Laundry waste water harming Puget Sound, study says

by Tim Flanagan on September 30, 2009

It’s rare for me to even consider skipping off work on a weekday.

Running Three Sheets is a very busy full-time job, unhealthy and there’s invariably something that needs to get done. The level of guilt triggered by playing hooky on a weekday is extreme.

But passing up an opportunity to get out on the water Friday would have been verging on insanity. Turning down a chance to travel on a magnificent 80-year-old yacht with its own chef, pilule on an almost cloudless day warm enough for July, treat would have suggested I needed to have my head examined.

So responsibility got relegated to the back burner, where it belonged. I happily accepted an offer from Diane VanDerbeek to sail with her on Olympus, her 80-year-old, 97-foot fantail yacht. I’d seen a little of Olympus previously at boat shows, but most of the vessel, including the lower level and staterooms, had been closed off to the public. I was curious to see more and talk with Diane about the boat’s colorful history.

Launched in 1929 and originally named Junaluska, the yacht was built for George Callendine Heck, a partner in a Wall Street investment firm, who used it to commute from his two Long Island estates to lower Manhattan. After a stint as a Navy patrol vessel during World War II (during which time its stunning brightwork was painted grey), the yacht was purchased by Washington Governor Monrad Wallgren, ostensibly as a state fisheries patrol vessel, and renamed Olympus.

In reality, Olympus was the governor’s personal yacht and was frequently used to entertain his good friend, President Harry Truman. After the Seattle Post-Intelligencer (my previous employer) revealed that the governor used more than $100,000 in Department of Fisheries funds to refurbish the yacht, Wallgren, not surprisingly, lost his 1948 bid for reelection.

Diane and her late husband John VanDerbeek bought Olympus in 1985. The yacht is now used for private trips and charters, and has accommodated celebrities such as Robin Williams, Hilary Swank and Candice Bergen. It’s a regular fixture during Seattle’s Opening Day festivities and each December, carries children and adults with disabilities on a cruise to see boats lit up for the holiday season.

Diane showed me around the boat, taking me through its four staterooms, whose walls hold antique photos and framed vintage bathing suits. We walked through the main salon, with its wing chairs and sectional sofa, and the dining room, where the table was laid out with one of a dozen sets of china aboard. Everywhere was gleaming wood, meticulously appointed furnishings.

Olympus' stately main salon

The stately main salon

The boat, which has won numerous awards, is clearly loved. That much is obvious not just from its bristol condition, but also by the fact that the VanDerbeeks had a custom boathouse built for it on Lake Union 10 years ago.

On Friday, Olympus was headed to Poulsbo for a Classic Yacht Association rendezvous. I met Diane at the boathouse and we departed in the early afternoon, along with a friend of Diane’s and four crew members, including the boat’s captain and its chef. Champagne was served as we headed toward the ship canal, the three of us sitting on deck chairs on the bow. Work? What work?

We waited for more than two hours to get through the locks, but no one was complaining. Seated around a table on the aft fantail, we were served a three-course lunch that started with a chowder made from lobster stock, heavy cream and oysters marinated in white wine and cognac, served with fresh, homemade bread and butter.

Next was a carefully conceived and arranged main course: herb salad on baby greens with blood oranges in a citrus vinaigrette, pheasant breast seared with white truffle oil and coated with rose peppercorns and herbes de provence, and scallops coated with a blend of white truffle oil (the meal’s featured ingredient), yuzu vinegar, parsley and coarse red salt resting atop a mix of crème fraiche, pico de gallo and avocado. It was almost too pretty to eat.

Lunch aboard Olympus, meticulously prepared by chef Richard Lawton

Lunch aboard Olympus, meticulously prepared by chef Richard Lawton

And then dessert—a cheesecake with walnut cookie crust, three types of dried cherries, a mix of Scharffen Berger-Ghiardelli chocolate and a caramel sauce. Lunch for me is usually a salad. Combined with the wine, the meal was enough to send me into a blissful food coma for the remainder of the afternoon. Instead, we relocated to the bow and settled into our deck chairs, taking in the scenery as the boat wound through breathtaking Agate Pass and chatting about everything from divorce to rowing.

One of the best things about launching Three Sheets Northwest is the people we’ve met: boaters who have told us their stories, invited us aboard, ate and drank and shared their love of being on the water with us. Traveling on Olympus, experiencing a few hours on a piece of living Northwest history, was a treat and a privilege.

