Thursday, December 22, 2016

Healthy Holidays: Where do I take my?

Out with the old and in with the new?

If you have some things you need to get rid of, perhaps due to some newly acquired items over the holidays… there is a wonderful resource to help you. It is called

Where do I take my” lists out just about any item you can think of and provides information on where you can dispose of it safely. It also recommends places where you can donate and recycle things. And it provides information on where to dispose of a hazardous item safely.

Disposing of unwanted items responsibly is good for the environment and can help others who are in need. The choices you make when tossing out your old stuff can have a big impact! Your choice makes a difference.

If you’re not able to find information on disposal for something, you can always call our Environmental Health Education Phone Line. Our staff will do their best to find an option that works for you! (360) 867-2674.

Friday, December 16, 2016

Become a Healthy Homes Volunteer!

Thurston County’s Healthy Homes Program trains volunteers to provide free educational home visits to encourage behaviors and actions that promote healthy living spaces – such as preventing and addressing mold, creating healthy indoor air, reducing asthma triggers, reducing exposure to toxins, and more. We have a free volunteer training coming up in February! You can learn all about housing-related health risks and how to identify, prevent, reduce, and address them. This training is fun and the knowledge gained is useful in our daily lives.

Individuals can take this training for professional development if it applies it to their current work and not be expected to become a volunteer with the program.

When: Thursdays in February from 6:30-8:30 p.m. and two Saturdays in March from 10:00 a.m. – 2:00 p.m. Saturday sessions include lunch and will be scheduled based on group availability. The training is a total of 16 hours, plus at least three “training visits” before volunteer training is considered complete.

Where: Thurston County Public Health at 412 Lilly Rd. NE, Olympia, 98506; across from St. Peter’s Hospital. Intercity Transit bus routes # 60, 62A, and 62B serve the area. If transportation is an issue for anyone who is interested, please don’t let that stop you from applying. We are close to bus routes and there is a good chance that volunteers attending the training can carpool.

Who: No prior experience is necessary; the training teaches all you need to know to conduct Healthy Homes Visits in pairs. This training is for anyone interested (or who works) in giving back to the community, environmental health, housing, public health, health education, children’s health, and healthy living.

What volunteers do: Volunteers can conduct Healthy Homes Visits, participate in booths at community events, perform outreach, or work on special projects. They are notified of opportunities to volunteer and can sign up as their schedules allow. Healthy Homes Visits are free, voluntary, and completely confidential. We are invited to do the visit by the resident, where we perform a checklist and walk-through. Based on what we find we provide information, guidance, and resource lists to the residents to help them take the next steps. Individuals can take this training for professional development if it applies it to their current work and not be expected to become a volunteer with the program.

Contact Information: (360) 867-2674 or


Thursday, December 8, 2016

Healthy Holidays: Self-care over the holiday season

By Anna Rhoads, Education & Outreach Program Assistant

The holidays are upon us. This time of year can feel as if we have a million things on our to-do lists. By making self-care a priority on your holiday to-do list, you can feel less overwhelmed by the holidays. When you take good care of yourself you are less likely to become sick and can have more energy to be with your loved ones.

I always feel my best after a good workout. Exercise doesn’t need to feel like a chore if you have a fun fitness routine. Take a walk or bike ride on the Chehalis Western Trail, shake off stress at a Zumba class (many gyms offer Zumba and other cardio-based dance classes), or do a half an hour of gentle yoga in your living room (you can find hundreds of free yoga videos on YouTube). Have family visiting for the holidays? Have them join in on the fun by organizing a game of touch football or Capture the Flag in the backyard. You’ll create a new holiday tradition and get a workout in!

Eat well and drink in moderation
As a self proclaimed foodie, it’s not surprising that food is one of my favorite parts about the holidays. It is easy to indulge in all the classics (any garlic mashed potato lovers out there?) and to pile a plate with sweet treats for dessert. Remember to indulge in moderation. If you are going to a holiday potluck, bring a healthy dish to share. Be aware of liquid calories in holiday drinks, including alcoholic beverages. Eating food that is healthy and nutrient rich can help you have more energy to go do things with family and friends.

Volunteer in the community
Giving back to an organization or cause that you care about can improve your mood and lift your spirits. There are many organizations that would love volunteers during and after the holiday season. Check out to find a local volunteer program that is a good fit for you. In fact, Thurston County  Healthy Homes Program is seeking volunteers to start after the New Year.

