Friday, July 22, 2016

Every Kid in a Park

In September 2015, the United States government launched the “Every Kid in a Park” program. This program provides every fourth grade student in the country (including those who are home schooled) with a pass that allows them, and any family members accompanying them, to enter national parks, national forests, national wildlife refuges, national monuments, and all other federally-owned lands – over 2000 sites in total – completely for free.

Why fourth graders? Studies show that when children are regularly exposed to the natural world before age 11, they develop a more positive and caring attitude toward the environment. With climate change and air and water pollution continuing to pose problems for residents of Thurston County and the Puget Sound region, we need our future generations of leaders and residents to be knowledgeable and passionate about protecting the environment. Children currently in the fourth grade are also part of an age group that better reflects our country’s growing diversity and changing demographics, meaning that the greatest number of children from all racial and socioeconomic backgrounds will have equal opportunity to participate. Additionally, fourth grade is often the last time children in school will be part of one-teacher classrooms, which makes it easy to plan class field trips. If you are a fourth grade teacher, find out how you can get passes for your entire class on the program website. Adults who engage fourth graders as part of religious groups, after-school organizations, or camps also qualify as educators can also print passes for their fourth graders.
The opportunity for kids to get outside and experience nature has never been more important. A study supported by the National Institutes of Health detailed the dangers of “nature deficit disorder” in young adults and how even short amounts of time spent in nature can produce significant and long-lasting health benefits. The report noted that young adults who spend time “in or near green spaces” demonstrate higher academic test scores, better self-control, and fewer behavioral problems at home and in the classroom. Here in the Evergreen State, we’re lucky to have easy access to many green spaces, but the greenest ones are most likely to be found in some of our nearby national parks.

If you don’t have any fourth graders in your family this year, don’t worry. The program will continue, with next year’s fourth graders getting the opportunity to see and experience the beautiful natural wonders of our country with their families for free. If your child completed the fourth grade this spring, they have the opportunity to use their pass until August 31, 2016. If your child is entering the fourth grade this fall, they will be able to get their fourth grade passes starting September 1, 2016.

As the program says, “No matter where you live in the U.S., you’re within two hours of an included site.” If you live in Thurston County you won’t have to travel far to take part in this program. The Billy Frank Jr. Nisqually National Wildlife Refuge is located in the northeastern corner of the county, and is about a half-hour drive from anywhere in the county. There are also several other national lands within easy driving distance. Depending on where you live in Thurston County, Black River Unit of the Nisqually refuge, Julia Butler Hansen and Ridgefield national wildlife refuges, Mount Rainier and Olympic national parks, Gifford Pinchot, Mt. Baker-Snoqualmie, Okanagan-Wenatchee or Olympic national forests, and Mount St. Helens National Volcanic Monument are all relatively close. Fourth graders and their families will find excellent opportunities for recreation and education at each of these locations. Let’s get every Thurston County fourth grader outside in a forest, park, or wildlife area!

Warber, S. L., DeHudy, A. A., Bialko, M. F., Marselle, M. R., & Irvine, K. N. (2015). Addressing “Nature-Deficit Disorder”: A Mixed Methods Pilot Study of Young Adults Attending a Wilderness Camp. Evidence-Based Complementary and Alternative Medicine : eCAM2015, 651827.

Thursday, June 16, 2016

Biotoxin Closure in Budd Inlet Expands to Surrounding Areas

The Budd Inlet closure due to a marine biotoxin that causes diarrhetic shellfish poison (DSP) has been expanded. The Washington Department of Health and the Thurston County Public Health and Social Services Department have closed all beaches to all species of shellfish in Squaxin Passage east from Steamboat Island along Carlyon Beach to Hunter Point, southeast to Cooper Point, east across Budd Inlet to Little Fish Trap, including Boston Harbor and Budd Inlet. Little Fish Trap is approximately halfway between Boston Harbor and Dickerson Point, and lies south of Briscoe Point.

Shellfish sampled from these areas contained DSP biotoxin at levels above the safety limit of 16 micrograms per 100 grams established by the Washington State Department of Health.

Warning signs have been posted at public beaches alerting people not to collect shellfish due to the biotoxin closure. Existing permanent swimming and shellfish harvest closures due to pollution in inner Budd Inlet and near wastewater treatment plant outfalls remain in effect.

Symptoms from DSP can begin from 30 minutes to 12 hours after eating contaminated shellfish. It causes nausea, vomiting, abdominal pain, and diarrhea, with diarrhea being the most commonly reported symptom. Most symptoms subside within 72 hours.

The DSP biotoxins are produced by naturally occurring algae, and can accumulate in shellfish, making the shellfish unsafe to eat. Marine biotoxins are not destroyed by cooking or freezing. Shellfish harvested commercially that are available in stores and restaurants are tested for toxins prior to distribution, and are safe to eat.

For more information about shellfish closures, call the Washington State Department of Health 24-hour Shellfish Safety Hotline: 1-800-562-5632, or visit the department's shellfish closure map

Wednesday, June 1, 2016

Safe Handling of Pesticides

Whether you have a small herb garden on your apartment balcony, raised beds in your front yard, or a spacious backyard garden, you may have uninvited and unwanted pests visiting your garden. Most critters that pass through or live in your garden are beneficial or do little to no harm to you or your plants. However, there are some pests that can be harmful to your garden. There are many ways to combat pests without using harmful pesticides (visit our Common Sense Gardening page!), but if you choose to use them, there are steps you can take to safely handle pesticides.

