that within two years, his administration will put together a proposal for expanding light rail to present to voters. And he said he supports a state bill to legalize pot for people over age 21. House bill 2401 was pre-filed last week by six House Democrats: Mary Lou Dickerson and Scott White of Seattle, Roger Goodman of Kirkland, David Upthegrove of Des Moines, Mary Helen Roberts of Lynnwood, and Sherry Appleton of Poulsbo.
”I think the public sees that it’s just not a sensible set of laws,” McGinn said of current pot laws. Marijuana should be “regulated,” not considered criminal activity.
“I actually took this position during the campaign and nobody noticed,” he added.
The Stranger’s online Electionland section four months ago asked McGinn during the primary: “Do you favor the Legalization and Taxation of cannabis?”
Today, he stood by his reply to that query:
Yes. If every politician who ever smoked pot supported this it would happen in a heartbeat.
I would support efforts at the state and federal level to decriminalize marijuana.
What are the odds the state pot bill will pass? “If only they wanted to tax it enough to solve the budget shortfall, it might have a chance,” opined Peter Callaghan of The News Tribune.
Light rail, marijuana and Pioneer Square revitalization so far round out the top three ideas for Seattle in McGinn’s open-source online poll. That’s followed by making Seattle the first carbon-neutral US city and providing clothing-optional beaches.
McGinn said on KUOW that he heard different concerns in his town-hall-style meetings — jobs and issues around youth and families emerged as key issues of citizens. He continues to encourage the public to provide him their ideas for Seattle.
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You may recall reading that sewage may be the reason the bodies of some male English sole in Elliott Bay contain a protein normally produced by female fish to help egg yolks develop. And scientists guess that may be caused by hormones in women’s urine or birth control pills. With that as a backdrop, now comes this news:
An estimated 10 million gallons of raw sewage (a.k.a. “untreated wastewater”) was discharged through an emergency outfall about 500 feet off of West Point spit into Elliott Bay for nearly three hours before treatment plant operators were able to stop it about 1 a.m., the county reports on its web site.
“This situation is unacceptable,” Christie True, director of King County’s Wastewater Treatment Division, said in the prepared statement. “Finding out why it occurred is the first step toward taking corrective measures so we can prevent it from happening again.”
Spokesperson Annie Kolb-Nelson told PostGlobe: “We don’t really know why it did that.”
”The question is why did the mechanical failure occur. We’re still looking.”
The beach area where the outfall is located on West Point spit has been posted as closed to swimming, Kolb-Nelson says.
“We don’t want people swimming or wading or having contact with the water…It is a public health concern,” Kolb-Nelson says. “Don’t take your dog romping out on the Sound. Don’t go wading,” even though “we live in the Northwest and people do use the water year-round.”
The county’s environmental lab staff is sampling the water for bacterial counts.
No cleanup is planned.
“We didn’t see any visible material, so there was nothing to clean up. That would usually be paper products, hygiene products, things people flush down the toilet,” Kolb-Nelson says. “It’s really just a matter of the environment cleansing itself, and it will take some time do that, for the bacterial counts to return to normal.”
A bit more from the county’s press release:
The overflow began as employees prepared the plant for high flows during last night’s rainfall. Standard operating procedures during wet weather entail readying an emergency bypass gate that can open automatically to prevent flooding inside the plant that could harm workers and damage equipment. Instead of being put on standby, the bypass gate was activated, resulting in the overflow. The cause of the gate failure is under investigation.
To protect public health and safety, the county posted the beach as closed, took water quality samples, and told health and regulatory agencies about the overflow.
Employees from the county’s environmental lab will monitor water quality in the area for the next several days.
The West Point Treatment Plant came online in 1966 and treats an average of 130 million gallons of wastewater a day for Seattle and several other cities and sewer districts in north and central King County. The plant can treat up to 440 million gallons of stormwater and wastewater during heavy rains.
Two guys walk into a bar. Instead of ending with a punch line, they commiserate with each other over cold beers as they discuss the fresh St. Patrick’s Day death of the print edition of the Seattle Post-Intelligencer. That’s where one of the two guys, Tom Paulson, spent years asking pesky questions covering science and where many of his colleagues suddenly saw their journalism careers end with a crushing finality. That real-life beer-sodden chat with playwright Paul Mullin inspired an idea.
The result is a current play – “It’s NOT in the P-I: A Living Newspaper about a Dying Newspaper.” Since its Nov. 6 opening, it has performed to sold-out audiences on weekends. It closes Sunday.
The PostGlobe today caught up with Mullin, who, with longtime co-collaborator Dawson Nichols, recruited several local playwrights to write what is akin to various dramatic, humorous skits. To do it, the playwrights went out to interview reporters, editors, at least one janitorial worker and some folks at nearby businesses affected by the P-I’s closure. In this way, they collected “articles” for a “living newspaper,” which the producers say is a theatrical form used around the US by the Federal Theater Project in the 1930s.