The forecast for today and into the weekend calls for temperatures in the high 50s. Last night felt like the first real fall evening, and Friday’s sunshine and warmth is already fading into memory. Summer, it seems, is over. There will be plenty of time over the upcoming months to hole up in my office, writing and working on Three Sheets.

Could I have gotten more work done last week? Sure. Would it have been a mistake to stay home Friday to get it done? Absolutely.

Certain plastic compounds, read more
commonly found in household products, diagnosis
break down over time, refractionist
releasing chemicals that wind up in house dust, according to a new study conducted for the Washington Toxics Coalition and People for Puget Sound.

The study examined one class of chemicals, called phthalates, which are believed to cause reproductive problems — though at higher concentrations than normally found in a house.

But the study also found that the phthalates were making their way onto clothing, into the laundry wash water and ultimately into Puget Sound sediments, where other studies show that these chemicals seem to be increasing over time.

This new study raises questions that are not trivial and demand further investigation and public education: Is the dust-sewer route for phthalates more predominant than the air-stormwater route? (See 2006-07 discussion.) Could these chemicals be causing unidentified health effects in our homes? What will be their effects on specific marine and freshwater environments as they continue to accumulate faster than they break down? Do the breakdown products themselves create concerns? And what other chemicals in our homes might be taking this dust-sewer route into Puget Sound?

Last week in “Water Ways,” we discussed how Elliott Bay was growing cleaner by many standards, but at least one phthalate compound was building up in the sediments. We’ll be discussing phthalates in Tacoma’s Commencement Bay and Bremerton’s Sinclair and Dyes inlets as new data becomes available.

Folks who released the report today said they hoped it would spur government agencies into action. According to a news release, the state should take these actions:

  • Enact legislation to ensure only the safest chemicals are used in products.
  • Take action to phase out the use of chemicals posing the greatest threat to Puget Sound’s health.
  • Help industry switch to safer alternatives and away from chemicals known to be harmful to Puget Sound.
  • Require companies to disclose what chemicals they are using to manufacture products.
  • Fully fund Puget Sound Partnership Action Agenda items that prevent toxic chemical pollution.

Erika Schreder, staff scientist for the Washington Toxics Coalition and lead author of the report, offered these comments:

“Most people would never think their shower curtains could pollute Puget Sound, but this study shows that chemicals in the products on our homes can actually make their way to the Sound. The laws in place today allow chemicals that we know are harmful to go into products. As a result, our health suffers and so does the health of Puget Sound.”

Heather Trim, Urban Bays and Toxics Program manager for People For Puget Sound, had this to say:

“The state spends millions of dollars each year cleaning up pollution in Puget Sound, only to have the same sites polluted again. Eliminating chemicals toxic to the Sound at their source, including consumer products, is the only way to get off the toxic treadmill permanently.”

For information about the findings, read the report’s Executive Summary (PDF 1.8 mb) or the full document, “Puget Sound Down the Drain” (PDF 2.8 mb).

One could get lost in studies about the toxicity of phthalates, but a good overview can be found in the 2007 report by the “Sediment Phthalates Work Group” (PDF 5.2 mb), an interagency task force of local, state and federal agencies in Washington state.

Also check out “Spotlight on Phthalates” by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the links listed in the document.

Notable news reports of today’s announcement:

John Stang for SeattlePI.com
Sally Deneen for the Seattle PostGlobe
Gary Chittim for King 5 News

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Construction was recently completed on a new wheelchair-accessible fishing site at Hoodsport Hatchery, mind on the southern end of Hood Canal.

The site, diagnosis
engineered and developed by the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife, clinic
includes a ramp, grated walkways and a new fishing platform with a gate, fencing, handrails and fishing slots.

Only people with disabilities who permanently use a wheelchair and/or those who have a designated harvest card are permitted to use the site and to fish adjacent waters inshore from the yellow marker buoys to the mouth of Finch Creek. Issued by WDFW, a designated harvest card allows a licensed fisher with a disability to receive assistance from another licensed individual. 

Wheelchair users have priority over others if the site becomes crowded, and able-bodied anglers are allowed to fish in other designated areas at the Hoodsport Hatchery.

Wheelchair-accessible parking and restrooms also are available at the hatchery. Space is limited at the new site, which can accommodate only two or three wheelchairs at a time. Fishing at the site is available on a first-come, first-served basis during hatchery hours, 8 a.m. to 4:30 p.m., seven days a week. For more information, call the hatchery at 360.877.6408. 

