Tuesday, September 6, 2016

Septic System Management Plan Invests in Clean Water, Safe Food and a Healthier Environment

 Thurston County is working to update the On-site Sewage System Management Plan. The plan, if adopted, puts systems in place to help septic owners better protect their investment and extend the life of their septic system while protecting public health.

You can read the full plan on our website, here we’ll describe a few highlights.

  • Regular inspections help find problems while they are still small. The septic management plan calls for routine mailings to all septic owners, reminding them when it is time for an inspection. 
  • Leaking sewage is a health risk. Sewage from even one failing septic system can close a beach, cause illness, or contaminate a drinking water well. The plan provides resources to prevent, identify, and correct failing septic systems and water pollution problems caused by sewage.
  • The septic plan invests in education such as the septic help line, workshops, and more so that everyone can have reliable information to maintain their septic system. It also provides septic owners help to trouble-shoot their system and programs for financial assistance to help fix failing systems.
  • A well-maintained septic system can contribute to a higher re-sell value on your home. A new septic system can cost more than $15,000. Regular maintenance and documentation let purchasers know the system is functioning properly and a good investment. The plan provides resources to create and maintain a septic inventory with easily accessible online records.
  • Keeping our drinking water clean for the future is important. Drinking water in your well travels under your neighbor’s property. Your neighbor’s actions or inactions can impact your drinking water. The plan provides resources to investigate problems and makes sure failing systems are repaired. Proven methods are used to assure only failing systems are repaired.

The plan replaces current fees
The new plan, known to some as the “crap tax,” has a tiered fee structure based on the location of a septic system. The charge will replace many septic system related fees like the ones for operational certificates, pump reports, and time-of-transfer (when a home is sold). The charges will invest in clean water, safe food and a healthier environment by supporting the Health Department’s responsibility to protect public health from diseases caused by sewage.

The estimated charges are as follows. The recommendation includes reducing the charges by 50% for those enrolled in the Assessor’s senior/disabled/disabled veteran tax exemption program.  
·         $22/year for septic systems in the Chehalis River watershed.
·         $44/year for septic systems in the Puget Sound basin, but not a designated special area.
·         $66/year for septic systems in a Marine Recovery Area or other designated special area.

Want to learn more about the plan?
The plan, as well as slides presented at open houses and more are available on our website. Representatives from Thurston County Public Health are available to attend and present information about the On-Site Septic Management Plan to community groups. To schedule a presentation, contact Jane Mountjoy-Venning at (360) 867-2643.
What is Next?
Currently, the Thurston County Board of Health is deliberating on the plan and will make a decision at an open public meeting (date to be determined).


Friday, September 2, 2016

Bats - Friend or Foe?


After moving to a new home in rural Thurston County, I noticed several bats roosting above my porch! At first, I was alarmed. Should I call a pest management company? What should I do if a bat enters my home? Aren’t bats dangerous? However, after researching bats, I have learned that they are incredibly beneficial to humans and the advantages of having them around outweigh any problems that you might have with them. Learn more about bats and how you can coexist with such unique creatures by following the tips below.
 Bats: Insect eating machines
            Bats are incredibly valuable animals. They keep your neighborhood ecosystem in balance by feeding on flying insects, like mosquitoes! In fact, a female brown bat can consume her body weight in insects each night during the summer. How do bats locate flying insects so quickly? They use echolocation, which is the process of bats producing high-pitched sound waves that bounce back to the bat when the sound waves reach a flying insect. Bats will then capture insects by scooping them into their tail or wing, and then put the insect into their mouth. You can thank bats for keeping flying insect populations in check.
Keeping your loved ones safe
            While bats keep insects at bay, some bats in the wild carry rabies, a fatal viral disease that affects the central nervous system. Mammals (that includes you, your pet, livestock and wild animals) can be infected by rabies if bitten by a rabid bat, which can spread to others through the transmission of saliva. The most common way the rabies virus is transmitted is through the bite and virus-containing saliva of an infected host.   Human rabies is rare in the United States. Since 1990, the number of reported cases in the US has been one to seven annually. In the past twenty years, there have only been two reported human deaths from rabies in the state of Washington and they were both infected by bats. However, less than 1% of bats in the wild have rabies.
To minimize the risk of rabies exposure, do not handle any wild animals. If a wild animal does bite you, clean the site of the bite with soap and water. Contact your health care provider and Thurston County Public Health (or your local health department if you live outside of the county) to determine the potential for rabies exposure, the need for treatment and to decide whether or not to test the animal for rabies. You can reduce the risk of rabies exposure for children and pets too. Teach your children to never touch or handle wild animals, including dead animals. You can protect your pets by having them routinely vaccinated, which is now required in the state of Washington.
Follow these steps if you ever find a bat inside your home:
  • Do not touch the bat.
  • If children or pets are in the same room as the bat, move them into a different room away from the bat.
  • Close the doors and windows and wait for the bat to land on the floor or a wall. 
  • Be sure to wear leather or thick gloves and capture the bat in a box without touching it. 
  • Seal the box or container and call Thurston County Public Health (or your local health department) to determine if any people or pets have been exposed and arrange to test the bat for rabies, if needed.