Lots of people at the Saturday performance we attended clearly seemed to enjoy the result, even if a couple P-I folks themselves publicly took at least some issue with the play in their blogs, most notably former art critic Regina Hackett and to a lesser degree cartoonist David Horsey. Much of the Saturday audience stayed around afterward and seemed to listen intently to a specially arranged panel discussion exploring the future of news reporting in the Pacific Northwest in the wake of the city’s feisty newspaper. Laughter erupted at a quip by panelist Mike Lewis, former P-I columnist and current co-owner of The Streamline tavern in Queen Anne, who said:
“A lot of people mourn the passing of the P-I — even some who read it.”
But we digress. Highlights from our Q&A with Mullin:
Q. What surprised you about the audience reaction?
Mullin: Honestly, I thought we’d pique people’s interest and really hoped for such a huge response, but one can hope and still not reasonably expect something. I think that’s where I was: reasonably not expecting much. Thus, I’m delighted that it seems to have such broad appeal. I think the P-I is missed more than even the biggest fans of the paper imagined.
I’d say 75 percent of the journalists– reporters and editors– that came accepted the piece in the spirit it was offered. A quick, perhaps even sloppy attempt at telling a patchwork of the stories that made the P-I special and its closing as a print entity a loss. Stories I would hasten to point out that no one else was telling publicly. Perhaps I was surprised at the thin skin and arrogance of that other 25 percent. There was a sense among some of them that show people had no standing to tell these stories. That we aren’t journalists and how dare we employ their pain for the sake of our show. My response to this is: we are not journalists. We have no standing to tell any stories or we have standing to tell them all. We’re show people. Our stock and trade is other people’s pain. Ideally, when we deal with it we do so in a way that helps compassionately share it around to everyone in the audience. But bottom line: pain is our business. Frankly I’m a little surprised that journalists are surprised by this. Wasn’t it you guys that invented the adage: “If it bleeds it leads?”
I guess I’m also a bit surprised that the “Big House” Theaters in Seattle didn’t recognize this piece for what it is: an amazing chance to expand their audience share. But then, after 17 years as a playwright in Seattle, I suppose it’s really shame on me for not recognizing that the Big Houses are nearly deaf, dumb and blind when it comes to recognizing new opportunities. If you think the newspaper paradigm is sick, you should check out the regional theatre model.
Q. What surprised you, if anything, about the audience reaction to the media panels?
Mullin: Both the amazingly warm regard that so many people had for the P-I and for newspapers in general, and conversely the glibness with which some people greet this HUGE paradigm shift in news coverage.
Q. I wonder why only two reporters’ actual names were used in the play. I suppose it’s to protect identity. But I particularly wonder in the case of the business reporter (presumably Dan Richman), who came off looking like a white knight? [As the play portrayed it, he badgered fellow reporters to tell him whether they were offered jobs to work at the online-only P-I, only to be rebuffed with many “no comments.” In real life, Richman’s survey resulted in this story.]
Mullin: Alas, there was really no thought behind that decision. We basically staged the plays that playwrights turned in. Some used actual names, some didn’t based on their own determinations. Remember: We’re show people — we don’t subscribe to or even know all the protocols of journalistic attribution. That said, going forward we will look into putting a little bit more rigor around those decisions. We are definitely learning as we go.
Q. You eloquently spoke at the Saturday media panel on many points — for example, how the P-I at one time had a Beijing bureau; now the paper’s gone, and today’s bloggers don’t have a London bureau. Also, theater folks for a long time have “worked for nothing but love,” so journalists’ current plight is nothing novel, basically. Would you like to make these points again for the general public?
Mullin: I think a lot of people miss the fundamental point that newspapers at the P-I’s level, or the Baltimore Sun, or what have you, are, or were, institutions that brought huge institutional power to bear on the business of gathering news. That meant resources: boots on the ground in foreign bureaus, coteries of lawyers to protect reporters from intimidation. Those are not resources that can be duplicated by an army of individual actors, no matter how large. It’s the difference between the trillions of cells that make up one human being, and say, a trillion amoebas floating in the sea. As much as anyone might justifiably suspect the corporate model, complexity naturally has its advantages.
Q. Have all performances been sold out? Are the remaining three already sold out? What’s the theater capacity?
Mullin: Tickets are very much still available for the last remaining three shows. The theater holds 140 seats. We make 100 of those seats available for advance sale, so in theory, there always 40 seats available on a “pay what you will” basis at the box office the day of the show.
Q. How soon could the play return?
Mullin: The short answer is: soon! One of the first principles of this piece is quick turn around, in order to treat the stories as news and not history. The longer answer is: we’re not quite sure. We need to do some strategy brainstorming to decide the best way to proceed. Whether to revise and reissue this “edition” or go on to cover a whole new subject in a new “edition”.
“It’s NOT In the P-I”
When: 7:30 p.m. Friday, Saturday; 2 p.m. Sunday. Show closes Sunday.
Where: North Seattle Community College “Stage One Theater,” 9600 College Way North, Seattle. It’s in the ground floor of the Library.
More info about the play: See this story from The Stranger
Cost: Free. A suggested donation of $10 is requested by producers to help finance future productions by NewsWrights United. Advance reservations can be made for a $10 donation at Brown Paper Tickets. Show up early, even if you have tickets. (Seats can fill up quickly, and you may risk being turned away.)
WHERE ARE P-I FOLKS NOW?
So where did the more than 100 staffers of the print edition of the P-I go?
Former P-I food editor Rebekah Denn helps answer that question by providing links to some colleagues’ web sites or blogs here. (Some links are outdated, as some people have gone on to other things.)
Former investigative reporter Ruth Teichroeb recently surveyed former staffers about what they’re doing now. See her results here.
Death of a Newspaper Draws a Big Crowd (by P-I cartoonist David Horsey)
Former P-I art critic Regina Hackett takes issue with the play in her review
The Dying Theater Industry Stages a Play about the Dying Newspaper Industry (by Brendan Kiley of The Stranger)
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Pregnant and looking forward to motherhood, Kim Radtke walked the three-mile-long trail around Green Lake twice a week. She swam. She stretched in prenatal yoga class. She munched mostly organic foods – for years. Aware of chemicals in everyday products, she refused such things as ordinary scented lotions and deodorants. Trained as a midwife, she made a career of helping babies get a good start in life and she wanted the same for her unborn son.
So when Radtke took part in a new study – released today – that tested levels of chemicals in pregnant women, she was dismayed to learn she rated worst among nine West Coast women tested for a particular class of chemicals: perfluorinated compounds (PFCs**). They’re used to make Teflon pans, clothing, furniture, and food packaging such as pizza boxes and fast-food containers.
In all, 11 nasty chemicals from everyday products and foods were detected in Radtke’s blood, meaning such substances also passed through her umbilical cord to her unborn child. And now that nearly three-week-old Karson has arrived, with every nutrition-filled breastfeeding, he sucks in chemicals.
“That really kills me as a mom,” says Radtke in an interview. “I took the best care I could possible, yet this was beyond my control.”
“We all kind of live in a toxic dump that we have very little control over, and that’s really sad.”
Even more chemicals were detected in Connie Galambos Malloy of Oakland, Calif., who told study authors: “This study shows that my body has been invaded by toxins from all angles despite my efforts to the contrary.”
The research project by Washington Toxics Coalition staff scientist Erika Shreder in conjunction with other groups is aimed at spurring state legislators in Washington to further rein in chemicals, and prod changes at the national level. That happened before with the Children’s Safe Products Act, which, among other things, bans lead, cadmium and plasticizers called phthalates in toys and other children’s products.
Shreder calls the newly released study the first of its kind of pregnant women. While the U.S. Centers for Disease Control continues to undergo chemical sampling of people for a larger, long-range study, it doesn’t look at a particular demographic – such as pregnant women – and it doesn’t reveal names and faces of participants. “We have all of those things,” says Shreder.
“It’s alarming that these chemicals are present in pregnant women,” Shreder says. “The environment that most needs to be safe – the womb – is not free of toxic pollution.”
Blood and urine samples were taken from nine women to test for 23 chemicals from five chemical groups. Every woman tested was found to have been exposed to bisphenol A, found in such things as the lining of food cans. Each woman had two to four so-called “Teflon chemicals” (PFCs**). All had detectable levels of mercury, a chemical found in long-lived fish like tuna that is known to harm brain development. And every woman was exposed to at least four “phthalates” (pronounced THAL-ates). That’s a class of chemicals that includes plasticizers and fragrance carriers which is found in ordinary items such as vinyl shower curtains and scented shampoos. In all, researchers found 13 of the 23 chemicals they tested for in the study participants.
“These chemicals can cause reproductive problems and cancer, disrupt hormonal systems such as the thyroid, and can impair brain development,” the study states. It argues that “the developing fetus is exquisitely vulnerable to the effects of toxic chemicals,” as it possesses “only a small proportion of the adult’s ability to detoxify foreign chemicals” while it “develops at a breakneck pace in the womb.”
State Rep. Mary Lou Dickerson, D-Seattle, says she will push for passage of the Safe Baby Bottle Act, which she introduced last year. It passed the House, but not Senate. It would prohibit Bisphenol A in baby bottles, children’s food containers and sports water bottles. The bill doesn’t extend to the Bisphenol A in the linings of canned foods.
“I’m concentrating on babies and developing fetuses because they are the most at risk,” Dickerson said in an interview. The chemical “mimics estrogen. So it can wreak havoc with the endocrine systems of little boys and little girls.”
