Contaminated Soil Lingers Where Apples Once Grew

Oct 16, 2015
Jennifer Garcia with her daughter, Hannah, 2. Garcia found out the soil in her yard tested high for arsenic. It’s left over from pesticides sprayed before the 1950s on this same piece of land, when it was an orchard.
EarthFix/Lena Jackson

YAKIMA, Wash. -- At homes and day care centers throughout Central Washington, children play in yards contaminated with lead and arsenic.

The state’s Department of Ecology knows about this, and has for decades.

Washington officials are delaying the environmental review of a proposed coal export terminal on the Columbia River.

The Washington Department of Ecology and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers were scheduled to complete their joint environmental reviews next month for the Millennium Bulk Terminals coal export project in Longview, Wash.

Tips For Staying Safe Around Contaminated Soil

Oct 15, 2015

Millions of acres of farm and orchard land in the United States have been converted to residential uses. In some cases, old pesticides could still be in the soil, even from spraying that occurred decades ago.

How A Banned Chemical Helped Clean Up Washington’s Orchards

Oct 15, 2015

Imagine an apple, rotten at its core, pocked with worm holes and brown, pasty insect excrement spilling out the side. Now imagine an apple free of insects but coated in lead and arsenic, like a candied apple of toxic metal. Which would you rather eat?

In the 1930s that was the orchardist’s dilemma. Succumb to the codling moth and its lust for apples, or fight the pest the only way you knew how.

Today, you don’t have to make that choice. And you have the banned chemical DDT to thank in part for that.

A liable party makes a world of difference for Washington’s Department of Ecology. When the agency finds pollution, being able to point the finger at a specific company means funding for its cleanup programs.

That’s what happened in Tacoma, where the state won a $95 million settlement in 2009 with Asarco, which operated a smelter in the area. It left lead and arsenic contamination throughout more than 400,000 acres of Pierce and King counties.

After more than two decades of fighting in court, the Hanford Downwinders case has ended. The approximately 3,000 Downwinders have all either dropped their claims or arrived at a settlement.

A file photo of a member of Puget Sound's Swinomish tribe participating in a ceremonial salmon blessing. Northwest tribes hold vigils along the Columbia River to pray for the return of salmon.
KUOW Photo/Katie Campbell

Washington Gov. Jay Inslee announced Thursday the state is pursuing clean water rules that match federal recommendations for protecting human health.

Inslee said he would direct the Washington Department of Ecology to draft new rules that reduce pollution enough for people to safely eat more fish from Washington waters.

Northwest communities are breathing easier than many places in the United States after federal regulators clamped down on ozone pollution, the main component of smog.

The Environmental Protection Area last week lowered the acceptable limit to 70 parts per billion. The new clean air standard is not as far-reaching as health and environmental advocates were calling for. But it’s more strict than many industry representatives wanted to see.

As of 2014, no region in Washington or Oregon were averaging greater than 65 parts per billion.

What is ozone?

The Environmental Protection Agency came out with new rules Thursday that will make it harder to pollute the air with ozone, the main ingredient in smog.

The new allowable threshold in the air is 70 parts per billion, down from 75.

While many cities across the U.S. will be forced to make changes to improve air quality, Northwest communities are generally in good shape for now.

If you own a diesel-powered Volkswagen, you're well aware that this week the German car maker was exposed by federal regulators for equipping vehicles with a computerized “defeat device” that gave inaccurate emissions readings.

The cheat caused nearly a half-million of these diesel models since 2009 to emit low emissions during testing, but then turned off those emissions controls in actual driving situations – allowing the vehicles to get better gas mileage and performance while putting out more pollution.

More people die prematurely because of the air they breathe than the 2.8 million who die each year of HIV/AIDS and malaria combined.

That's the startling statistic from a new study in this week's journal Nature. The annual global death toll from outdoor air pollution is 3.3 million. (Premature death is a medical term that means a usually preventable death that occurs before expected — for instance, earlier than the life expectancy of age 78 in the U.S.).

The Environmental Protection Agency was investigating an old mine near Silverton, Colo., earlier this month, when it accidentally released 3 million gallons of toxic waste water into the Animas River.

Initially the agency downplayed the incident and provided little information. So Navajo President Russell Begaye traveled to the source of the toxic spill and posted a video of it on Facebook.

In the video, he stands in front of the still-leaking mine.

In an event that has led to health warnings and turned a river orange, the Environmental Protection Agency says one of its safety teams accidentally released contaminated water from a mine into the Animas River in southwest Colorado.

The spill, which sent heavy metals, arsenic and other contaminants into a waterway that flows into the San Juan National Forest, occurred Wednesday. The EPA initially said 1 million gallons of wastewater had been released, but that figure has risen sharply.

From member station KUNC, Stephanie Paige Ogburn reports for our Newscast unit:

Updated at 2:30 p.m. ET

President Obama formally unveiled his plan to cut power plant emissions — some two years in the making — calling it the "single most important step that America has ever made in the fight against global climate change."