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pollution

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."

Monday's Supreme Court decision to reject the Environmental Protection Agency's air pollution rules won't have any immediate effect on Northwest power plants, and its long-term effects are still unclear.

The court ruled the EPA should have considered the cost of mercury and toxic air pollution limits earlier in the regulatory process. With that, the judges sent the rule back to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit for review.

Several dairies accused of polluting the groundwater in Washington’s Yakima Valley will now start handling their waste more carefully. That’s because a federal judge has approved an order between environmental groups and dairies. Environmental groups had sued the dairies because they worried about pollution leaking into water supplies.

The Department of the Interior has unveiled new regulations on hydraulic fracturing operations that take place on federal lands, requiring companies using the drilling technique to ensure wells are safe and to disclose chemicals used in the process.

The rules change follows a more than three-year review process and will affect the 90 percent of oil and gas wells on federal lands that now use so-called fracking to extract oil and gas.

Washington regulators say the region's biggest oil-train operator should be penalized after failing to comply with reporting requirements following 14 spills of hazardous materials, including crude oil.

The state Utilities and Transportation Commission said Thursday an investigation had found that between Nov. 1 of last year and Feb. 24, BNSF Railway committed 700 violations of the state's reporting requirement for railway spills of hazardous materials. Four of those spills involved trains carrying crude oil through Washington state.

New Oregon Rules Require 10 Percent Cleaner Fuels

Jan 8, 2015

The Oregon Environmental Quality Commission voted 4-1 Wednesday to pass new rules that will reduce greenhouse gas emissions from transportation fuels by 10 percent over a decade.

The rules require companies that import fuel into Oregon to reduce the carbon intensity of their fuel mix. That will mean substituting alternative fuels such as biofuel, natural gas, propane or electricity for gasoline and diesel.

Flickr Photo/Ilja Klutman (CC-BY-NC-ND)

Ross Reynolds interviews Denis Hayes about the forthcoming book he co-wrote with his wife, Gail Boyer Hayes, called “Cowed: The Hidden Impact of 93 Million Cows on America’s Health, Economy, Politics, Culture, and Economy.”

The couple was on a driving tour of Great Britain when they noticed many small herds of cattle. That got Denis Hayes, an environmentalist who organized the first Earth Day and now heads the Seattle-based Bullitt Foundation, thinking about the impact of cows.

The EPA has given the state of Idaho notice that a corner of the Idaho panhandle isn't meeting stricter new air quality standards. The agency intends to change that by forcing the state to reduce what are called “fine particulates” in the air.

Chinese Goverment Moves To Curb Air Pollution

May 22, 2014
Flickr Photo/Francisco Anzola (CC-BY-NC-ND)

Steve Scher talks to energy expert Mikkal Herberg about  China's proposed crack down on air pollution.

RICHLAND, Wash. — A new climate study says pollution in Asia can influence weather over much of the world.

Researchers from Pacific Northwest National Laboratory helped develop a new type of climate model that was used to develop the study. It was published in the current issue of Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

Courtesy of U.S. Geological Survey/John Pritz

Some bad news for backcountry in the West: Some of the fish in the region’s wild alpine lakes contain unsafe levels of mercury, according to a new study by the U.S. Geological Survey.

Nitrate air pollution is higher in the Yakima Valley than many other places in Washington. The state Department of Ecology noticed the pocket of unusually high amounts of nitrate air pollution and commissioned researchers at Washington State University and Central Washington University to determine its source.

These fine particulates are so tiny that you can't see them, but if you breathe them in at high concentrations, they can cause heart and respiratory problems.

NASA/NOAA

Westerly winds can carry air pollution from China across the Pacific Ocean in just a few days.

The study was published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences by researchers in the United Kingdom, China and the U.S.

EarthFix Photo/Ashley Ahearn

Following the 2011 tsunami in Japan, a nuclear reactor released hundreds of millions of gallons of radioactive water into the ocean. That sparked fear that contaminated water would reach the West Coast, but three years later, scientists say that radiation in our waters isn’t necessarily linked to the nuclear reactor. 

Clifton Herrmann

A wide array of tiny marine critters are struggling to survive in Bellingham Bay, according to a recently released report from the Washington Department of Ecology.

Glaciers in the Alps of Europe pose a scientific mystery. They started melting rapidly back in the 1860s. In a span of about 50 years, some of the biggest glaciers had retreated more than half a mile.

But nobody could explain the glacier's rapid decline. Now, a new study from NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory uncovers a possible clue to why the glaciers melted before temperatures started rising: Soot from the Industrial Revolution could have heated up the ice.

The Business Of Toxic Fish

Apr 1, 2013
Flickr Photo/Steve Snodgrass

For almost 20 years Washington's Department of Ecology has known that the state's water pollution limits have meant some Washingtonians regularly consume dangerous amounts of toxic chemicals in seafood from local waterways.

The Environmental Protection Agency has urged the state to fix the problem. The Department of Ecology was close last year when Boeing and other business interests began lobbying against the changes. Robert McClure from Investigate West uncovered the story through interviews and government document requests and he gives an update to Ross Reynolds.

Air pollution from the major shipping ports in Puget Sound has decreased, according to a new report released Tuesday. The 300-page report compared emissions of diesel particulates, greenhouse gases and other air pollutants in five Puget Sound ports from 2005 to 2011. Overall, emissions have gone down.

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