Chemical manufacturers consistently have maintained that they try to minimize risks. The American Chemistry Council’s web site, which features a photo of a diaper-clad baby in a hospital and another of a young girl on her bicycle, argues that the “chemical industry recognizes that environmental health issues represent a legitimate concern, especially for parents. We also recognize our responsibility to help preserve a healthy environment, not only for our own children, but also for future generations.”
However, the web site says risks must be put into context and suggests that risks from chemicals are not as serious as those from “accidents, violence, alcohol, drug abuse, tobacco, poverty, nutrition, sexually transmitted diseases, teenage pregnancy, child abuse…to name only a few.” The web site adds: “Chemical manufacturers go to great lengths to assure that their products are safe for their intended uses.”
Amy Ellings of Olympia, however, bought new shampoos and soaps without the words “fragrance” or “parfum” on their labels after she participated in the Washington Toxics study and learned it detected in her body 12 tested chemicals. They included by far the study’s highest reading of a particular phthalate, so she got rid of her vinyl shower curtain.
“I feel frustration that there hasn’t been enough studies done to show exactly what happens with these chemicals,” Ellings, a dietician, said in an interview. Even though some studies do show problems, she’s frustrated that companies aren’t forced to list on labels all chemicals contained in their products. “Nobody’s doing anything about it,” Ellings said. “I think companies have to at least label… I feel that’s the government’s role, is to protect the health of our nation.”
Molly Gray, a midwife and naturopathic physician in Seattle found to have 13 tested chemicals in her body, told researchers: “I do my best to live organic and chemical-free. Apparently local/organic food only, toxin-free cleaners, off-gassed mattress, low/no VOC paint, and filtered water isn’t enough. The answer I received from this study is that the fight is too big for just one person.”
Radtke, the Green Lake walker and a breastfeeding advocate, agrees.
“It’s sad for me as a new mom,” Radtke said in an interview. “I sit there and I nurse my baby and I know this is the BEST thing I can give my child. And I know the longer I breastfeed my child, the healthier he will be, and I’m totally dedicated to that. But I also realize I’m saddened at the same time, because I’m off-loading some of my body burden [of chemicals] onto him. And that’s not fair. He didn’t ask for that. That’s what makes me really angry…
“Moms should be angry about this because we’re passing this on to our children and there’s nothing we can do about it, and that’s infuriating.”
**CORRECTION: The original version of this story used the wrong acronym for perfluorinated compounds. The correct acronym is PFCs, not PFOS.
WHERE TO TURN
Want to avoid phthalates or other chemicals at home? Consult these resources:
* Skin Deep www.cosmeticsdatabase.com
* Campaign for Safe Cosmetics: www.safecosmetics.org
* Washington Toxics Coalition www.watoxics.org
* Plastics Ingredients Could Make a Boy’s Play Less Masculine (by Science News)
* Mercury Found in Blood of One-Third of American Women (by Environment News Service; SEJ)
* A Glut of Mercury Raises Fears (by Washington Post)
* FDA Knew about Mercury in Corn Syrup — and Kept Silent (by Chicago Tribune; SEJ Tipsheet)
* BPA May Affect Sexual Function in Adult Men, Study Finds (by ConsumerReports Health Blog)
* Puget Sound: Down the Drain? When you wash clothes, you pollute (by Seattlepostglobe)
The PostGlobe relies on your donations. Please support this writer’s work by going to our donate page and let us know where you’d like your donation to go.
Sixty-eight percent of bridges in King County are “fully functional,” meaning 32 percent aren’t. But that’s OK, according to the county’s newly released scorecard that rates itself in various areas, because it meets the county’s target.
Find roads bumpy? Pavement isn’t in satisfactory condition on 15 percent of county roads, the scorecard finds. That’s better than expected, though. The county’s target was 80 percent of roads in satisfactory condition. It reached 85 percent.
The scorecard aims to answer the question: How effective are county services? It compares actual performance for 19 programs with targets set by county management, according to a King County press release. The measures were included based on feedback from a group of county residents.
So how does the county fare, according to the scorecard? Examples:
* Buses show up and depart when they’re supposed to 76 percent of the time. You might assume the target is 100 percent, but nope. Actually the target is 80 percent. So the county fell a little short of its goal.
* Nine percent of criminal cases aren’t resolved within established timeframes (though 91 percent are). That means the county isn’t meeting its goal of 100 percent of criminal cases being resolved within nine months.
* Eight percent of 911 calls aren’t answered within the national standard of 10 seconds. But 92 percent are, which slightly surpasses the county target.
”I am proud of our effort to show areas where we are doing well and areas that need further improvement,” County Executive Kurt Triplett said in a news release. “This information gives us objective, quantifiable standards and shows whether we’re meeting them or not, which helps us better manage county programs and resources, and be more transparent and accountable to taxpayers.”
Find the county’s performance scorecard, growth report and benchmark program — all new tools for tracking whether county programs are operating effectively and meeting performance management targets — at www.kingcounty.gov/accountable.
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Puget Sound is our region’s greatest natural gem. However, despite what most citizens assume based on its surface appearance, the Sound is in serious trouble. The city must adopt an outcome-based strategy that limits sewer overflow and the discharge of heavy metals from vehicles. We need to bring Seattle Public Utilities (SPU) street-sweeping pilot project to scale to reduce non-point source pollution. We also must work in concert with SPU to reduce impervious runoff through the use of green roofs and natural-drainage swales. Over the long-term, Seattle must enhance its infrastructure to manage the city’s maxed-out sewer-overflow basins.
“The impact of street runoff is well documented, carrying thousands of tons of pollutants into Puget Sound each year. Over the past decade, the City of Seattle has been a leader in pioneering low impact development practices, but we need to move these techniques beyond the pilot stage if we are serious about protecting the Sound. Investing in these facilities will not only provide good paying construction and trades jobs, but will also lower our long-term infrastructure costs.”
* Require low impact development techniques for all new right-of-way construction.
* Develop a public-private partnership program to build out porous pavement sidewalks and raingardens to fulfill the city’s promise to bring sidewalks to all neighborhoods.
* Allow buildings with green roofs a reduction in stormwater utility rates.
Yes, say Erika Schreder, a scientist at nonprofit Washington Toxics Coalition, which recently released a study suggesting that everyone pollutes the Sound when they wash clothes. (She and other environmentalists stressed their organizations’ nonprofit statuses forbid them to endorse candidates.)
“It’s great to see both candidates focusing on stormwater—Puget Sound’s No. 1 problem, and an issue where city government can have a huge impact,” says Kathy Fletcher, founder and executive director of People for Puget Sound.
“It is increasingly obvious that if we are serious about saving the Sound, that our urban areas will have to change, and change quickly,” Fletcher says. “Saving rural watersheds and restoring estuaries and shorelines will not bring salmon and orcas back unless we also retrofit our cities to coexist sustainably with the Sound. It’s nice to see both candidates’ literacy about ‘impervious surfaces,’ and that they both are aware of low-impact building strategies like green roofs. I also like their sense that now is the time to move beyond pilot projects to large-scale solutions.”
The positions also seem to promise some of the tough solutions desired in the fiery blog-post complaint of Mike Sato, spokesman for People for Puget Sound, who was dismayed by the recent launch of a Puget Sound Starts Here ad campaign that focused on four simpler acts — like getting the public to scoop dog poop.
After reading Mallahan’s and McGinn’s brief positions, Sato responded that “both have their heads in the right direction on stormwater and runoff pollution control— it will take infrastructure changes to reduce the flow of pollutants to streams, rivers and the Sound and it will take reducing the amount of impervious surfaces to allow water to percolate into the ground and not run off. These are the real and hard measures that have to be done. Seattle can take a true leadership position in Puget Sound and the nation with the right leadership on this and other environmental issues.”
Now, readers, what environmental questions do you have for the mayoral candidates? Let us know and we’ll see if we can get answers.
A new study thought to be the first of its kind suggests that we’re all walking dust bunnies whose clothes collect toxic-chemical-laden dust and, what’s worse, pollute: Every time we do a load of laundry, some of those toxins eventually wash into Puget Sound.
Dust that hitchhikes on our clothes may constitute a significant source of water pollution, according to the study released Tuesday by two nonprofit groups, Washington Toxics Coalition and People for Puget Sound.
Indeed, 17 percent of a certain class of chemicals entering treatment plants comes from washing machines, the study extrapolated, based on tests of six area homes. The homes tested included those of the Duwamish Tribe’s Longhouse director James Rasmussen in Seattle and college student Tracey Stalaci in Tumwater. Samples of her washing-machine rinse water and floor dust were found to have the study’s highest levels of phthalates (pronounced THAL-ates) — a chemical that sloughs off or out-gasses from countless household items such as shower curtains and her big kitchen’s vinyl floor.
“I was a little shocked,” Stalaci says. “I mean, I don’t know a ton about phthalates…I didn’t realize they were everywhere. They gave me a list of where you can find phthalates,” including
cosmetics, deodorant, cleaners,
hair products, certain toys. “I had no idea.”
The study comes on the heels of a state report that tried to say Elliott Bay and other urban bays of Puget Sound are getting cleaned up – while in fact, if you read carefully, it turns out that one-third of the total study area remains “chemically contaminated,” meaning the pollution levels are so high they don’t meet the state’s Sediment Quality Standards. One of the most common culprits was the same particular phthalate, nicknamed DEHP, fingered in the dirty-laundry study.
“If we want to clean up Puget Sound, we need to address the toxic chemicals that are in the products that we are bringing into our homes,” said the laundry study’s lead author, Erika Schreder, staff scientist at the Washington Toxics Coalition. “Until we get the toxics out of products, there will continue to be a steady stream of pollution into Puget Sound.”
