Kim staffs InvestigateWest's research desk and is a liaison to our community of readers. Kim joined InvestigateWest after a career working on environmental issues in the public sector and as a consultant.
Legislation aimed at reducing water pollution by phasing out plastic microbeads in products like toothpaste and cosmetics got a unanimous yes vote in the Republican-controlled Washington Senate. But the Democratic-controlled House Environment Committee scrubbed it, leaving it in the growing pile of this session’s dead and discarded bills. Senate Bill 5609 would have, by 2020, banned the manufacture and sale of products containing synthetic microbeads. Microbeads are tiny plastic particles used as abrasives in many health and beauty products. They wash down the drain but are so small that they can escape wastewater treatment filters, ending up in Puget Sound and other waterways and entering the food chain as a pollutant.
Changes to the state’s energy code that won bipartisan support in the Senate nearly made it to the finish line but died this week when SB 5804 failed to get past the Democrat-controlled House Technology and Economic Development Committee.
After a decade of studies that cost millions of dollars, the time had come for the people living around Seattle’s biggest toxic mess to tell the government what a cleanup should look like. On a spring night in 2013, Spanish-speaking residents of south Seattle approached a microphone that sat beneath the basketball hoop at the South Park Community Center. One by one, they envisioned a new future for the Duwamish River and the neighborhoods it passes through. Today those neighborhoods of South Park and Georgetown are home to some of King County’s highest rates of hospitalization for childhood asthma. Locals regularly fish the river, despite government prohibitions due to high levels of toxic chemicals in seafood caught there.
A ‘Healthy Choice’ program brochure advising consumers about safe fish consumption.Credit: Washington Department of HealthTen minutes and four slides. That’s what a Washington Department of Health staffer responsible for warning the public about contaminants in fish was allotted to impress then-Health Secretary Mary Selecky about the importance of the issue.Lots of luck, warned former Department of Health toxicology chief Rob Duff — Selecky and her crew are “skeptics” who “are not very interested” in environmental health.And yet, wrote Duff: “If not DOH, who?”That was early 2008. In the months that followed, Health Department staffers would continue to raise contaminated fish as a public health issue, records and interviews show. Among their concerns: a long-known error in the state formula that controls how much toxic pollution can be dumped into waterways by factories, sewage-treatment plants and other polluters.The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has since repeatedly warned the state to fix the error.Now, a year and a half into the Inslee administration, the governor is scheduled to announce his plan today in Olympia.
Third-grade teacher Nancy Avery helps her class during reading time. Avery taught in a portable classroom for 27 years. This is her first year inside a brick-and-mortar building at Jefferson Elementary in Spokane, Washington. Photo: Courtney Flatt/EarthFixSPOKANE, Wash. — Teachers at Spokane’s Jefferson Elementary don’t have to look far to know what they left behind.The school’s old portable classrooms sit just a block away from their brand new building. It was in those portables where for nearly 30 years, Nancy Avery made the choice between fresh air and listening to her students, when she’d routinely switch off the noisy ventilation system that drowned out their voices.It was in the school’s 14 portables where students and teachers were sick far too often, she said. Several teachers contracted skin reactions, she said, that have dissipated since the move to the new building.No longer does Avery worry about water leaks and ceiling stains. No more will the hot, stuffy box lull her students during standardized testing.But most of all, there’s no more smell. That’s what she and the others notice most.“Those portable classrooms don’t have a masonry foundation at all, so you just have dirt underneath — so it smells a lot better in this new building,” Jefferson Elementary Principal Mary-Dean Wooley said. “That moldy, earthy smell is absent completely.”In September, Jefferson Elementary’s new $25-million campus eliminated the need for portables. Built with enough space to accommodate future enrollment growth, Wooley said the school shouldn’t need them any time soon.
Workers at Blazer Industries push a half-built portable classroom out the door of the modular building manufacturing plant in Aumsville, Oregon. Photo: Cassandra Profita/EarthFixAUMSVILLE, Ore. – After affixing the roof to the walls, five workers push a half-built classroom out the door of the Blazer Industries manufacturing plant. Clearly, this is a portable classroom.It’s one of about 130 portables Blazer has been contracted to build this year. Most will go to overcrowded schools in Washington state, and most will be built in four to seven days. Inside this warehouse, the company has built entire schools, churches, hospitals and high-end homes — one truckable piece at a time.Blazer’s customers can choose what kind of buildings they want. They can order upgraded heating and ventilation systems and non-toxic building materials to improve the indoor air quality and reduce health risks, company engineer Rock Shetler said. But those options cost a lot more.“The biggest thing with classrooms is really the budget of the school districts,” he said. “When the budget only allows the cheapest materials and the cheapest products, that’s really what it comes down to.”The state of Washington says the cheapest materials aren’t good enough for new schools. It requires new school buildings to meet a long list of environmental conditions to qualify for state construction funds under the Sustainable School Protocol.“Merely complying with minimum codes during design and installation will not ensure good indoor air quality,” the state says in the protocol.But those rules don’t apply to portable classrooms. For portables, Washington offers recommendations, not requirements.
Canada actively participated in the international negotiations that led to the 1997 Kyoto Protocol treaty that was supposed to start turning the tide on climate change. That pact committed Canada to cut its greenhouse gas emissions 6 percent by 2012 from 1990 levels. In the nearly two decades since, climate politics in Canada and British Columbia in particular have repeatedly whiplashed.Here are 15 key events: