Category Archives: ENVIRONMENTAL AWARENESS – THINGS YOU MAY NOT KNOW

Exploring a wide-gammet of environmental news. Toxins in places you never thought of – problems and solutions.

Celebrating Earth Day 2015

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One of my favorite days to celebrate! Here’s a little history: “The very first Earth Day, April 22nd, 1970, 20 million Americans took to the streets, parks, and auditoriums to demonstrate for a healthy, sustainable environment in massive coast-to-coast rallies. Thousands of colleges and universities organized protests against the deterioration of the environment. Groups that had been fighting against oil spills, polluting factories and power plants, raw sewage, toxic dumps, pesticides, freeways, the loss of wilderness, and the extinction of wildlife suddenly realized they shared common values.

Earth Day 1970 achieved a rare political alignment, enlisting support from Republicans and Democrats. The first Earth Day led to the creation of the United States Environmental Protection Agency and the passage of the Clean Air, Clean Water, and Endangered Species Acts.” Excerpt Taken From: HERE

I started Earth week out giving a somewhat informal recycling presentation to my colleagues at work. It was great fun to share my knowledge, answer questions and a really good reminder that recycling can be confusing. Living in the Portland Metro area, most people REALLY want to recycle, so they throw items into the recycle bin that shouldn’t go in there (I know, I was one of them).     But…When IN DOUBT…THROW IT OUT!

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Do you live in the Metro area and interested in recycling and waste management? Check out the Master Recyclers Class.  Part of graduating class 54, I was shocked at how much I learned since I was already so eco-minded. It’s a fabulous experience-you will learn a great deal and be with a room full of like-minded awesome individuals.

GIVING BACK

My family started a tradition several years ago to volunteer for SOLVEIT  – one of SOLVE’s big volunteer days. Last Saturday we went to the Wilkes Creek Headwaters (154th and NE Fremont in Portland) to discover a new area, enjoy the beautiful weather and clear invasive English Ivy from the restoration site.

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SOLVE partnered with the Columbia Slough Watershed Council (yes, one of my favorite non-profits I volunteered with a few years ago), Portland City Parks, an employee group from Boeing (yes, there is one in Portland too with 1,700 employees) and Portland Geocaching Group. So it was a fantastic eclectic crew and a wonderful turn-out.

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A small group planted native species and mulched a designated area while the rest of us pulled English Ivy. It was a gentle procedure because we didn’t want to disturb the native plants, many of which are blooming and growing this time of year.

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 -Trillium-

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                      -Trillium and an awesome mushroom patch that quilted the forest floor-

Wilkes Creek Headwaters contains the springs that feed the only free flowing stream in the city that still enters the Columbia Slough. The City of Portland and Metro acquired the site in 2011.

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Portland Parks uses some herbicide to clear unwanted plant life, but since this site was full of Native Indian Plum trees, they wanted to resort to manual volunteer labor. Indian Plum apparently is very sensitive to any kind of herbicides… Glad we could all help!

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Indian Plum Tree

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RESULTS

Over 8,500 volunteers came out on Saturday for SOLVEIT events all across Oregon! SOLVE estimates that this year over 25 tons of trash and debris was collected from 162 sites including neighborhoods, parks, school grounds and natural areas around the state. Invasive non-native plants were cleared from 11 acres and 3,000 native trees and shrubs were planted.

ENJOYING NATURE

Sunday my sweetie and I went to Sauvie Island to hike the lighthouse trail I featured back in 2013 HERE. At that time, we saw 2 other cars in the parking lot. Last weekend was a complete madhouse (granted, it was in the high 70’s). I love that so many people are enjoying our natural areas, and hopefully are inspired to care for them, but it’s hard to share sometimes. Fortunately, most everyone was hitting the nearby beach so we had the hike mostly to ourselves.

 

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-Happy pups exploring a cave in the river bank. Inca (on the right) went all the way through. :)-

Happy Earth Day Around the World! Get outside, enjoy some natural beauty, breathe fresh air, walk barefoot, soak in the sun or rain and feel gratitude for all the beautiful gifts we receive from this planet.

