Wednesday, October 28, 2015

Toxic algae advisories in effect at 5 Thurston County lakes

These advisories are no longer in effect.

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.

Thursday, October 15, 2015

Tacoma Smelter Plume – how to reduce exposure to the legacy pollutants

The Tacoma Smelter Plume (TSP) was caused by a copper smelter run by the company Asarco  in Tacoma. For about 100 years the industrial site created air pollution containing lead and arsenic over 1,000 square miles of the Puget Sound Basin. Lead and arsenic are known as “legacy pollutants” because they remain in the environment long after they were introduced. The TSP area includes areas in Pierce, King, Kitsap, and Thurston counties where there are higher than normal levels of arsenic and lead in the soil as the pollution settled.

Because many Thurston County residents live in an area affected by the Tacoma Smelter Plume, it’s important to stay alert about arsenic and lead in our soil. In order to reduce exposure, take action to minimize dust and dirt in your home.

  •  Keep your home clean and control dust as best you can. Wipe dust with a damp cloth (microfiber cloths work great!) and vacuum weekly.
  • Wash hands thoroughly when coming inside, before eating or preparing food, and after using the bathroom.
  • Wash children’s hands, toys, pacifiers, etc. often. Children spend more time closer to the ground and put more items in their mouths so they have higher
    exposure rates. Children are also more vulnerable to exposures to toxics because they are still growing. 
  • Eat a diet rich in iron, calcium, and vitamin C to decrease absorption of lead. If your body has the nutrients it needs, it is less likely to absorb toxics substances.
  •  Remove shoes at the door. Designate a pair of house shoes or slippers if wearing shoes inside is important to you.
  • Wash produce well to remove dirt, dust and bacteria.
  •  Bathe and brush pets often to reduce the amount of dirt they bring into the home.
  • You can get your soil tested by a state-certified laboratory.

About arsenic
Arsenic is a naturally occurring element that is normally present in water, soil, dust, air, and food but in small amounts. Exposure can happen through eating or drinking tainted food and water, ingesting mud, soil, or dirt, and breathing in dust or fumes.
For the most part, unless you have had prolonged or intense exposure, arsenic
shouldn’t affect your day to day life too much. However, it is a good idea to play it safe.

About lead
Lead is a naturally occurring metal that is found in the soil. While it does have value in creating items such as batteries and x-ray shields, it is toxic to humans. Exposure can happen through lead based paints (in homes built before 1978), contaminated soil, and some imported goods.

Lead exposure is especially harmful to children, pregnant women, and seniors. It is toxic to the brain. Lead poisoning in growing children is proven to harm the growth and development of their brain. When lead is absorbed into the body, it stays in the body and builds up. That is why there is no known safe level of lead exposure. Because of this, making sure that you limit lead exposure for you and your family is as much as possible is very important!

For more information visit the Washington State Department of Ecology’s web page on the Health Effects of Lead and Arsenic.

Wednesday, October 7, 2015

Mushroom Hunting Safety

Mushroom hunting (also known as foraging) can be a fun and rewarding outdoor activity for people of all ages. Once regarded as a strange and eccentric hobby, it has slowly grown in popularity over the years and attracts people for different reasons. Most wild mushrooms are considered nontoxic, but some cause serious adverse health effects, including death. Always follow proper precautions when mushroom hunting to protect your health.

The most important rule for all mushroom hunters whether they’re beginners or experts is: Never eat a mushroom until you are absolutely certain that it is edible.

Staying “better safe than sorry” is absolutely necessary when mushroom hunting. Being “almost certain” is not enough, and can lead to an emergency room visit – or worse. There is also no single test that can accurately determine whether or not a mushroom is poisonous. Ignore advice that you may have heard about poisonous mushrooms tarnishing silver spoons or turning blue when bruised – certain poisonous mushrooms might do this but there is no scientific evidence that it’s always the case. A mushroom’s scent is not a reliable indicator of safety, nor is taste. Witnessing a wild animal eating a mushroom is not a guarantee that it will be safe for you to ingest. If you have ANY doubts about the safety of a wild mushroom, do not eat it.

There is an incredibly diverse variety of wild mushrooms, and some deadly mushrooms can look remarkably similar to edible ones. The best way to safely start mushroom hunting is to hunt with and learn from experts who are knowledgeable about wild mushrooms specific to your area. Fortunately, there are numerous resources in our region, including the South Sound Mushroom Club, which is located right here in Thurston County. In this region there is also the Puget Sound Mycological Society and the Olympic Peninsula Mycological Society. There are many field guides with photographs and detailed written descriptions of wild mushrooms that are important tools in mushroom hunting. Careful study of all aspects of a mushroom (size, color, cap shape, gill spacing, texture, smell, where it grows, etc) can help you determine whether or not it is safe to eat.

Another important aspect of mushroom hunting is to stay safe while out foraging. Always wear visibly bright clothing (a neon orange vest and hat is best) and carry an emergency whistle. Be aware what other activities may be going on in the wooded area, especially any kind of animal hunting. Use the buddy system and let someone know where you are going and when you plan to be back. Make sure to have layers of clothing for sudden changes in weather, sturdy footwear, and to be on the safe side, pack more water and food (especially protein) than you think you need.

Here are a few other things to keep in mind when mushroom hunting in order to make it a safe, fun, and rewarding experience:

·        When collecting wild mushrooms, be sure to keep different types separate during collection and storage. Edible mushrooms can easily be contaminated by poisonous ones.
·        Use cloth or paper bags, a basket, or a box to collect mushrooms in. Plastic bags trap heat and moisture that can cause mushrooms to deteriorate quickly.
·        Immediately store freshly-collected mushrooms in a refrigerator in a paper or cloth bag. Be sure not to rinse or wash collected mushrooms until you are ready to cook them. Storing mushrooms while wet will cause them to deteriorate quickly.
·        Don’t collect mushrooms from roadsides, golf courses, public parks, private lawns, or near railroad tracks. Mushrooms that would otherwise be considered safe and edible could be compromised by exposure to exhaust fumes, pet waste, or chemical pesticides that might be present in these kinds of areas. Undeveloped lands are the best place to collect mushrooms, but look up rules and regulations that govern mushroom collecting and foraging on public lands and always request permission before attempting to forage on private land.
·        Be considerate to other mushroom hunters. If you find mushrooms you want to collect, be sure not to take them all so that future foragers can enjoy them too.

Like many outdoor activities, mushroom hunting does have some risks. However, if you’re interested and want to try it out, go for it! By following basic precautions and taking the time to learn from experienced mushroom hunters and field guides, you can keep yourself safe and have a great time too! Happy hunting!