Hundreds of millions of dollars are being spent to clean up polluted sediments in Puget Sound, yet phthalates and some similar chemicals will continue to flow into the waterway and contaminate the cleanup sites unless Gov. Gregoire’s Puget Sound Partnership and other state agencies take action to phase out the chemicals, points out Heather Trim, toxics program manager for People for Puget Sound and co-author of the study entitled, “Puget Sound: Down the Drain?”
The study also calls for four other changes, including labeling products that contain phthalates, which is currently not required. It also calls for empowering the state Ecology Department to require safer alternatives be used in place of harmful chemicals in consumer products – a power the state legislature can grant.
“We need to STOP this,” Trim said of phthalate pollution.
Phthalates have been found in studies to adversely affect the male reproductive system in animals. In Puget Sound, Trim says, “We’re seeing the impacts in the little critters that are at the bottom of the food web. We’re seeing a big loss of those animals.”
The study released Monday was admittedly small – based on just six homes. Each family used a phthalate-free laundry detergent, Seventh Generation, for one or two weeks before testing. Then each family prepared a load of laundry of clothing worn around the house as much as possible. Clothes then were washed with liquid Tide (it contains phthalates) and one liter of rinse water was tested. Each family was asked not to vacuum for a least one week before testing.
Homes found to have more phthalates from vinyl flooring and other vinyl products in their house dust were also found to have more phthalates in the laundry rinse water. But when it came to a different type of phthalates (DEP) used in fragrances in products such as deodorant, lotions, cleaners and hair products, there was no relationship between the levels found in house dust and in rinse water.
Based on tests at the six homes, the study extrapolated that washing dirty laundry sends 2,110 pounds of phthalates to sewage treatment plants around Puget Sound each year. The study authors hope it proved a point: It showed an easily overlooked way for how chemicals in the home can go on to reach Puget Sound many miles away.
Scientist Tracy Collier’s farmhouse in Bainbridge Island was tested. He’s a government employee but spoke as a citizen with a background in environmental toxicology, saying he wasn’t surprised to learn phthalates are in rinse water: “But it’s very valuable to demonstrate that — for people to see that it’s actually happening in houses of people around Puget Sound.”
“This is indeed a concern,” Jeff Stern, lead sediment program manager for King County government, said in response to the laundry study. “The problem is because it’s in everything,” he said of phthalates. “It’s going to be pretty hard to get THAT chemical out of the things we use.”
Even if there were an outright ban of phthalates starting today, Stern said, it would probably be 50 years before all of the plastics we have in homes stop off-gassing and sloughing off dust particles. That means we face at least 50 more years of airborne chemicals clinging to clothing and eventually making it into the Sound.
Schreder, however, found hope in her call for the state to take action to phase out the phthalates.
“I would say it’s a complicated problem with a relatively simple solution,” Schreder said.
WHERE TO TURN
What should you do if you want to minimize phthalates around your house and the floors, where crawling babies and lounging pets get proportionately larger exposure? Vacuum frequently.
To avoid phthalates or other chemicals at home, consult these resources:
· Skin Deep www. cosmeticsdatabase.com/
· Campaign for Safe Cosmetics: www.safecosmetics.org
· Washington Toxics Coalition www.watoxics.org/
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Last week we told you about the role between picking up dog poop and saving the Sound. Here’s more on the effort to keep poop from polluting Puget Sound.
For 20 years, Mike Sato has worked to save polluted Puget Sound, which despite its beauty needs as much fixing as the Florida Everglades or Chesapeake Bay. So when a new ad campaign was launched last week by a coalition of government agencies and nonprofit organizations to once and for all spur the public to do four simple things — including picking up dog droppings – it was as if someone dropped a stinking load, judging by his reaction.
It case you missed it, the Puget Sound Starts Here campaign features a poster of a dog stating, “I poop. You pick it up. Any questions?” It prods the public to do four simple things: pick up dog doo, fix oil leaks, stop using chemical fertilizers, and stop washing the car in the paved driveway (use a commercial car wash or do it on grass). As incentives, its web site provides discount coupons.
“Picking up dog shit isn’t going build that sense of urgency and public constituency to save the Sound,” Sato, spokesman for People for Puget Sound, wrote in his blog post. “Cutting out the bull shit and getting down to the hard business of funding stormwater programs and changing land-use practices will.”
He had hoped the ad campaign “would get real.” He hoped it would show “we can’t continue business as usual with pollutants poisoning the Sound and its critters every time it rains,” Sato wrote in the blog.
“I had hoped for a campaign that showed how cities, businesses and developers can reduce and eliminate storm water pollution. I had hoped to see a campaign that showed real people calling out for leaders to take real actions for the Sound.
“Puget Sound needs a hard-hitting campaign that raises public awareness about the urgency of dealing with the storm water problem and builds a public constituency that will demand we change the ways we handle the water that falls on our land before it flows off to the Sound.”