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Hanford Nuclear Site- What You May Not Know

Image Source

If you are concerned about the fluoride debate, you should be REALLY concerned about the Hanford site.”                                                 -Green drinks guest speaker

This Months Portland Green Drinks featured a presentation on the Hanford Nuclear Site. Two guest speakers from Physicians for Social Responsibility (PSR Oregon Chapter) highlighted the Particles on the Wall exhibit, which utilizes art and science to tell the Hanford Site story. (See Info about the exhibit at the bottom of this post.)

“The display was thought of during a happy hour brain storming session, so we thought it was Green Drinks appropriate,” said Kelly Campbell, PSR’s executive director, with a laugh. “Hanford is kinda a downer, so having a drink makes it a little easier,” Maxine Fookson, a Pediatric Nurse Practitioner who volunteers on the Oregon PSR Peace Work Group, adds with a smile.

Although Campbell and Fookson’s attitudes were lighthearted, their message was delivered with the utmost concern, poise and passion as the women explained the Particles on the Wall’s mission, a brief history on the Hanford Site, and current concerns.

Below is a quick overview for those unaware of the Hanford site, or need a little refresher, as well as key take-away thoughts.

Who What Where:

Hanford occupies 586-square-miles (for comparison, Los Angeles is 503-sqaure-miles) in the desert terrain of southeastern Washington state along the Columbia River, and sits approximately 250 miles upriver from Portland Oregon. It’s the site where plutonium was produced for the devastating bombs dropped on Japan during World War II. It’s considered the most toxic site in the Western Hemisphere. 

Social Justice Concerns:

For centuries, the Hanford area was home to several tribes of Native Americans.  According to the Hanford website, “Remnants, artifacts, and burial sites associated with historical Native American activity are found throughout the site and are protected by law.” Hmmm…doesn’t seem like their was much protection to me. 

“When the War Department decided to locate portions of the Manhattan Project to this part of Washington, it also decided that work to develop atomic weapons had to be done in secret. Subsequently, in early 1943, all of the residents of White Bluffs and Hanford were told to evacuate their homes and abandon their farms, and were given just 30 days and a small amount of money to do so.” -Source 

Once the residents vacated the area, people from all over the country came to Hanford creating a workforce of 51,000 to build the nuclear reactors and processing facilities required to extract plutonium for atomic weapons. Apparently, very few of the workers knew what they were building (until the bomb was dropped on Nagasaki in August 1945), but worked under the guise of “very important war work.”

After World War II, production increased in response to the “Cold War” and continued until 1987 when the last reactor ceased operation. 

Environmental Concerns:

So why is nuclear a big deal? – For one, it produces a gigantic amount of toxic waste that we still have no idea how to get rid of, and no safe way to store.

The main Hanford product, plutonium-239, has a half-life of over 24,000 years. At this rate of decay, the plutonium produced at Hanford will take 200,000 years or more to become stable nonradioactive material. -Source 

The Tri-Party Agreement-Cleanup:

In 1989, the U.S. Department of Energy, the Environmental Protection Agency, and Washington State Department of Ecology, entered into a legal Tri-Party agreement to clean up the Hanford Site.

According to Fookson and Campbell, the federal government spends 2 billion dollars annually on Hanford cleanup, that’s 1/3 of the money spent on nuclear cleanup in the country. With the sense of urgency generated by World War II and the prevailing secrecy, wastes were dumped in the soil and the river. Additionally, large volumes of high-level waste were placed in huge single-shell storage tanks, with the assumption that it could all be taken care of properly after the war.

As you can see in the picture at the top of the post, the Hanford site sits RIGHT ON the Columbia river. Nuclear anything (power for electricity, weapon development etc.), requires a HUGE amount of water. The diagram below helps explain how the toxins leak into the soil, water table, and the river. 

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Health Concerns:

“The government did not reveal a number of significant health-related events until forced to do so in the late 1980s when citizens exercised the Freedom of Information Act. Although highly sophisticated radiation monitoring was performed throughout the history of Hanford, the government did not tell the public the details, repeatedly assuring them that everything was safe.” -Source 

Understanding of radiobiology slowly evolved. Initial hopes that the soil would hold wastes from leaching into the groundwater were eventually proven wrong. The 1986 Chernobyl disaster alerted the public that a serious accident could occur at Hanford as well, and the resulting contamination of the Columbia and its basin would affect the population of the entire Northwest. 