Pesticides are natural or synthetic chemicals that kill, attract, repel, or control the growth of pest plants (like weeds), animals and microorganisms. Most people use pesticides with the purpose to kill bugs and weeds protruding their lawn or garden. Pesticides are all toxic to some degree, however the amount needed to cause an effect varies greatly. Some are toxic to people, pets or wildlife in amounts as small a tablespoon! But some may take gallons to have the same level of toxicity. Concentrated products that are designed to be mixed with water before application are usually more toxic than ready-to-use products that are applied without any mixing.

So, how do you use these products safely?
  1. Do your homework! Research what method will solve your pest problem. A helpful resource to assist in the selection of pesticide products is the Grow Smart Grow Safe guide. This guide rates pesticides from the lowest-to-highest hazard. There are many low hazard options for a variety of pest problems.
  2. Read the directions before you buy! Before you purchase a pesticide, read the directions and precautionary statements. Be confident that you are willing, able, and comfortable handling and using the product. Purchase only the amount you need. The less hazardous products you have stored in your home, the less likely your family and pets will be exposed to them. When transporting pesticides home from the store, be sure to bag pesticides separately from groceries and place in the trunk of your car, away from people and groceries.
  3. Follow the directions. All pesticide products contain directions that describe how they should be applied along with the precautions you should take while applying them. If a hazard is stated, be sure to take necessary precaution to avoid the hazard. For example, corrosive liquids may require you to avoid skin contact by wearing gloves, additional clothing to cover skin, glasses and/or goggles.
    1. Example of a precautionary statement:
    2. CAUTION: Harmful if swallowed or absorbed through skin or inhaled. Causes moderate eye irritation. Avoid contact with eyes, skin, or clothing. Avoid breathing spray mist. Prolonged or frequently repeated skin contact may cause allergic reaction in some individuals.
      The next label warns to avoid contact with eyes, skin or clothing, but it does not specifically tell the user how to avoid contact (such as the use of gloves, goggles or waterproof clothing).
      General Precaution and Restrictions: Do not allow people or pets to enter treated areas until sprays have dried. Do not apply this product in a way that will contact other persons or pets, either directly or through drift.

  4. Dispose properly. You safely applied a pesticide product and are free of slugs eating your precious plants, success! But, you have some leftover pesticide product. It is important to safely dispose of pesticide. Leaving unused pesticides in your home is dangerous, especially if you have small children or pets that could be harmfully exposed. It also reduces pesticides from polluting our water ways.

Lucky for you, we have the HazoHouse in Thurston County!

HazoHouse is a household hazardous 
waste disposal location that is a free resource for Thurston County residents. It is located at the Thurston County Waste and Recovery Center in Lacey, WA. They accept pesticides, along with motor oil, cleaning supplies, products containing mercury and more.

If you have additional questions about pesticide use and common sense gardening, please visit our website or call (360) 867-2674.

Tuesday, February 16, 2016

Step it up, Thurston County!

For thousands of years, to get from Point A to Point B, most people had no choice but to start walking. Some people had access to horses and horse-drawn carriages, but not until the rise of the automobile in the first half of the twentieth century did walking lose its status in some societies as the most popular way to get where you’re going. This change to a “car culture” definitely made it faster and easier to get from place to place, but it also took away a significant source of physical activity for many people. While many factors contribute to our country’s obesity epidemic, the drastic decrease in steps Americans take each day has played a part. In addition to reduced walking in our communities, the large amount of car traffic contributes to air pollution.

Recognizing the vital role walking can play in improving people’s health, the Surgeon General’s office created “Step It Up!” and issued a call to action last year to promote walking and communities designed to be walkable.

That call to action is needed here in Thurston County as well. Cities in the county have largely been built during the era of increasing reliance on automobiles – they are spread out over a large area and tend to have single-use zones of land use that make it more difficult to use other forms of transportation. The rest of the county is very rural, meaning that walking as a mode of transportation in those areas is also difficult. Thurston Thrives, our community’s effort to improve health for all residents, has an action area (Community Design) that is focused on supporting a shift back to walkable ways of designing communities and encouraging the daily, moderate physical activity of walking. 

At least 30 minutes a day, 5 days a week is recommended for adults to stay healthy (1 hour daily for kids). Even in a community like ours, there are many ways to incorporate walking into your daily routine. Whenever you have the chance to take a more active form of transportation than driving alone, take it! Walking, bicycling or taking the bus not only increase your physical activity, they help reduce air pollution. If you are driving to your destination, choose a parking space far from the store entrance. If you live or work in a multistory building, take the stairs instead of the elevator. If you have a job that requires you to spend time in meetings, ask your colleagues to head outside for a “moving meeting.” Albert Einstein believed that the brain worked best at three miles per hour (the speed of a brisk walk), and scientific studies have shown a relationship between walking and better performance on tests that measure memory, attention, and creativity. You’ll find that in addition to the health benefits of getting sunlight, fresh air, and physical activity, your meetings might be more efficient, productive, and enjoyable as well.

Another way to make walking a regular part of your life is to go on a walk with your family after dinner each night. While strenuous physical activities can interfere with digestion and cause cramps, mild exercise like walking actually assists your body in digesting your meal and can improve blood sugar levels too. Perhaps even more importantly, a nightly stroll can provide busy families with much-needed bonding time at the end of each day, improving the mental and emotional health of parents and children alike. Joining or forming a neighborhood walking club is also an option, and can be a great way to get to know your neighbors better and create stronger social ties within your local community. Since the sun still sets pretty early this time of year, be sure to wear reflective clothing or carry a flashlight in order to be visible to drivers after dark.

If you’re ready to step it up, check out the Thurston Regional Planning Council’s “Here to There” website, which provides walking maps and other resources that will make it easier than ever to add more walking to your life. If you want to be part of the effort to make our communities more walkable, or address clean air issues, get involved with the Community Design or Environment action teams. Together, with each step we take, we can make Thurston County a healthier place for everyone!