Bat-proof your home
There are many common entry points used by bats to enter a home. The safest way to reduce exposure to bats is to exclude them from your home. If you have an older home, there may be more points of entry for a bat to enter. There are several methods of safely excluding bats, but if there are large numbers of bats roosting in an attic or another area, it is safer for you to hire a professional to do the work. Never trap flightless bats inside a structure. It is cruel to trap the bats inside and can create a serious odor problem.                                            
Bats need our help
Bat populations across North America are in danger. White-nose syndrome, a disease caused by the fungus Pseudogymnoascus, has killed over six million bats since 2006. This disease was contained to eastern North America for several years, but the first case of white-nose syndrome was confirmed in North Bend, Washington in March 2016. While humans cannot catch white-nose syndrome, it is deadly to bats that catch it. There are several ways we can help reduce the spread of white-nose syndrome so our local bat populations do not suffer. 
By educating yourself on bats and keeping children and pets away from bats, along with bat-proofing your home, bats and humans can coexist. If you would like to learn more about reducing human exposure to bats, bat-proofing your home and white-nose syndrome, please read the resources below.

Living with wildlife - bats: http://wdfw.wa.gov/living/bats.html

Monday, August 29, 2016

Safe and Healthy Travel for Back-to-School Time

It’s time to prepare for the new school year, making sure young students in our community are ready to learn. Kids’ success in school depends on getting there on-time and in good shape, and their readiness to learn starts before they even get to school. How they get there matters – if they are walking or bicycling to school, the travel to school gives them valuable physical activity. This contributes towards the recommended “at least 60 minutes per day” of exercise for their long-term health. These forms of travel also emit no air pollution, so going to school this way helps keep the environment around the school more healthful. Taking active transportation to school like this can also be a valuable family time or social experience for you and the youngsters.

My child’s school is two miles away from our house. We aren’t able to walk that distance each day, but on many days we walk to the bus stop (about ½ mile) and often we bicycle together to and from school. I think these times are helpful to my son feeling more connected to me and our neighborhood.

While getting this activity on the way to school, I try to help prevent injury to my child through attention to safety. School buses are known to be a very safe way to get to school. If you are walking or bicycling with your child, take these steps:
  • Be visible (wear bright colored clothing or walk in groups.)
  • Help kids learn traffic safety by modeling safe behaviors such as looking back and forth at intersections, and making eye contact with drivers. 
  • Use well-marked crossings and well-lit routes with sidewalks, whenever possible. 
  • Kids' backpacks shouldn't be too loaded with heavy books or school work. Help their "back helath" by keeping their loads manageable or getting rolling backpacks for them to use. 
Events to encourage safe walking and bicycling coming up during this new school year include Walk to School Day (Oct. 5, 2016) and the Bicycle Commuter Challenge (May 2017).

Also contributing to kids’ safety are changes to the built environment, the places where we live in cities and towns such as parks, sidewalks, and streets. You can check with the school district for your neighborhood’s schools to find out what the recommended safe walking routes to school are and try them out. You may notice things that you think should be addressed – is the walking area (pathway, sidewalk, or side of street) clear of obstructions?  Does the route have lighting for those shorter winter days? Are the recommended walking routes fully connected to the school or are there gaps? Are there well-marked, well-lit street crossings? Are people driving attentively and not speeding in the vicinity?

You can also contact the local government for your area (usually the Public Works department) to find out more about what’s being done to improve the traffic safety and walkability of your neighborhood. Thurston County PublicHealth and Public Works departments, along with partners in ThurstonThrives such as Intercity Transit (and its Walk ‘n’ Roll program), Safe Kids Thurston County, Thurston Regional Planning Council and city governments, work together to support Safe Routes to School here in our community.

Try a walk in your neighborhood – you can not only learn more about your local area, you can help young people get healthy activity and be more ready to learn themselves.

Tuesday, August 16, 2016

Safe Fish Consumption - Caution: Mercury

As the summer fishing season continues, it is important to consider the recommended servings of fish you eat in order to reduce your possible exposure to contaminants found in fish. Fish is very nutritious and an excellent addition to a healthy diet. Keep reading to learn about smart choices to enjoy fish and limit exposure to mercury.

While mercury occurs naturally in the environment, excess mercury enters our environment from pollution. Bacteria in water naturally converts mercury to the methylmercury, which fish end up eating. So when we eat fish, we also often eat methylmercury. Methylmercury can accumulate in the bloodstream and is harmful to consume in large quantities, especially for pregnant women, women who may become pregnant, children, and the elderly or those with other underlying health conditions.

Health risks for high levels of mercury include loss of peripheral vision, muscle weakness, lack of coordination of movements, and impairment of speech, hearing, and walking. Unborn infants and young children are at risk for neurological development difficulties related to cognitive thinking, memory, attention, language, and fine motor and visual spatial skills.

