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Posts Tagged ‘washington state’

Photo: Mark Stone/University of Washington
Researchers Jenifer McIntyre, from left, Edward Kolodziej, and Zhenyu Tian investigate the salmon die-off at Longfellow Creek, an urban creek in the Seattle area.

Today’s post features two articles on a worrisome environmental issue. In the Guardian, Oliver Milman reports that pollution from abandoned tires is killing off salmon in the Pacific Northwest and may be harming other wildlife as well. But at the Christian Science Monitor, writer Lindsey McGinnis suggests help is on the way.

Oliver Milman: “Pollution from car tires that washes into waterways is helping cause a mass die-off of salmon on the US west coast, researchers have found.

“In recent years, scientists have realized half or more of the coho salmon, also known as silver salmon, returning to streams in Washington state were dying before spawning. The salmon, which reach 2ft in length, are born in freshwater streams before making an epic journey out to sea where they live most of their adult lives. A small number then return to their original streams to lay eggs before dying.

“The cause of the die-off has remained a mystery but a new study, published in Science, has seemingly found a culprit. When it rains, stormwater carries fragments of old car tires into nearby creeks and streams. The tires contain certain chemicals that prevent them breaking down but also prove deadly to the coho salmon. …

“Said Jenifer McIntyre, an assistant professor of aquatic toxicology at Washington State University. ‘The more we look, the more we find it. In some years all of the fish we find dead did not spawn.’

“Samples taken from urban streams around Puget Sound, near Seattle, and subsequent laboratory work identified a substance called 6PPD, which is used as a preservative for car tires, as the toxic chemical responsible for killing the salmon.”

What can be done? Lindsey McGinnis talks to a group of inventive young people in England who may have an answer.

“Every time a car brakes, accelerates, or changes direction, the friction wears down the exterior of the tire, sending particles into the environment. Some remain suspended in the air, and others get swept into local waterways, where they can have devastating effects on plant and animal life. …

“A group of master’s students from Imperial College London and the Royal College of Art had an idea: what if the tires picked up after themselves?

“The Tyre Collective, a project by recent graduates Hugo Richardson, Siobhan Anderson, Deepak Mallya, and Hanson Cheng, seeks to capture this stealthy pollutant as it flies off the wheel. For the past year, they’ve been working on a device that can attach to the bottom of a car and use electrostatic charges, along with the airflow of the moving wheel, to collect particles for reuse.  

“The inspiration came from rubbing a balloon over a sweater and seeing the pieces ‘dancing around,’ says Mr. Richardson, chief technical officer of The Tyre Collective. ‘That led us to the assumption that the particles are charged due to the friction.’ ” 

The Tyre Collective won the 2020 James Dyson Award for the UK, which celebrates the next generation of design engineers. It was a runner-up for the international version of the award.

“Gavin Whitmore, manager of the Tire Industry Project, an initiative by the World Business Council for Sustainable Development geared toward better understanding the potential health and environmental impact of tires, says his organization is keeping an eye on their work … said, ‘We’re certainly interested to learn more, because it could be a very, very promising thing.’

“Tires are more complex than they look. The vulcanized rubber compound that makes up the outermost layer, the tread, often contains sulfur, zinc, carbon black, bisphenol A (BPA), and other chemicals. A lot of that gets swept off the roads by rain, along with motor oil, bits of pavement, and other litter.

“A three-year study by the San Francisco Estuary Institute (SFEI) found that stormwater carries roughly 7 trillion microplastic pieces into the bay annually – more than 300 times the discharge from the area’s wastewater treatment plant. Nearly half of those appear to be tire fragments.

” ‘Seeing all these black rubbery particles was a surprise,’ said Rebecca Sutton, a senior scientist at SFEI. … ‘No one had really looked at stormwater. It’s also probably just a tip of the iceberg, because most tire particles are actually smaller than our sieve size.’ …

“Tires are the second-largest source of primary microplastic pollution in the ocean, after synthetic textiles, according to the International Union for Conservation of Nature and Natural Resources. To reduce the amount of tire pollution, Dr. Sutton says governments could consider setting emission standards similar to those for engine exhaust.

“But it can be hard to figure out how much material tires are actually shedding, or should be shedding. Tire wear is heavily influenced by the roadway, the weight and type of vehicle, and the driver’s behavior. In London, The Tyre Collective says a busy bus route can generate a grapefruit-size pile of tire dust in a day. …

“Says Sarah Amick, vice president of environment, health, safety, and sustainability for the U.S. Tire Manufacturers Association, ‘Tires are one of the most regulated products for safety in the United States. [Ensuring] that we can continue to meet those safety requirements, plus adding more renewable and recyclable materials to our tires, it’s a challenge, but our members are working on that.’ …

“During lockdown, the [Tyre Collective] team has focused on turning their vision into a full-fledged startup. They say several manufacturers have expressed interest in their design, though no partnership has been formalized yet. When restrictions due to COVID-19 ease, they’re looking forward to returning to the lab and producing a set of first-generation prototypes to test with potential partners.” More

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beaver-map-saltwater-beavers

Illustration: Mark Garrison
“The mouths of the Elwha, Snohomish, and Skagit rivers in Washington State provide important saltwater habitat for beavers, salmon, and other estuarine species,” says the radio show Living on Earth.

One of the main reasons I like writing a blog is that I like to learn new things and to have something interesting to think about. I save up promising links, sometimes just because the headline looks interesting. Later, when I actually work on the post, it’s such a treat to read the whole story!