“The true situation at Hanford remained hidden from the public. The community faith in “good jobs, good pay, and a good cause” had long fostered an emphasis on production and a neglect of safety.”  -Source

Only after a particularly brave inspector and whistleblower leaked information to the press, and a very revealing series of expose articles appeared in the newspapers, did any meaningful changes occur. 

Local Stories:

In addition to the towns of Hanford and White Bluffs, the 300 residents of Richland were forced to leave their homes as well. Richland is the only town of the three that still exists with a current population of 48,000. The high school mascot remains to this day the “Bombers,” with the recognizable mushroom cloud as its logo.

During the PSR presentation, Fookson read moving, and often heart-wrenching poetry written by individuals effected by the Hanford site, some from the Richland region, “…even the snow was dusty…even the dust was radioactive, though we didn’t know it.” 

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Columbia Generating System-Nuclear Power Plant:

Located 10 miles North of Richland, this reactor provides Washington with approximately 10% of the state’s electrical generation capacity. With the 1992 retirement of Oregon’s Trojan Nuclear Power Plant, it is the only commercial nuclear power reactor remaining in the Pacific Northwest. According to Fookson and Campbell, Oregon receives approximately 3%-4% of its power from the Columbia Generating System, and the plant recently received an “okay” for 20 more years of operation.

Grave concerns about the use of nuclear power energy has prevailed for decades, however with the catastrophic events of the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear disaster following the earthquake and Tsunami on March 11, 2011, potential problems have been revisited. 

Potential for Pacific Northwest Catastrophic Event:

The Pacific Northwest is due for a huge earthquake, and scientists say that it’s not a matter of “if,” but a matter of “when.”  Need a recap of the destruction caused by the 9.0 Tohoku earthquake and resulting tsunami in Japan on Fukushima? : A series of equipments failures, nuclear meltdowns, releases of radioactive materials and foreseeable years of cleanup. Can you imagine something similar at the Washington sites in the event of a catastrophic earthquake in our region?

Along the Columbia river, electricity is generated through hydroelectric power (utilizing the dams), wind power (utilizing the wind turbines) and nuclear power generated at the Columbia Generating System plant. Did you know that when there is too much electricity on the grid (yes, our grid is in need of a SERIOUS overhaul), the wind turbines are shut down, not the nuclear plant, because it is next to impossible to turn that power plant off. Does this make progressive, environmental sense?

Where should our Energy go? What Can We Do?

As explained by Campbell and Fookson, you don’t have to be an expert on nuclear power and the Hanford site to be concerned. Since the Hanford site is in Washington, Oregonians don’t have any jurisdiction, but we are equally effected, (those arbitrary state lines). Portland is far closer to the Hanford site than Seattle for example. I encourage you to contact your local politicians, and Washington state politicians to share your concern about the cleanup of the Hanford site, and the need to close the Columbia generating system power plant. 

I will close with Campbell’s thought provoking and inspirational plea.

When we think about the incredible national support, the immense amount of money, the quick response, and the brilliant minds brought together to create the technology of the atomic bomb, it’s truly amazing.

What would it look like, if we took that same energy, funding, citizen support, brilliant minds, and sense of urgency towards fighting climate change… Imagine what we could accomplish!  

You are cordially invited to join Oregon Physicians for Social Responsibility (PSR) for Particles on the Wall, a multi-disciplinary exhibit combining visual and literary arts, science, and historical memorabilia to explore the lasting impacts of the Hanford Nuclear Reservation and the nuclear age.

When: Exhibit runs from May 3rd through June 14th. Open to the public weekdays from 8:30 AM until 5:30 PM and Sundays 8:30 AM until 2:00 PM.

Where: The Ecotrust Building, 2nd Floor (721 NW 9th Avenue in Portland)        Free and open to the public!

Want to Tour The Hanford Site? It’s Free!

For Additional information on the the History of the Hanford Site Visit: Hanford History, Hanford Site

For Additional News Stories on the Hanford Site Visit:

 NBC News.com:  “Six tanks now said to be leaking at contaminated Hanford Nuclear Site”                                                                  Huffington Post: “Hanford Nuclear Waste Tanks Could Explode, Agency Explains”                                                                              Scientific American: “Hanford Nuclear Waste Cleanup Plant May Be Too Dangerous”

Please share your thoughts and additional resources in the comment section below-thank you!