Fish offers a wide variety of health benefits when eaten as recommended. It is high in protein yet low in fat, rich in omega-3 fatty acids, vitamins D and B12, calcium, phosphorus, and important minerals such as iron, zinc, iodine, magnesium, and potassium. Mercury is stored in the muscle of fish so it is impossible to avoid completely, however the Washington State Department of Health has recommendations for safe fish consumption including to eat smaller, younger fish, and to avoid eating the skin and fat.

The Food and Drug Administration recommends eating 8-12 ounces (about 2-3 servings) per week of fish and offers three main safety tips for safe fish consumption:

1. Do not eat: Shark, Swordfish, King Mackerel and Tilefish. These fish contain very high levels of mercury. 

  • Mercury builds up in the food chain from small fish to large, older fish as they consume the smaller fish. For this reason, fish such as Albacore tuna, halibut, pike, and those mentioned above should be eaten less frequently because they usually contain higher levels of mercury due to their "small fish diet". Bottom dwelling fish should also be consumed with caution as most chemicals in the water settle to the floor of water bodies where these fish primarily feed.
2. Eat up to 12 ounces (less for children) a week of a variety of fish and shellfish that are lower in mercury. Five of the most commonly eaten fish low in mercury are shrimp, canned light tuna, salmon, Pollock, and catfish. Note: Albacore ("white") tuna has more mercury than canned light tuna. 

3. Check WA Fish Consumption Advisories to make the safest choices for eating fish by family and friends in our local lakes, rivers, and coastal areas. 

Living in the Pacific Northwest fortunately comes with a wide availability of tasty seafood. Being mindful of safe consumption practices can limit our exposure to mercury and other chemicals, while still receiving health benefits and tasty cuisine. You can help reduce mercury pollution by properly disposing of products containing mercury, minimizing household waste, and reducing burning of coal and fossil fuels. 

For more information regarding mercury, safe fish consumption, and statewide fish advisories visit: http://www.doh.wa.gov/CommunityandEnvironment/Food/Fish



Friday, July 29, 2016

Five Easy Ways to Make Your Yard Bee-Friendly

Bees play an important role in all ecosystems and are key allies for gardeners and farmers. They are responsible for pollination, which is the transfer of pollen to other flowering plants. Once pollination takes place, seeds begin to develop. Bees are responsible for pollinating most of our food.  In fact, 30 to 35 percent of the world’s food crops, including almost all of the nuts, fruits and vegetables that we typically eat are dependent on bees for pollination. Bees provide anywhere from 16 to 29 billion dollars worth of agricultural services each year, free of charge!

Unfortunately, bee communities have been declining over the last century. Air pollution, habitat destruction, and the overuse of chemical pesticides on farms, gardens, and even front lawns are affecting the recent decline in bee populations across the country. 


But, you can help make a difference for local bee populations by making your yard bee-friendly! Follow the tips listed below, and you'll help ensure the long-term survival of bees in our region, the productivity of our farmland, and the security of our food system.


1.     Feed your bees the good stuff. Bees need food, which in their case means pollen and nectar. To provide them with a steady and varied food source from spring through fall, you can plant an assortment of different plants that thrive in different seasons. The Washington Native Plant Society has a list of plants native to our county. They have also compiled a list of local nurseries that sell plants native to Thurston County.

2.      Create a natural habitat. Commit to leaving a portion of your yard “wild,” allowing weeds and native plants to grow on their own. Just as one person’s trash is another’s treasure, in the case of weeds, many times a plant that is considered a pest to people is a great source of food or shelter for a bee.

3.      Keep your bees hydrated. Bees need access to water. If your yard has a birdbath, you can place a small piece of wood in the bath that will float and provide nearby bees with a safe landing spot to drink from. Replace the water regularly so the water stays clean and fresh for bees and other critters that visit the birdbath.

4.    Make your bees feel at home. Different bee species need different types of shelter. There are several ways to accommodate their needs. Leaving small patches of ground bare will attract ground-nesting bees that build their nests in the soil. Wood-nesting and cavity-nesting bees nest in the hollow cavities of plant stems will benefit from having access to plants such as bamboo, elderberry, or sumac. You can also hang bundles of dried, hollow sunflower stems, which cavity-nesting bees will happily nest in. Bumblebees will shelter in bunched grasses. If you are feeling crafty, you can even build a nest box to attract bumblebees.

5.   Say, ‘no thanks’ to toxic chemicals. Avoid chemical bug and weed killers, especially the group of chemicals called neonicotinoids. Clothianidin, Dinotefuran, Imidacloprid, and Thiamethoxam are the four types of neonicotinoids that are most toxic to bees and should not be used in bee-friendly landscapes.


Thank you for doing your part to conserve our native bees and pollinators! To learn more about native bees and pollinator conservation, check out the Xerces Society, the Washington Native Plant Society and Washington State University - Extension