Thursday, November 19, 2015

Free Healthy Homes Program Training

Be the Key to a Healthier Future!

The next free Healthy Homes Program training is coming up! This training is a great opportunity to learn the key aspects of maintaining a healthy living space.

Learn how to address and prevent health and safety issues in your home through lessons taught by experts, fun field trips, and hands-on activities.

Learn about:
  • Mold and moisture
  • Lead and other toxic exposures
  • Indoor air quality
  • Landlord/Tenant rights and responsibilities
  • Conducting Healthy Homes Visits
  • Asthma and allergies
  • Household safety
  • And more!

The training begins on January 21 and is every Thursday from 6-9 p.m. through March 24, 2016.  The 10 sessions will be held at Thurston County Public Health Department 412 Lilly Rd. NE Olympia. It is across from Providence St. Peter Hospital and is served by bus route #60.

Submit your application today by email or mail.  

For more information visit the program website or contact the program at or 360-867-2674 (TDD 360-867-2603).

Thursday, November 12, 2015

Microbeads: Small Size, Huge Impact

There is an emerging public health threat in the form of tiny plastic particles that are often too small to see with the naked eye. These tiny troublemakers are known as microbeads, and they’re mainly used as abrasives in face scrubs and body washes, but are also found in makeup, lip gloss, nail polish, and even toothpaste. Being made of plastic, they don’t biodegrade easily, and their small size (almost always 1 millimeter or less) makes it nearly impossible for water treatment plants to filter them out before discharging treated water into lakes, rivers, and in our case, Puget Sound. Individually, microbeads may not seem threatening, but consider that a recent report by the New York Attorney General’s office estimates that 19 tons of microbeads end up in the state’s waters every year, and that’s just one state!

Making matters worse, microbeads are also highly absorbent, meaning that they easily soak up toxic chemicals such as those found in flame retardants, pesticides, and motor oil that have also found their way into our waterways. One study shows that microbeads can be up to one million times as toxic as the water around them! Soaking up toxics might sound great, until you realize that these toxic sponges wind up in the food chain. Algae, at the bottom of the chain, are quick to absorb the smallest microbeads, and algae often become food for fish. Fish will also eat the larger microbeads on their own, mistaking them for food. This is where the problems begin. Fish that eat too many microbeads can die of starvation, as these tiny particles accumulate in their digestive systems, clogging them and preventing absorption of nutrients. If a microbead-eating fish manages to avoid that fate and instead ends up on someone’s dinner table, the soaked-up toxics become a serious human health issue. As much as we love seafood in the Pacific Northwest, human health here in our area could be particularly at risk.

This growing threat has prompted microbead restrictions and bans in six states, with many more state legislatures in the process of doing the same. The Netherlands is leading the charge in Europe to ban microbeads, and Canada announced a nationwide ban on the manufacture, importation, and sale of microbeads in August 2015. Here in Washington, an attempt to ban microbeads has stalled because of concern over a loophole that would allow manufacturers to sell products with supposedly “biodegradable” microbeads. However, the only biodegradable microbeads currently available will not break down in cold waters, including Puget Sound, meaning that they will be almost as dangerous to people and marine life as the microbeads being used today.

The public reaction against microbeads has been strong. Two of the largest personal care products corporations, Colgate-Palmolive and Unilever, claim to have already phased-out microbeads in their products. Two others, Procter & Gamble and Johnson & Johnson, have committed to stopping the use of microbeads over the next few years.

What can you do?

Alternatives to microbeads for exfoliating work as well or better. Look for products (or make your own) that use:

  • Walnut shells
  • Rice
  • Apricot pits
  • Bamboo
  • Coffee beans
  • Jojoba beans

You can always use an exfoliating facial sponge with your favorite cleanser or moisturizer instead of a product that contains an exfoliant.

With precious ecosystems and human health at risk, consumers can use their purchasing power to buy products that leave out harmful ingredients. Through consumer demand and public policy the personal care product industry is changing. By purchasing safer and healthier products, consumers show the industry what they want. Being a smart shopper can make a huge difference.

Monday, November 2, 2015

Cluster of E. coli cases in Washington and Oregon

An outbreak of E. coli cases in Washington and Oregon has led to the voluntary closure of Chipotle restaurants. While the source of the contamination is still under investigation, the outbreak may be linked to the popular restaurant chain.

Consult your healthcare provider if you ate at a Chipotle restaurant between October 15 and 31 and have symptoms that may include bloody diarrhea, abdominal cramps, fever, and vomiting. In some cases, E. coli can be severe and life-threatening. Young children and the elderly are at higher risk to become severely ill from E. coli infection.

General food safety guidance:
Using safe food handling techniques can reduce the risk of foodborne illness. Be sure to have a clean space for handling food, wash hands thoroughly before and during food handling, and wash produce well. Keep raw meats separate from other foods. Always cook food to the safe minimum cooking temperatures and refrigerate or chill foods right away.  Check out these food safety videos that show how to clean, separate, cook, and chill properly.

12 Steps for Reducing Allergens at Home

Microscopic dust particles
People with allergies know that there are things that trigger allergic reactions all around us. They are practically unavoidable. However, there are simple actions you can take at home to reduce allergy triggers. Common allergens in the home include dust, pet dander, mold, pollen, rodent droppings, chemicals, fragrances, and shedding and droppings from insects.