As we mentioned in our last story, the big question is whether the government will begin to require relatively simple building techniques to help absorb the extraordinarily dirty water that pours off parking lots, sidewalks, roofs, streets and other hard city surfaces.
That is the greatest future threat to Puget Sound.
“The most promising approach” to reining in stormwater pollution is so-called “low impact development,” the Seattle P-I reported, adding: “That includes ‘green roofs’ that soak up rainwater, ‘rain gardens’ that intercept water before it flows onto hard surfaces, cisterns, and porous pavement that allows rainwater to soak into the ground.” A Crosscut headline summed up the matter another way: “Restoring Puget Sound: It’s the land use, stupid!“
Dog poop… well, it’s bad. But it’s one bacteria-laden ingredient, if you will, in the swill pouring off streets and into drains.
Sato’s blog post prompted reaction from Paul Bergman, communications director for Puget Sound Partnership, which is the agency the Legislature put in charge of directing the Sound’s rescue.
“I am sorry you couldn’t find anything positive about all of the effort being put in by 300 organizations that have signed on to help move the Puget Sound Starts Here campaign,” Bergman wrote. “As we said at the event yesterday, this is only the beginning. We will be working hard to add more elements and take on the tough issues as we move forward. In this era of limited funding, we needed to get going with what we could now and will be working hard to move on all the critical issues as we get more funding.”
Reached today, Sato struck a conciliatory tone in an e-mail that stresses his organization supports the ad campaign:
“We can have differences in strategic approaches and tactics and it would have been a lot more constructive to have been included in development of the PSSH campaign and had the opportunity to ‘have one’s say,’” he wrote to the PostGlobe. “The campaign’s up and running now and we’re supportive— promoting the campaign front and center on our home page— because we want the Partnership to succeed. Succeeding entails being able to listen.”
Dog doo is killing Puget Sound, as are oil leaks, chemical fertilizers, and do-it-yourself car washes done with a garden hose in the driveway. So enough already. A coalition of more than 300 cities, counties, businesses, universities and other organizations on Wednesday launched an ad campaign called Puget Sound Starts Here, aimed once and for all to get this word out: Please, for the love of God, people. Start doing four basic things to help Puget Sound. We’re even providing discount coupons to get you on board.
The campaign doesn’t use those actual words, but it might as well.
To help ensure it captures people’s attention in dog-crazy Seattle, its poster features Rover stating the following:
”I POOP. You pick it up. Any questions?”
So, herewith are the four easy things the campaign initially asks residents to do to reduce pollution from entering the Sound. The press release reads:
1. Take cars to a commercial car wash, where wash water is properly handled. Car wash water can kill fish and be as potentially toxic as some industrial wastewater discharges.
2. Fix car leaks, or place cardboard under the car in the short term to catch leaking oil or fluids.
3. Use compost – instead of fertilizers or pesticides – to grow a healthy lawn and garden.
4. Pick up pet waste with a bag – both in the yard and in public places – and place it in the trash.
“Puget Sound is dying, and many of us don’t realize that our own actions are contributing to its decline,” said David Dicks, director of the Puget Sound Partnership, in the press release. “The Puget Sound Starts Here campaign illustrates the severity of the problem and explains how each of us can be part of the solution by changing a few everyday activities. Everyone who lives in the Puget Sound region can make a difference.”
The bigger question, of course, is whether the government will begin to require relatively simple building techniques to help absorb the extraordinarily dirty water that pours off parking lots, sidewalks, roofs, streets and other hard city surfaces.
That is the greatest future threat to Puget Sound.
But we digress. The campaign also raises amazing factoids, as in this fact sheet:
THE BAD FACTS
FACT: On an average day, it’s estimated that 140,000 pounds of toxic chemicals – including petroleum, copper, lead, zinc and polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs) – enter Puget Sound.
Source: “Control of Toxic Chemicals in Puget Sound,” Washington State Department of Ecology, Phase 2: Development of Simple Numerical Models, 2008; www.ecy.wa.gov/Programs/wq/pstoxics/index.html
FACT: About 75 percent of the toxic chemicals entering the Sound are carried by stormwater runoff that flows off of paved roads and driveways, rooftops, yards and other developed land.
Source: “Control of Toxic Chemicals in Puget Sound,” Washington State Department of Ecology, Phase 2: Development of Simple Numerical Models, 2008; www.ecy.wa.gov/Programs/wq/pstoxics/index.html
FACT: Harbor seals in Puget Sound are seven times more contaiminated with the persistent toxic chemicals known as PCBs than those living in Canad’s Strait of Georgia, which adjoins the Sound.
Source: Cullon, D. L., S. J. Jefferies, P. Ross, 2005, “Persistent organic pollutants in the diet of harbor seals (Phoca vitulina) inhabiting Puget Sound, Washington (USA), and the Strait of Georgia, British Columbia (Canada): a food basket approach,” Environmental Toxicology and Chemistry 24 (10); pp. 2562–2572
FACT: Transient and southern resident orcas are considered to be among the most PCB-contaminated mammals on the planet.