Don’t be afraid to ask for help
Have a million and one things you need accomplish before the in-laws arrive tomorrow? Are you in charge of cooking Christmas dinner and have guests coming with a multitude of dietary restrictions? One of the best ways to handle stressful scenarios is to ask for help. Delegate household chores to family and ask guests to bring a holiday dish to share at dinner. With a team of helpers, you will likely feel less stressed about what you need to get done. Remember that everything doesn’t need to be perfect, it’s a time for fun and togetherness! 

Monday, November 21, 2016

Healthy Holidays: Holiday lighting safety tips

Does your family break out holiday lights and decorations after the turkey and pumpkin pie have been gobbled up? Many people begin putting up their holiday lights and decorations starting Thanksgiving Day through December. Putting up holiday lights is a tradition for many people and it can create a festive atmosphere. We encourage you to understand the health and safety risks of decorating your home with holiday lights before hanging them in and outside your home.

1.        Is there lead hiding in your lights? Believe it or not, most holiday lights in the United States contain lead. One study found that four ordinary brands of holiday lights have high enough lead levels to harm children. Lead is found in PVC (polyvinyl chloride), which is used to insulate the holiday lights to prevent water exposure. Over time, the PVC breaks down from sunlight exposure and heat, releasing lead as a form of dust. If you choose to hang holiday lights, hang them at a high enough level so children will not be tempted to play with them. Wear gloves when you put up the lights and wash your hands after you’re done decorating. If you hang holiday lights inside, damp dust frequently to reduce lead exposure in your home.

2.        Replace damaged bulbs and outdated lights. If you have any damaged bulbs on your holiday lights, replace them if possible. Broken bulbs can be a safety hazard for children and pets. You will also save energy by replacing damaged bulbs. Unplug your lights before you replace damaged bulbs. If your lights are beyond repair, purchase LED holiday lights. They are made with epoxy lenses which are much more durable than glass bulbs and are the more energy efficient option.  

3.       Hang lights carefully and conscientiously. Avoid piercing holiday lights with nails or staples because that damages the cords and can create a potential hazard. Try wrapping holiday lights around hooks or nails, or purchase plastic clips to hang the lights up. Avoid wrapping lights around hot electric sources such as home theaters, stereos and water heaters. Keep holiday lights away from heat vents and electric heaters. The additional heat may damage and even melt your holiday lights. Keep indoor holiday lights away from drapes, furniture or carpeting. Place cords in low-traffic areas where they won’t be a tripping hazard or be worn out due to being stepped on. 

4.       Use extension cord(s) safely. Do not overload an extension cord. Find out the wattage rating of your extension cord and holiday lights before plugging the two together.  

5.       Hang only weather resistant lights outside. If you are hanging holiday lights outside, make sure they are rated for outdoor use or are marked waterproof. Do not use indoor holiday lights outside, that can be an easy way to blow fuses or start a fire.

6.       Use ladders safely. If you plan on using a ladder to hang your holiday lights outside, there are several ladder safety measures you can take. Pay attention to the weather forecast; pick a dry day with calm winds. Choose a ladder size that is appropriate for the job and inspect it before using it. While you are up on your ladder, make careful moves as sudden movements may cause you to lose balance, and have a second person available to spot you.  

7.       Turn off your lights. Before you go to bed or leave your house, turn off your holiday lights. You will save electricity by turning your lights off and reduce the risk of a fire.

The risks of injury and fire are reduced when you practice safe handling of holiday lights. Take the time to celebrate the holidays safely to have the best holiday season yet!

Monday, November 14, 2016

Food Safety for Game Day

Lesley Price, RD, CD

Football season is here and so are the game day celebrations. I think I just heard a “GO HAWKS”! Football is one of the many great reasons to gather with friends and family and share delicious food. To help you plan out your game day festivities, here are some food safety tips.

At the grocery store: Put raw meat and poultry in separate plastic bags to prevent juices from dripping on other foods, and separate from produce and ready-to-eat foods in your grocery cart. Make sure raw meat and poultry are bagged separately at checkout – most baggers are not aware of this and need to be asked. If you use reusable bags, wash them in hot water frequently. You have a two hour window (1 hour if it is over 90 degrees outside) to get perishable foods home and into the refrigerator or freezer, so make sure the grocery store is your last stop before home.