 

 

Adventure #4 – Crystal Springs Rhododendron Garden & Lessons in Avian Health

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Although I enjoy my natural “wild” areas, I also really love city parks. Stumbling upon Crystal Springs Rhododendron Garden was such a treat for me in a day that was packed with appointments and informational interviews. I had two hours between items on my calendar, when I typed “city park” into my trusty smart phone, and noticed I was only two miles from this lush sanctuary. So, I decided to check it out!

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To make the occasion extra awesome, I happened to be there on a Wednesday- Free admittance on Tuesdays and Wednesdays!                                                                                                                    

The Price Scoop:

Between March 1st and Labor Day, there is an admission charge of $4.00         Free Admission for children 12 and under and members of the American Rhododendron Society

The Hours Scoop:

Open from Dawn to Dusk daily

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I will let the photos tell the story – this place is absolutely gorgeous. Located in the Eastmoreland neighborhood (SE Portland), the garden is home to 2000+ species of Rhododendrons, azaleas, magnolias and related plants, covering approximately five acres.

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The rhododendrons are in bloom fr0m earlyMarch through the middle of June. The peak bloom period coincides with Mother’s Day in May.  – Source

In addition to the plant life, the park has so many birds! My heart was singing as I kept spotting new species-and you don’t need binoculars to get a great view. Several species of waterfowl make their home here, including Wood Ducks, American Wigeons, Buffleheads, American Coots, Pied-Billed Grebes, and of course Mallards and Canada Goose (among others).

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The garden does a fairly good job reminding visitors:

DON’T FEED THE BIRDS!

I have so many childhood memories of feeding birds in the park (albeit great memories), but I come from a generation where that was normal practice. It doesn’t take too much thought to realize that bread (especially white bread most people purchase for the park feedings), is not food for wildlife. In fact, it can make animals very sick. A sign in the park reads as follows:

“Nature has provided wildlife with both the physical means and the instinctive behavior needed for survival. Naturally occurring food sources provide a healthy diet for wildlife…Bread and food scraps are poor sources of protein for wildlife. Feeding leftover foods also discourages natural foraging habits, degrades water quality, and favors a relatively limited number of species.”

Want to learn more about artificially feeding birds? This is a great article written by the Department of Environmental Conservation.

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Crystal Springs Lake (shown above), at nearly 8-acres, was created by a small dam installed as part of the Eastmoreland Golf Course (bordering the garden) in 1917. Crystal Springs creek and lake are fed by the largest system of springs in the Portland-Vancouver region – 13 springs supply approximately 6,000 gallons of water per minute throughout the year.

Rodie Lake

If one is looking for a beautiful wedding spot, this place delivers. It won’t be a unique idea however, a lot of weddings take place here June-September. There is a beautiful open field in the far end of the garden (the geese like it as well).

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The original owner of the property, William S. Ladd, served two terms as the mayor of Portland in the 1800s – he called it Crystal Springs Farm. The oldest rhododendron in the current garden was planted prior to 1917.  Source

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LOCATION                                    SE 28th and Woodstock                                                                                            Located between Reed College and the Eastmoreland Golf Course

If you are interested in making a day-long adventure in the SE Portland neighborhoods, you can also incorporate Oaks Bottom Wildlife Refuge, only a mile or so from Crystal Springs. Visit my last post for more info on the refuge.

For an online brochure of Crystal Springs Rhododendron Garden, click HERE.

For a map of the Garden, click HERE.

For additional info, click HERE.

A Few More Photos For Your Enjoyment!

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Columbia Slough Part II- Natural Surroundings Education

IMG_0113-Columbia Slough near Columbia Blvd. Wastewater Treatment Facility-

I’m a huge proponent in learning about your natural surroundings. What are the native species in your area? What are the bodies of water near you, and the mountains and hills that surround your city/town? Do you know where your tap water comes from? I encourage everyone to attend free events to learn more about your surroundings. It’s a great way to meet interesting individuals, and learn about the “behind the scenes” people that help run our city!

