City’s anti-pollution grant nears renewal

June 2, 2009

By Warren Kagarise

A city program to cut water pollution has prevented industrial chemicals, fryer grease and even the material dentists use to fill cavities from contaminating ground water.

City officials inked an agreement with the state Department of Ecology last year to pay for a city Public Works Engineering Department employee to stop pollution at its source. Environmental Science Associate Dana Zlateff is tasked with handling source control for the city. Source control means the city attempts to deal with pollutants at the source — before they can enter and harm the environment.

Zlateff recently told City Council members the program had produced a dramatic effect with regard to improved water quality in Issaquah and Tibbetts creeks.

The ecology department provided money for Issaquah and 13 other local governments to hire staff to take steps to reduce the amount of pollutants entering ground water. Issaquah is one of two jurisdictions to exceed the requirements of the ecology department grant.

The current grant is set to end June 30. City officials are working on an application to reauthorize and extend the grant, which would keep Zlateff at her post. Officials want to extend the grant through the end of 2010, but the city would also agree to a term set by the ecology department. The city would receive $155,668 from the Department of Ecology, according to the council bill. The council was set to consider the grant proposal June 1, after The Press’ deadline.

The source control program is part of an effort to protect the Critical Aquifer Recharge Area. Much of the drinking water provided to city residents is drawn from wells that tap into the Lower Issaquah Valley Aquifer. Because numerous wells are located near high-traffic downtown Issaquah, they are vulnerable to pollution.

Zlateff outlined some of the challenges during her presentation to council members at the April 28 Committee-of-the-Whole Council meeting.

Councilman John Rittenhouse praised the effort. He said it was heartening to see city officials and business owners take action to clean up contaminants.

Zlateff said small businesses have small staffs and a higher rate of turnover — factors that contribute to problems with education and compliance with regulations.

Restaurants and automotive businesses were some of the most difficult to change because of those issues, Zlateff said.

“While small businesses typically handle small amounts of toxic products and wastes, cumulatively these businesses have the potential to impact storm water and harm drinking water supplies if they don’t follow proper procedures,” she wrote in a follow-up e-mail.

During her presentation, Zlateff described the variety of materials she works to prevent from entering ground water. Solvents used in dry cleaning, motor oil and other industrial chemicals are obvious culprits. But materials that may seem innocuous — such as fryer grease — can also do harm.

Zlateff also worked with dentists to make sure the material used to fill cavities, mercury amalgam, was treated as hazardous waste. Her efforts helped dentists properly dispose of 15 pounds of amalgam.

She said 1,600 gallons of hazardous materials have been contained and protected as a result of the program.

Zlateff conducted 215 visits to more than 160 businesses since the program began in early 2008. Of the 55 follow-up visits, only four had not yet made recommended changes.

The program also offered free spill kits to businesses in the city. The kits — a container, gloves, absorbent pads and drain covers — cost about $55 each.

The city also participates in the King County Hazardous Waste Management Voucher Incentive Program, providing vouchers up to $500 to businesses that need assistance to manage hazardous materials.

Officials said the source control program has been successful because business owners are encouraged to educate their employees and prevent contamination.

“The response has been positive,” Zlateff wrote. “A total of 51 out of the 55 businesses needing to make changes in their business did. This is a 93 percent success in participation to our community.”

Reach Reporter Warren Kagarise at 392-6434, ext. 234, or wkagarise@isspress.com. Comment on this story at www.issaquahpress.com.

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