At home: Keep your raw meat and poultry in plastic bags and keep it separate from produce in your refrigerator. Be sure to wash your hands before preparing foods for your party. Wash all surfaces (cutting boards, counter tops, utensils) before and after processing your foods.  Use separate cutting boards for raw meat and poultry as well as produce and ready to eat foods, or wash the cutting board between uses. Wash fruits and vegetables under cold running water – do not wash meat, poultry or eggs. Perishable food can only be out two hours before needing refrigeration, so do your preparation in stages if needed. Cook all foods to proper temperatures use food thermometer to check. Never thaw or marinate foods on the counter.

Transporting to the party:  When transporting hot food make sure your destination is within a two hour window. Pack all cold foods in ice and make sure it stays 40 degrees or less.

At the party:  Reheat all hot food to 165 degrees prior to serving and keep hot foods above 135 degrees. Keeping hot foods hot and cold foods cold is the best way to keep bacteria that could make you sick from growing in your food. Hot food should be kept above 135 degrees, while cold food should be kept at 41 degrees or below. If you cannot keep food hot or cold, then make sure it is eaten within two hours, or placed back into a refrigerator. Food left out for more than two hours should be thrown away. One helpful tip is to only dish up a portion of the food, keeping the rest either hot or cold and re-stocking as needed. You can also use ice to keep things cold but the ice needs to be at least at the same level as the top of the food.

And last of all, no double dipping.  Not only does it give off the “ick factor”, it can spread illness to those you love.

By following this advice you can take memories of football game victories (hopefully) home, not food-borne illnesses.  For more information about food safety go to

Wednesday, October 26, 2016

Seven Keys to a Healthy Home

By Sonya Rombough, Healthy Homes AmeriCorps Member

I am the first to shout that autumn is my favorite season. I love how the weather changes, the vibrancy of the leaves and the crispness of cool air. I like to brew up a hot beverage and settle in to watch the wind and rain come through. I find that I am a prime example of the average American who, according to the Environmental Protection Agency, spends about 87% of their time indoors, especially in the fall and winter. But while home is cozy and familiar, it can also present a whole host of challenges to our immune systems and well-being.

Here in the Pacific Northwest problems with excessive moisture and mold are very common, and while these issues are of significant concern, there are other potential dangers lurking in your home. Homes built prior to 1978 may contain lead and asbestos, and a quick peek under your sink might just reveal a whole slew of hazardous chemicals. The good news is, with a few small adjustments to your cleaning routine you make your home a healthier haven.

There are seven basic ways, also known as the “Seven Keys to a Healthy Home” to improve the health of your home for you and your family.

  • Keep it clean!  Keeping your home clean and clutter-free will help prevent pests by eliminating access to food, water and hiding places. It may also help with your family’s stress levels and comfort. Check out this post on green cleaning alternatives!
  • Keep it contaminant free! There are many products that seem safe, but can cause harm to your family including fertilizers, harsh chemical cleaning products and scented aerosols. If possible stick to green cleaners, and when they aren’t an option, always select the product with the lowest risk, avoid anything that says “Danger” or “Poison” as these are the highest hazard words.
  • Keep it ventilated! Always use fans in the kitchen and bathroom. Make sure these fans are vented all the way outside. Use your fans while cooking and bathing and run them for 30-45 minutes afterwards. Additionally, it can be beneficial to make a habit of using fans and opening windows when using cleaning products or other chemicals. Opening windows daily can help exchange air and allow moisture to escape, even on stormy days.
  • Keep it dry! Mold cannot grow without moisture so it’s important to clean up all spills immediately. It’s a good idea to check under sinks and around plumbing regularly to ensure nothing is leaking. If you find a leak, repair it quickly and dry out the affected area within 24-48 hours. Help the area to dry by leaving the cupboard open, cleaning up any standing water and running a fan in the affected area to create airflow.
  • Keep it maintained! Not only does this refer to pipes and plumbing, but to all the features of your home. Combustion appliances, such as natural gas water heaters or propane furnaces, need to be maintained by professionals regularly to ensure that no carbon monoxide back drafts into the home. Similarly, septic systems need routine checks and maintenance to prevent back-flowing and contamination of the groundwater. Even small things like peeling paint, which may contain lead, can represent a danger in your home and loose floors can be a trip hazard. Keep a checklist of all things in your home you need to keep an eye on and make repairs as soon as possible.
  • Keep it safe! Keep your family safe by storing chemicals out of reach, putting child locks on upper level windows, and installing smoke detectors and carbon monoxide monitors and outside of every sleeping area in your home. Check your smoke detectors and carbon monoxide monitors regularly to make sure they are functioning properly.
  • Keep it pest free! Prevent pests by keeping your home free of clutter, keeping pet food off of the floor and in airtight containers, and filling any cracks, holes or gaps in the exterior walls. If you do end up with a pest problem avoid bringing poison into your home at all costs and implement a strategy of integrated pest management including these preventative measures. 