I shared my new found interest in the Columbia Slough in my last post, and I  just couldn’t get enough, so I attended a free educational event to learn more about this enticing area. Co-hosted by the Columbia Slough Watershed Council (CSWC) and Multnomah County Drainage District No 1., the hour-long event was a great opportunity to learn about the Columbia Slough, the watershed, and the human impacts on the water flow using flood control levees.

Byron Woltersdorf, P.E., an engineer for the Drainage District NO. 1 (MCDD), was our tour guide and educator for the event. IMG_0024He explained there are four drainage districts along the Columbia River from west of I-5 to Troutdale, the watershed has  31 miles of flood control levees, and with the help of the 1936 flood act and then the revised 1950 flood act, the lower Columbia River basin is now protected from flooding with the help of levees constructed by the Army Corps of Engineers.

When the MCDD was formed in 1917, the land in and around the district was primarily agricultural.  This use of land was perfect, as the annual flooding was great for adding nutrients to the soil. However, as the land use changed over time, eliminating flooding was necessary for the growing urban lifestyle.

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After a general history lesson and Q&A session, Woltersdorf gave us a tour of the pump house. Water is pumped down the slough towards the Willamette River, however, there aren’t any pumps on the lower portion of the slough. This portion is tidally influenced from it’s close proximity to the Columbia River, which can be influenced by as much as 1.5-3.5 feet, depending on the tide. (Pretty amazing, considering how many miles away Portland is from the ocean!) The pump house we visited at Drainage District No. 1, can pump 600,000 gallons of water a minute if every pump is running (not normally necessary.)

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-Pump Area at Drainage District NO. 1-

During a Hundred Year Flood event, the stations would require to pump a million gallons a minute in a 24-hour period of time.

Speaking of power, apparently, there is not enough of an elevation difference to use the pump house as an energy source, but if the power went out during a time that the pumps needed to be running, five semi-trucks and five tanker trunks would be necessary on site to operate with a generator according to Woltersdorf. (Yikes- that is a huge monthly electricity bill!)

The MCDD meets a few challenges along the way. One interesting critter is none other than Oregon’s state animal, the beaver. There are approximately 3000 beaver in the managed flow plain. Woltersdorf explained, somewhat hesitantly, that his department is allowed to trap and kill the animals when necessary, as the beavers can be problematic. The workers are also allowed to remove dams when needed. The effectiveness of this is limited however. Woltersdorf said that his crew took down a four-feet tall dam once, and in only two days, the beaver erected the same size dam in the same location.

Turns out, “Busy as a Beaver,” is relevant!

Although this department is not in charge of water quality, (mentioned in my previous post), Drainage District  NO. 1 station takes in storm water runoff from a 20,000 acre area of town.

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-Columbia Slough Pump area- East of Wastewater Treatment Facility-

For all my history buff readers, a wonderful resource for additional information on the history of the Columbia River Basin, and the Slough, please visit Center for Columbia River History website. It’s full of images, stories, and historical accounts of the area.

Do you have any favorite waterways near you, or stories on discovering your surroundings? I would love to hear them, please share in the comment section below!

Special thanks to the Drainage District NO. 1 and Byron Woltersdorf for all the valuable information, and fun tour!

Thank you for opening  your doors to the public and keeping us all safe from floods….the unsung heroes of Portland!

Special Thanks to the Columbia Slough Watershed Council for all the environmental education, stewardship awareness, restoration, and relationship building they perform in the community and watershed. Please visit the site for additional information, volunteer opportunities, and announcements for future events and workshops.

Columbia Slough- What Is It?

IMG_0115(Columbia Slough on Bike Bridge Near the Wastewater Treatment Plant)

Whenever I move to a new area, I immediately seek out the nature spots nearby, and best places to walk my dogs. When I moved to Portland OR., and started exploring my neighborhood, I stumbled upon the nature reserve on Columbia Boulevard next to the water & sewage treatment facility. IMG_0094It seems a little odd to create an outdoor oasis next to a sewage treatment plant, but it really is a beautiful area close to my home that I can walk the dogs and feel like I’m in a pocket of nature, (despite the occasional unpleasant odor on certain days). A bike trail in this area travels  out to Marine Drive in one direction, or Smith and Bybee Lakes , and Kelley Point Park in the other.

