Thursday, June 27, 2013

5 Ways to Protect Groundwater

In Thurston County, we drink groundwater. There are many steps we can take in our daily lives to keep drinking water safe.

Here are five ways that you can protect groundwater.

1. Dispose of unused, unwanted household hazardous products properly. Take them to HazoHouse, where they will be disposed of safely, for free.

2. Have your well water tested. Thurston County Environmental Health Division recommends testing well water for bacteria once a year. Test for nitrate at least every three years, before bringing home an infant, and when a woman in the home is pregnant, nursing, or trying to become pregnant. If you are on city water or a community water system, they test their water regularly. You can call to request the water quality test results.

3. Keep your septic system maintenance up to date. A well maintained septic system is inspected every year and pumped as needed, typically every three to five years.

4. Don't put anything on the ground that you wouldn't want to drink. This includes toxic bug and weed killers that are often mixed in with fertilizers.

We all need safe, clean water. Let's do our part to protect our main source of drinking water: groundwater.

Thursday, June 20, 2013

Hepatitis A in the News

You may have heard about a recent outbreak of Hepatitis A associated with a frozen berry product. This kind of news often leaves people with questions and concerns.  Let us know in the comments if there is any other information that we can provide – thanks for reading!
What is Hepatitis A? Hepatitis A is a disease of the liver caused by a virus.
What are the symptoms of Hepatitis A? Fatigue, fever, nausea, diarrhea, dark urine, clay colored bowel movements, joint pain, and jaundice (yellowing of the skin). Symptoms can appear within 15 – 50 days after exposure.
How can Hepatitis A contaminate food? Hepatitis A can contaminate food when fecal matter from a person with the virus gets onto the food. This can happen when a person preparing food does not properly wash their hands, in places where access to clean drinking water is not available for hand washing, or when food is washed in contaminated water.
How can the spread of Hepatitis A be prevented? The best way to prevent the spread of germs is by washing hands with soap and water carefully for at least 20 seconds. Hands should be washed before and after preparing food, after using the bathroom, after coming inside, after changing diapers and as frequently as possible when sick or caring for someone who is sick. Anyone with symptoms should avoid preparing food for others and stay home from work until symptoms are gone.
Who is at risk for Hepatitis A? Those who have come in contact with the Hepatitis A virus and who have not been vaccinated or have not had the disease before. Here is a link to Thurston County Public Health’s Immunization Services website.
Thurston County Environmental Health Division’s Food Safety Program conducts periodic inspections of food establishments to help prevent the spread and reduce the risk of food-borne illnesses. Violations are corrected through a combination of education and technical assistance.
Washing hands and cleanliness are key components of food safety in our restaurants and at home.

Thursday, June 13, 2013

Recycling used motor oil is easy!

If you change your own oil, remember that recycling your used motor oil not only saves limited natural resources, but also protects the environment from oil spills. With over 30 used oil collection sites throughout the county, recycling your used oil is the easiest step in the process.
Follow these simple steps:
1.       Drain the used oil into a sealable, reusable container. A clean milk or laundry detergent jug will work. You can also find inexpensive, reusable drain pans at auto supply stores.
2.       Keep the oil clean. Tightly seal the container from rain water and debris. Don’t mix used oil with solvents, gasoline, thinners, or antifreeze, which make the combined liquid a hazardous waste that can’t be recycled.
3.       Take the used oil to a collection site. Find locations with Thurston County’s interactive map!

What happens to recycled motor oil?
Recycled motor oil undergoes an extensive process that removes contaminants and produces a base oil that is then blended with additives to make motor oil, transmission fluid, and grease. Close the recycling loop by purchasing recycled motor oil, also called re-refined motor oil, which is available at most auto supply stores. For more information about used motor oil and re-refined motor oil, visit Thurston County Environmental Health’s website.

Check your car for oil leaks
Keep your car well maintained to stop oil from leaking into our environment. Check for leaks by placing a large piece of cardboard or paper under your car overnight. If you see drips of oil, take your car to a mechanic to have the leak fixed.
Take other unwanted household hazardous wastes or products to HazoHouse. You can drive through and drop off household hazardous products for free!

Thursday, June 6, 2013

Septic Systems and Groundwater

When you flush the toilet, wash clothes, wash dishes, take a shower… where does that water and everything along with it end up?
For many of us that are not connected to a sewage treatment plant, the wastewater from our homes ends up in our own backyards.  All of that wastewater is treated by an on-site septic system and as long as they are working properly, septic systems do a pretty good job of treating sewage.
Septic systems are designed with a septic tank that works as a settling chamber to treat sewage by holding it in the tank while it breaks down with the help of bacteria.  The “gray” water then passes through that settling chamber and goes out into the drainfield where it slowly filters through the soil.  The soil treats the bacteria that filter through it before the treated water joins the groundwater below it.
In Thurston County, we drink groundwater!
Septic systems that are not functioning properly can contaminate the drinking water supply for an entire community. When this happens, bacteria from the septic system can make their way into the water supply that is then pumped into private wells. These contaminants can make people sick with hepatitis, giardiasis, dysentery and other water-borne illnesses. 
Even well-functioning septic systems are not very effective at removing nitrates and many household chemicals from the treated water.  This is one reason why there are regulations about how close septic systems can be to one another and how close they can be to wells.
A functioning, well placed, and well maintained septic system will protect the groundwater quality and the health of your family and neighbors.
To be sure that your drinking water from your well is safe, you can have it tested through Thurston County Environmental Health Division. Read about how to do this on our Blog Post, “How to test your well water.