Our Healthy Homes Program offers free, confidential Healthy Homes Visit to residents in Thurston County. Visits occur in the comfort of your home with expert volunteers who can teach you about the hazards in your home and how to address them. Call (360)867-2674 to schedule a free and confidential healthy homes visit today! 

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:

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

Wednesday, June 1, 2016

Safe Handling of Pesticides

Whether you have a small herb garden on your apartment balcony, raised beds in your front yard, or a spacious backyard garden, you may have uninvited and unwanted pests visiting your garden. Most critters that pass through or live in your garden are beneficial or do little to no harm to you or your plants. However, there are some pests that can be harmful to your garden. There are many ways to combat pests without using harmful pesticides (visit our Common Sense Gardening page!), but if you choose to use them, there are steps you can take to safely handle pesticides.

Pesticides are natural or synthetic chemicals that kill, attract, repel, or control the growth of pest plants (like weeds), animals and microorganisms. Most people use pesticides with the purpose to kill bugs and weeds protruding their lawn or garden. Pesticides are all toxic to some degree, however the amount needed to cause an effect varies greatly. Some are toxic to people, pets or wildlife in amounts as small a tablespoon! But some may take gallons to have the same level of toxicity. Concentrated products that are designed to be mixed with water before application are usually more toxic than ready-to-use products that are applied without any mixing.

So, how do you use these products safely?
  1. Do your homework! Research what method will solve your pest problem. A helpful resource to assist in the selection of pesticide products is the Grow Smart Grow Safe guide. This guide rates pesticides from the lowest-to-highest hazard. There are many low hazard options for a variety of pest problems.
  2. Read the directions before you buy! Before you purchase a pesticide, read the directions and precautionary statements. Be confident that you are willing, able, and comfortable handling and using the product. Purchase only the amount you need. The less hazardous products you have stored in your home, the less likely your family and pets will be exposed to them. When transporting pesticides home from the store, be sure to bag pesticides separately from groceries and place in the trunk of your car, away from people and groceries.
  3. Follow the directions. All pesticide products contain directions that describe how they should be applied along with the precautions you should take while applying them. If a hazard is stated, be sure to take necessary precaution to avoid the hazard. For example, corrosive liquids may require you to avoid skin contact by wearing gloves, additional clothing to cover skin, glasses and/or goggles.
    1. Example of a precautionary statement:
    2. CAUTION: Harmful if swallowed or absorbed through skin or inhaled. Causes moderate eye irritation. Avoid contact with eyes, skin, or clothing. Avoid breathing spray mist. Prolonged or frequently repeated skin contact may cause allergic reaction in some individuals.
      The next label warns to avoid contact with eyes, skin or clothing, but it does not specifically tell the user how to avoid contact (such as the use of gloves, goggles or waterproof clothing).
      General Precaution and Restrictions: Do not allow people or pets to enter treated areas until sprays have dried. Do not apply this product in a way that will contact other persons or pets, either directly or through drift.

  4. Dispose properly. You safely applied a pesticide product and are free of slugs eating your precious plants, success! But, you have some leftover pesticide product. It is important to safely dispose of pesticide. Leaving unused pesticides in your home is dangerous, especially if you have small children or pets that could be harmfully exposed. It also reduces pesticides from polluting our water ways.

Lucky for you, we have the HazoHouse in Thurston County!

HazoHouse is a household hazardous 
waste disposal location that is a free resource for Thurston County residents. It is located at the Thurston County Waste and Recovery Center in Lacey, WA. They accept pesticides, along with motor oil, cleaning supplies, products containing mercury and more.

If you have additional questions about pesticide use and common sense gardening, please visit our website or call (360) 867-2674.