When I saw that there was such a thing as saltwater beavers, I thought, Really? This is a keeper!

From the radio show Living on Earth: “Until recently, biologists assumed that beavers occupied freshwater ecosystems only. But scientists are now studying beavers living in brackish water and how they help restore degraded estuaries and provide crucial habitat for salmon, waterfowl, and many other species. Journalist Ben Goldfarb speaks with Host Bobby Bascomb.

“BASCOMB: The eager beaver is an extremely effective engineer of its environment. Beaver dams hold back water that can be a nuisance to homeowners, but they create a complex system of ponds and wetlands that are a haven for numerous plant and animal species. …

“Scientists recently discovered that beavers are also happy to live in the brackish mix of fresh and salt water in coastal areas. And just as they help restore freshwater ecosystems, beavers could also hold the key to restoring damaged coastal wetlands. Journalist Ben Goldfarb wrote about saltwater beavers for Hakai Magazine. …

“Ben, how surprised were you to find out that there are saltwater beavers? …

“GOLDFARB: It was definitely surprising. … It’s just really within the last several years, thanks in large part to this guy, Greg Hood, a scientist who works in the Skagit river in Washington, that we’ve begun to understand that [beavers are] living full-time in these intertidal estuaries. …

“BASCOMB: You actually went to visit one of those beaver lodges on this Snohomish river in Puget Sound. Can you describe that? …

“GOLDFARB: It’s kind of this huge saltmarsh that’s scored with these little freshwater channels that freshwater comes down in. But then when the tide comes up twice a day, those freshwater channels are completely submerged, they’re inundated. So it’s this really dynamic ecosystem with the tides are just going in and out all the time. And beavers are actually building in there. So they’ll build these dams that when the tide comes up, the dams are actually completely submerged under water, you could kayak over the top of one of these dams and have no idea that they were beavers building there. And then when the tide goes out again those dams suddenly reemerge. …

[It’s] almost like the beavers are anticipating these tidal fluctuations and are accounting for them in their construction, and in this really sophisticated way. …

“BASCOMB: How do their dams in these intertidal areas affect the ecosystem around them? …

“GOLDFARB: What Greg found is that [these beaver construction sites] are hugely important for juvenile salmon, especially. You know when the tide goes out, those fish would get flushed out into these estuaries where they’re really at risk of being preyed upon by larger fish, by birds. … Baby salmon were three times more abundant in these beaver pools than in other habitat. …

“BASCOMB: Wow. So, they really serve a critical function. I mean, everybody likes salmon, right? The bears, the whales, people. …

“GOLDFARB: We saw this past year just how badly the southern resident killer whales are doing, the orcas in Puget Sound, and they’re essentially starving because there’s just not enough salmon. …

“BASCOMB: It’s all connected. Now, you write about how beaver ponds can help restore degraded coastal wetlands. And there’s clear evidence for that in removal of dams on the Elwha River in Washington State. …

“GOLDFARB: Two enormous dams had basically been there since the ’20s, I think, just trapping enormous amounts of sediment and blocking salmon runs. … A few years ago the government actually bought those dams and — thanks to pressure from native tribes — removed the dams, and opened up this huge amount of spawning habitat for salmon, so now salmon are swimming up river, past the former dam sites.

“[But] the river mouth had been starved of sediment for so long that it basically just flowed straight into the ocean. There was no real estuary there. … Beavers are really going into town in there. And by creating burrows and canals and dams, they’re just creating this amazing habitat complexity. They’re just opening up lots and lots of little spaces for all kinds of salmon and trout and other fish to live in.”

More here.

Photo: Becky Matsubara, Flickr
Because they build dams that shape the very environments in which they live, beavers are a classic example of a “keystone species.”

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Here’s a creative way to address the urgent need for housing in this country: make a deal with Canada to take the houses it doesn’t want anymore.

Kirk Johnson has the story at the NY Times.

“In the San Juan Islands of northwest Washington State, where a severe shortage of affordable housing threatens the economy and the community, a small nonprofit group has found an unlikely way to help anchor families that are struggling to stay — by lifting up unloved houses in Canada, hoisting them onto barges and hauling them to where they are needed. …

“The structures had what builders call good bones, and the group, the San Juan Community HomeTrust, discovered that the cost of transporting them across the Haro Strait from Canada and restoring them here was comparable to the cost of building from scratch. …

“The number of people living in poverty in the county has risen about 17 percent since the end of the recession in 2009, according to census figures, even as the economic recovery in Washington and around the nation gained steam.

“ ‘It’s kind life or death to keep our working families here,’ said Peter Kilpatrick, the project manager in refitting the houses to be imported by the San Juan Community HomeTrust. When the rewiring, painting and structural repairs are finished in June, buyers who have already met income and residency requirements can take possession.

“Through a combination of donated land, government and foundation grants and local fund-raising, the homes will cost the buyers — a hospital worker, several teachers and a massage therapist among them — from $160,000 to $210,000. The median market price here was almost $500,000 at the end of last year.” More here.

Nothing like a little recycling ingenuity applied to a problem! In fact, I was just commenting to a blogger who’s teaching in El Salvador that the locals’ skill at repairing and reusing items is a great foundation for creative problem solving in general. (Please read Milford Street’s report from El Salvador, here.)

Photo: Nancy DeVaux
Houses from Canada were transported by barge to the San Juan Islands in Washington State, where affordable housing is badly needed.

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