Source: P. Ross person communications, 2009; Ross P.S., G. M. Ellis, M. G. Ikonomou, L. G. Barrett-Lennard and R.F. Addison, 2000, “High PCB Concentrations in Free-Ranging Pacific Killer Whales, Orcinus orca: Effects of Age, Sex and Dietary Preference,” Marine Pollution Bulletin, Vol 40, 6: 504-515
FACT: 549 streams, rivers and lakes across the Puget Sound region are impaired by poor water quality.
Source: “Washington State’s Water Quality Assessment [303(d)],” Washington State Department of Ecology,2008; www.ecy.wa.gov/programs/wq/303d/
Nearly half the sewage treatment plants, factories and a grab-bag of other places that dumped wastewater into Washington’s waterways in recent years violated federal water pollution laws.
And yet, enforcement actions against polluters are pretty rare, according to a data-filled, groundbreaking interactive series by The New York Times.
Even though 195 out of the Evergreen State’s 435 regulated facilities violated the Clean Water Act between 2004 and 2007, few got in trouble for it, according to exhaustive data posted at NYTimes.com. For every 100 violations in the state, there were only 8.6 enforcement actions.
Example: The U.S. Navy’s Puget Sound Naval Shipyard in Bremerton “has been out of regulatory compliance 11 of the past 12 quarters.” It faced two violations for exceeding pollution limits on the water it dumps into a tributary of Puget Sound, one in 2007 and another in 2004. An interactive tool at the Times’ site allows users to click through to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency web page that shows the shipyard in the last five years was fined $4,000.
Elsewhere, Puyallup’s Sewage Treatment Plant “has been out of regulatory compliance 12 out of the past 12 quarters,” the Times reports. Fines levied: zero.
Seattle proper comes out looking pretty good. Just three violators were identified. One was Nucor Steel, west of the Duwamish River and south of the West Seattle bridge. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s website says Nucor has violated the Clean Water Act three times in the last three years. The New York Times found that Nucor had been slapped with a single violation for exceeding pollution limits during the 2004-2007 period the newspaper studied.
As for the other two Seattle violators identified by the Times:
- Shell Oil‘s Harbor Island petroleum terminal has been out of compliance with the rules seven times in the last three years, according to EPA.gov.
- The University of Washington’s Medical Center violated the Clean Water Act in 2005, the Times reported. It’s been out of compliance once in the last three years, according to EPA’s website.
Nucor, Shell and the UW all escaped fines, EPA says.
If this sounds like deja vu, there’s a reason: The Seattle P-I’s campaign to restore Puget Sound started with a 2002 series that also pointed out how many factories, sewage treatment plants and other polluters are reporting dumping of waste into waterways above Clean Water Act limits, with little fear of punishment.
But the New York Times series is amazing for its depth, interactivity, and scope nationwide, and it has generated buzz. Its main point:
Almost four decades ago, Congress passed the Clean Water Act to force polluters to disclose the toxins they dump into waterways and to give regulators the power to fine or jail offenders. States have passed pollution statutes of their own. But in recent years, violations of the Clean Water Act have risen steadily across the nation, an extensive review of water pollution records by The New York Times found.
In the last five years alone, chemical factories, manufacturing plants and other workplaces have violated water pollution laws more than half a million times. The violations range from failing to report emissions to dumping toxins at concentrations regulators say might contribute to cancer, birth defects and other illnesses.
However, the vast majority of those polluters have escaped punishment. State officials have repeatedly ignored obvious illegal dumping, and the Environmental Protection Agency, which can prosecute polluters when states fail to act, has often declined to intervene.
As environmental reporter Ken Ward of the Charleston Gazette points out in his blog , the Times provided “this nifty interactive graphic, a sidebar on how to research the safety of your own water supply, and state-by-state data and regulatory agency responses to the problems identified by the newspaper.”
Sandy Howard of Washington’s Department of Ecology wrote a nearly four-page letter in response to the Times’ request to provide or verify figures regarding the state’s enforcement of the Clean Water Act.
”Ecology has one of the nation’s strongest clean water permit programs,” she wrote. “In 2008 — of about 300 domestic wastewater facilities (both major and minor) — 91 facilities were in perfect compliance with all of their permit requirements. This represents almost one third all wastewater treatment facilities in our state.”
This is an improvement, she pointed out. Before an award program was instituted by Ecology in 1995, “only 14 treatment plants were in perfect compliance.”
It’s not easy to be perfect, she pointed out: “Small facilities typically perform at least 60 laboratory tests per month on the treated wastewater. A larger facility may perform well over 120 analyses per month. With the number of tests they perform, there is a lot of opportunity for problems.
“Because of this, we believe this high rate of compliance is a great achievement for clean water in our state.”
To find polluters in your ZIP code or city, go here.