IMG_0102During my first visit, I was stumped by the body of water that flowed through the area. It was too small to be the Columbia River, and larger than a runoff stream. Because of it’s close proximity to the water treatment facility, I honestly thought it was some sort of man-made  toxic runoff  from the plant, despite the fact that I could see evidence of life thriving in the area, (plenty of wildlife and foliage).  I later found out that this body of water is the Columbia Slough. I wasn’t familiar with the term “slough,” further cementing the idea that it had something to do with sewage waste water (“slough” just sounds so yucky).

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However, my recent volunteer work with the Columbia Slough Watershed Council (CSWC) has taught me that the Columbia Slough is not man-made, is not part of the sewage treatment facility, and is a very natural occurring body of water influenced by the Columbia River.  The term “slough” is simply a body of water that is low flow, or stagnant, not necessarily “dirty,” although I will share environmental concerns below. The Columbia Slough travels through lakes and wetlands, and is in an area that used to completely flood every year, prior to human intervention.

The Slough is approximately 18 miles long with the headwaters at Fairview Lake in East Multnomah County. Traveling through Northeast and North Portland, (paralleling the Columbia River), the slough eventually flows into the Willamette River in Kelley Point Park.

IMG_0211-Columbia Slough Entering Willamette River in Kelley Point Park-

According to the CSWC website, the entire Columbia Slough Watershed contains 32,700 acres, 6 lakes, 3 ponds and 50 miles of waterway. The area has 26 identified fish species, 175 bird species and contains several wildlife corridors.

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(Natural area near Columbia Blvd. Wastewater Treatment Plant)

Despite these amazing characteristics, many challenges are present in maintaining a healthy waterway, especially in this area. The Columbia Slough watershed is heavily industrial and residential, with approximately 158,000 residents-(1/20 of Oregon’s population), 54 schools, 2 universities, 1 community college, and 3,900 businesses, including Portland International airport and port of Portland marine terminals.

The Columbia Slough Watershed is made up of 54% impervious surfaces – solid surfaces where water can’t sink into the ground, and join under-ground water systems. Therefore, water runs along these surfaces such as sidewalks, streets, parking lots etc., picking up sediments, toxins, litter, and oil along the way. This contaminated water makes its way to the slough, where it travels to the Willamette River, onward toward the Columbia, and eventually out to the Pacific Ocean.

Unfortunately, storm water is only one source of pollution in the Columbia Slough. Failing septic systems, illegal dumping, and industrial equipment cleaning, all pollute the water systems as well.  Although the Slough has a long history of contamination, according to the Columbia Slough Watershed website, its cleaner today than it has been in the last 100 years due to great efforts made by the CSWC, and the surrounding community.

To read more about the Columbia Slough Watershed, flood history, and flood control levees, read my blog post Columbia Slough II.

Do you have an interesting story about your local waterways? Please share below!

Special Thanks to the Columbia Slough Watershed Council for all the environmental education, stewardship awareness, restoration, and relationship building they perform in the community and watershed. Much of the statistics I provided above I found on their website. Please visit the site for additional information, volunteer opportunities, and announcements for events and workshops.

Toxic Utility Poles

Ever notice that black sticky looking goo on utility poles when you put your sign up for the weekend garage sale?  I had never given it a second thought until I attended the Public Interest Environmental Law Conference (PIELC) held on the University of Oregon’s campus this spring. According to the panelists on the “Dioxin from Phone Poles: Poison in Your Back Yard” panel, the last thing we want to do is get a closer look.

Most utility poles are covered in toxins that are proven to cause cancer. Unfortunately, most people aren’t aware of the danger the black looking goo poses, and I’ve noticed a pole on virtually every corner in the neighborhood-vegetable gardens planted near these poles and children playing around them.  Because heat draws the material down the pole and into the soil, (the soil often leaks into nearby storm drains and into local waterways) the area surrounding each of these poles is a mini superfund site.

In addition to the people living and playing near these poles, utility workers that climb and repair them are at high risk of health problems from toxin exposure.

Below is part of my article printed in The Eugene Weekly, You can read the whole article here.