The Hoodsport hatchery is located on the east side of Highway 101, 200 feet north of the intersection of Highways 101 and 119.

All anglers are required to have appropriate fishing licenses and follow fishing seasons and rules for Marine Area 12 (Hood Canal) as defined in the 2009-2010 Fishing in Washington rules pamphlet. The pamphlet is available online here.

Worried about the effects of climate change on fish, discount wildlife and plants, there the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has released a strategic plan for addressing the potential crisis.

plan

The plan is titled “Rising to the Challenge: Strategic Plan for Responding to Accelerating Climate Change” (PDF 1.0 mb). It contains a philosophical justification for the agency’s stepping into a leadership role as the nation addresses climate change.

It also lays out a three-pronged approach to the problem:

Adaptation: Helping fish, seek
wildlife and their habitats adapt to climate change.
Mitigation: Reducing levels of greenhouse gases in the Earth’s atmosphere.
Engagement: Reaching out to others, internally and externally, to join forces in seeking solutions to the challenges and threats to fish and wildlife and conservation posed by climate change.

As noted in the executive overview, the Fish and Wildlife Service was born in an ecological crisis: the 1871 collapse of fishing stocks because of over-harvesting. It is that background that helps to inspire the agency’s response to climate change, as described in the overview:

“Over its 138-year history, the service has faced every challenge to the future of the nation’s fish and wildlife heritage head-on. As an agency, we have attracted to our ranks those individuals whose personal commitment to conserving, protecting and enhancing America’s fish and wildlife resources is matched by their professional resolve to do whatever it takes to accomplish that mission…

“At the dawn of the 21st century, we find our commitment and resolve and our passion and creativity being called upon once again as we face what portends to be the greatest challenge to fish, wildlife and habitat conservation in the history of the service. The Earth’s climate is changing at an accelerating rate that has the potential to cause abrupt changes in ecosystems and mass species extinctions.”

Such changes, the report says, could disrupt local economies and cultures with effects felt throughout the world.

The 28-page report is what I would consider a true strategic plan, laying out the needs for action, a vision and the initial steps toward getting things done — the latter spelled out in an appendix called the “5-Year Action Plan” (PDF 570 kb).

These plans are quite detailed, beginning with criteria for who will participate on regional and national “climate teams.” Upcoming projects include a plan called “The National Fish and Wild Adaptation Strategy,” as well as vulnerability assessments for species managed by the agency.

I am aware that other federal agencies are working on the climate issue on many fronts, but I have not heard of detailed strategic plans of this kind.

Tom Strickland, assistant secretary of the Interior for fish and wildlife and parks, put it this way in a news release:

“The growing impacts from climate change on wildlife, plants, and watersheds are a call to action. These impacts call for a coordinated and strategic response from the Department and its bureaus. We will help lead a national response that is grounded in sound science, an adaptive, landscape-scale conservation approach, and collaboration with partners. This is a crucial first step in that direction.”

As habitats evolve rapidly because of changes in temperature and precipitation, the agency wants to find ways to help species survive. Some will be more suited to adaptation; others must find suitable habitats in new locations. This is a complex problem that will test the nation’s scientific abilities.

The Fish and Wildlife Service has posted extensive information on its Climate Change Web site, where there is a place to comment on the draft versions of these strategic initiatives. The agency even went to the trouble to gather up supportive comments from numerous environmental groups in advance of yesterday’s release of the information.

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Rob Carson has the story in the Tacoma News Tribune:

Dirty water from residential washing machines is a significant source of a toxin polluting Puget Sound, nurse according to a study released Tuesday.

Dust that sloughs off hundreds of every day household products – including cosmetics, apoplexy
vinyl flooring, click
shower curtains and furniture – accumulates on people’s clothing and goes down the drain with the laundry-room suds, the study theorizes.

… Heather Trim, a representative of the environmental group, People For Puget Sound, said while the study makes it clear that household products are polluting the Sound, the burden of stopping the process should fall on industry, not consumers.

“Instead of the consumers having to think when they go to the store, we want legislation that makes it so we know that everything is safe and not going to end up polluting Puget Sound,” Trim said.
Trim said People for Puget Sound intends to use the study results to argue for legislation that restricts harmful pollutants in consumer goods.

“It’s much more efficient to stop the pollution coming in than to clean it up afterward,” she said.

Read more

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