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:

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

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