Keeping your home clean and well ventilated, and taking steps to control moisture are key to maintaining a healthy home and reducing allergens. Following the steps below can help create a healthier living space for everyone, especially people with asthma and allergies,
                                                                                                young children, the elderly, and people
                                                                                                with compromised immune systems.
  1.  Keep home heated between 60-68° F. This helps reduce humidity throughout the home.
  2. Vacuum at least once a week. If possible, include furniture and curtains.
  3. Dust hard surfaces with a water-dampened cloth weekly to control dust. Microfiber cloths work great!
  4. Remove shoes at the door to help reduce the amount of allergens tracked inside.
  5. Dust mites are mostly harmless, but people with allergies can be sensitive to them. Get dust mite covers for pillows, mattresses, and box springs. These special covers keep dust mites from getting inside the bed. In addition to the covers, wash bedding in hot water (130° F) once a week to kill dust mites in the sheets and blankets.
  6. Use kitchen and bathroom fans to control moisture and ventilate. Bathroom fans should run while bathing and for 30-45 minutes after bathing. Use a kitchen fan, or open a window whenever someone is cooking, even if they are simply boiling water.
  7. Check for leaks around sinks and pipes regularly. Always fix leaks and dry out the area within 24 to 48 hours.
  8. Open windows daily, even in winter. For a quick exchange of air, go through the home opening each window and then go back through and close them.
  9. Avoid using air fresheners and scented products. The chemicals in scented products are allergy triggers and actually pollute indoor air. This includes candles, incense, plug-ins, sprays, wax melts, perfumes, and colognes.
  10. Make sure the home is sealed to prevent pests from getting inside.
  11. Use green cleaning methods. Some people with allergies are sensitive to chemicals
    conventional household cleaning products. Green cleaning is effective, non-toxic, and inexpensive.
  12. If you have a wood stove or wood burning fireplace be sure you are using them properly. Follow these tips for safe and efficient use.
Each room or area in the home can be prone to different allergens. This Room-by-Room Guide from the Asthma and Allergy Foundation of America can help you identify allergy triggers throughout your home.

Would you like help dealing with allergens, toxics, mold and moisture? Our Healthy Homes Program provides free, confidential home visits to Thurston County residents to help them create a healthier living space. For more information or to schedule a Healthy Homes Visit contact: (360) 867-2674 or

Wednesday, October 28, 2015

Toxic algae advisories in effect at 5 Thurston County lakes

Toxic blue-green algae advisories are in effect at Deep Lake, Black Lake, Long Lake, Scott Lake, and Pattison Lake.

When there is a toxic algae bloom, people are advised to:
  • Avoid contact with the lake.
  • Keep pets out of the water.  
  • If fishing, catch and release is the safest practice.

Learn about blue-green algae from this previous blog post, Blue-green Algae Blooms.

A list of advisories is kept up-to-date on the Swimming in Thurston County web page.

If you have questions, contact Jane Mountjoy-Venning: (360) 867-2643, or Art Starry: 867-2587

Thursday, October 22, 2015

More Ways To Protect Drinking Water

Most people in Thurston County get their drinking water from the groundwater supply, either from a private well, or one of the many public wells throughout the county. Typical private residential wells are only about 50 feet deep, and most of our county’s public wells are 200 feet or less from the surface. Contamination can happen quickly and put people’s health in danger. To protect public health, areas surrounding the county’s many public wells that are vulnerable to contamination have been designated as wellhead protection areas. 

Whether or not you live in a designated wellhead protection area, your actions affect our drinking water supply. We all share the responsibility to help keep our community’s water supply safe and healthy to drink. Easy ways that you can do your part to help keep our water safe for your family and everyone else include:

  • Pick up dog waste – One pile of dog waste contains nearly eight billion fecal coliform bacteria! When people don’t pick up after their dogs, rain water can wash those bacteria down storm drains directly into streams, lakes, and Puget Sound. This rain water run-off is called stormwater. People who swim in or drink water that has been polluted with fecal coliform bacteria can suffer from cramps, nausea, diarrhea, and headaches, with infants and young children at the greatest risk. In wellhead protection areas, rain run-off can wash dog waste bacteria into our drinking water. Stormwater usually either filters into groundwater or it flows into a nearby body of water rather than to a wastewater treatment facility. TIP: Bag, tie up, and dispose of your pet waste in the garbage, and never flush it down the toilet.

  • Avoid the use of toxic weed and bug killers and fertilizers on your lawn – Chemical pesticides and fertilizers, including popular “weed and feed” products, are toxic and can seep down through the soil beneath your lawn and into groundwater, which in much of Thurston County is the drinking water supply. Regular exposure to these toxics, such as through drinking contaminated water, can cause all sorts of medical problems, including cancer.

  • Take hazardous substances to HazoHouse for safe disposal – HazoHouse is a drive-through hazardous waste disposal facility located at the Thurston County Waste and Recovery Center in Lacey and is open daily from 8:00am until the gates close at 4:45pm. If you have a product in your home labeled “Poison,” “Danger,” “Warning,” or “Caution,” it is considered hazardous and should never be flushed, poured down the drain, or thrown in the garbage. If you need to dispose of such products, please bring them to HazoHouse. TIP: For a list of the types of substances and products that are and aren’t accepted at the facility, visit the HazoHouse website by clicking here. If you have any further questions, you can contact HazoHouse by calling (360) 867-2912 or sending an e-mail to

  • Bring unused medication to a safe disposal center – For those with on-site septic systems, flushing unused medications can end up contaminating your drinking water supply – and possibly your neighbor’s too. Septic systems cannot remove medications from your wastewater, which means that they will be pushed out into your drainfield and seep into the groundwater. In particular, flushing unused or expired antibiotics can cause two serious problems for septic system owners. First, they will damage your septic system by destroying the helpful bacteria that break down wastes in the septic tank. Second, the antibiotics that make their way into our drinking water are thought to be contributing to the increasing levels of antibiotic-resistant germs. You can find more information on safe disposal at the County’s website. TIP: Safely dispose of unused or unwanted medications for free at the Thurston County Sheriff’s Office, the Tenino, Yelm, Lacey, or Tumwater Police Departments, or Rainier City Hall.