Before WWI, the steel industry began looking for ways to use its waste products, and provided the public with pentachlorophenol (penta), a wood preservative. According to PIELC panelist Patricia Clary, a representative from Californians for Alternatives to Toxics, penta is so toxic that nothing can live in the wood.

Years later, health issues related to penta began to surface. Because it contains dioxin, a known human carcinogen, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) banned its production in 1987, except for the use on utility poles. Still used today, penta is dissolved into petroleum and forced into the poles wood.

A 1994 EPA report stated, there is no safe level of exposure to dioxin, which can cause cancer and severe reproductive and developmental problems.

According to the panelists, there are 140 million utility poles treated in the U.S., the majority treated with penta. Additionally, damaged poles are sold to individuals to use in landscaping and garden use.

Heat draws the penta oil mix to the surface of the pole during hot weather so it can easily slip down the pole into the soil, wash down storm drains, and get into water systems.

“The poles lose up to 50 percent of their oils in the first eight to 10 years into the environment,” said Fredric Evenson from the Ecological Rights Foundation. He explained that mixing dioxin with oil makes it travel very fast through the soil. Penta has been found in groundwater as far as 90 feet below the surface.

“Each of these poles are like mini superfund sites all across the country. They are in people’s backyards, school yards, near daycare centers,” explains Evenson.

The panelists said the vast majority of poles they tested in California came from the McFarland Cascade Pole Treating Facility, located near the Eugene airport. Evenson describes a massive plume of penta surrounding this entire wetland area, with oil floating on the surface of groundwater, which he explains, likely makes its way into the Willamette River.

Fiberglass poles, steel poles, applying citrus oil, and using tree species that don’t need to be treated, are all alternatives to penta use. “The real answer is to get away from wood,” said Clary.

Gifting This Holiday Season

Ah, the holidays are upon us. For many this means a time of celebration, family, plenty of “special occasion” food and drinks, parties and…gifts. I have struggled over the years with the pressure of gifts and wonder why our culture is so obsessed with the commercialization of the holiday season.  In the past I would make a list of all the people I had to buy something for and stress over the fact that I didn’t have a lot of money, stress because I didn’t know what to get for half of the people on my list, and stress because there was never enough time.

This time of year is traditionally a time of rest and contemplation, but instead of curling up with a good book next to the fire, most Americans are spending hours rushing around shopping.

It may be difficult to escape this cultural phenomenon; however, there are a few things we can do to make the holiday season more enjoyable while leaving a lighter environmental mark.

Rule Number One: Most Everything You Buy Eventually Gets Chucked Out!                                                              

All that stuff you buy for everyone eventually degrades, grows old, becomes outdated or no longer useful.  Before you buy something for a loved one this holiday season, ask yourself a few simple questions:

  • Does the person need this item or will it really be used?
  • How was this proposed gift manufactured?
  • Where was it made?
  • What are the effects on the planet when the gift is thrown out?
  • Does the item have any toxic or chemical components that are harmful?

I used to wander around big box stores just hoping the right gift would pop out at me and I would be gifting the perfect things to all my friends and family.  The truth is, I always ended up buying things with the thought, “Well, it’s better than nothing.”  I would buy stuff just because I thought I had to!  Now I approach the gifting season a little differently, here are some tips that have really helped me:

1. You Don’t Have To Buy Presents Only in December

I remember shopping with my grandmother one summer years ago when I was a child, and she saw something one of her daughters would love.  She bought the item and told me, “That will make the perfect Christmas present.” Even though it was August, my grandmother planned ahead (avoiding the stress of last minute shopping) and she bought something my aunt would love, not just an object out of the pressure of having to buy something.

2. Give the Gift of Time

Instead of buying stuff, I often treat my family and friends to an experience.  For example, tickets to a play, movie, comedy show or music concert.  Not only does this help the local economy, but it is a great “green” gift idea, as there is nothing to eventually throw out except for the movie stubs.  The best part of this gift is the opportunity to spend time with your loved one doing something fun.

3.  Purchase Gifts from Local “Mom & Pop” Stores

Support your local community by purchasing items from small boutiques and neighborhood stores. Not only does this help your community by keeping your money local, but it also helps the environment by avoiding CO2 emissions from driving long distances or shipping items.

4. Make Your Own Gifts

It may be a little cliché, but making your own gifts really is appreciated. For the parentsout there- take advantage of having children, grandparents love handmade gifts from their grandchildren.  I take advantage of this every year! 
Crafts are a great idea, but food is always well received too. People love getting homemade goodies; their cheap, easy and pretty green, especially if you use organic natural ingredients. For some fun ideas: Sierra Club Homemade recycled art

5. Consider Purchasing One Quality Gift

Think about the amount of money you want to spend and consider purchasing one quality gift rather than a bunch of  “cheaper” things that will lose their appeal in a short amount of time.  Sometimes it seems like opening a whole bunch of presents is more fun, but those moments of excitement pass quickly and a good quality gift can last for years.

6. Give a Donation as a Gift

Does your loved one have a favorite charity or non-profit? Consider making a donation in their honor. Many non-profits ask for an annual membership fee, which makes a great gift idea. This is the ultimate gift that keeps giving!

7. It’s Okay Not to Buy Stuff

Finally, it’s okay not to buy anything for people, especially when you don’t find something that really works for the individual.  I would like to stress the importance of avoiding the “I have to buy them something” mentality. If you really feel the need to gift something and nothing strikes your fancy, I think gift cards are totally appropriate.  It may not seem as personal, but at least the person will purchase something they really want, or need, rather than just receive “junk” that will end up in the landfill within a few months.

Be creative this holiday season and venture outside your comfort zone for the gifting season! Have fun, think about the impact your purchases will have on the environment, and don’t be afraid to put those kids to work making gifts!

Fighting Planned Obsolescence: The Bike Story

The highlight of my 13th birthday: the gift of a brand new bike.  My father took me to the neighborhood Schwinn store where I picked out a blue framed mountain bike with a neon yellow water bottle holder. The real miracle: I still use this bike every day!

For more than 20 years, this bike has served me well.  At times, it was my only mode of transportation.  It got me to and from work, grocery shopping and errand running. I explored my neighborhood, campgrounds in the summer, and nearby bike trails. Now my bike gets me to and from school nearly every day, and last summer it lived at Burning Man for a week, where it was decorated with accents and playa dust.

My bike has taken a few different forms over the years. A child seat was on the back for several years where my daughter rode around  town with me.  When she got older, I added a tag-along bike so she could help me pedal us around, though most of the time she simply cruised along “forgetting” to pedal.  Two years ago, my bike was transitioned back to a single ride mode of transportation as my daughter learned to ride her own bike and gained independence with her very own two-wheeler.

I have seen nice bikes over the years that always tempt me for half a moment to think, “Oh, I would like a new bike.” However, my bike works great; there is nothing wrong with it therefore, how could I even consider getting rid of it and purchasing something new!

Most people are quick to jump on the “new” bandwagon.  We want the next best thing, even if that means chucking something that is still perfectly useful.  Consumers are not entirely to blame for this occurrence of course.  Marketers purposefully create new designs for things every year so that individuals feel the need to keep spending their money to buy new things.

It’s a Type of Planned Obsolescence

Clothing and accessories are an easy example of this.  New styles come out not just annually, but seasonally.  It is easy to feel trapped into wanting to “fit in” with the newest fad.  Technology is another big market for planned obsolescence. For example, cell phone models change nearly monthly, prompting consumers to throw out their perfectly functioning old phones for the newest models. Not only is this mentality a waste of money for consumers, but it is very hard on the planet.  Many finite resources go into making all of our consumer goods, and every time we purchase new things, we are adding a burden on those resources.

I make a point with my daughter to explain the marketing behind new trends every year, and encourage her not to be “caught up” in that month’s biggest fad. I remember in junior high I just had to have a certain brand of jeans and winter coat; all the “cool” kids had them. Fortunately, I haven’t had to deal with those requests yet with my little one. She still gets a thrill out of going thrift shopping with her mom, though I’m sure those days won’t last forever!

As for my bike, it gets me everywhere I need to go and more.  I might still look at the shiny bikes that pass me by, but feel good knowing that I didn’t fall for the trap of planned obsolescence!

For more information about “Stuff” and planned obsolescence, watch Annie Leonard’s phenomenal 20-minute documentary: “The Story of Stuff.”  The link will take you to the website where you will find all her short clips. It is well worth your time, enjoy.