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EPA grant to help Duwamish Valley residents, businesses prioritize health needs

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, saying south Seattle’s pollution-scarred Duwamish Valley needs help to sort through health and environmental problems, on Tuesday awarded a $100,000 grant to local groups to examine health risks and come up with strategies to improve conditions.

The valley between West Seattle and Beacon Hill  encompasses the neighborhoods of South Park and Georgetown, which have disproportionately large minority and low-income populations, as well as the industry-packed Duwamish River. The river has been declared a Superfund site under federal law, meaning it’s one of the most-polluted sites in the country.

The grant announced Tuesday is to examine health issues outside the immediate area of the Superfund site.  Across south Seattle, as InvestigateWest has documented, residents face a plethora of health issues, including toxic air pollution, the highest rate in King County of kids hospitalized for asthma, residents eating contaminated seafood, and the fact that the area is a “food desert” because of a lack of fresh groceries. A separate $50,000 grant will help the groups advise EPA about health issues related to the Superfund site itself.

“With our partners, we will make a difference,” said James Rasmussen, executive director of the Duwamish River Cleanup Coalition/Technical Advisory Group, “… not just to make plans but to take action.”

The grant is to:

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Duwamish neighborhoods are a 'food desert' in foodie Seattle -

Seattle has gained a national reputation as a haven for “foodies” – but there’s a “food desert” in its own back yard, ironically in an area that once helped feed a growing city.

The area near the banks of the Duwamish River south of Seattle is where the founder of the Pike Place Market had his original farm. Today, some yards in that area are so contaminated with dioxins in the dirt, the health department advises residents not to grow their own gardens. It’s a place where waves of tribes and immigrants continue to fish the river as they have for decades, but where PCB’s in the river bed have made resident fish no longer safe to eat.

After a century of industrial use, the lower Duwamish River now runs through one of the largest urban Superfund sites in the country. A recent examination of public health data by InvestigateWest revealed that residents who live in the vicinity face more chronic health problems than people who live in other parts of the county. Data show residents in the Duwamish communities are typically more overweight, and have higher incidence of diabetes and more deaths from heart disease. Life expectancy in the area is five years lower than for other, more affluent parts of King County, likely because of some combination of poverty, pollution, and lifestyle.

And food lies at the intersection of all those problems. Affordable nutrition– or lack of it – is at the heart of many of the health problems facing residents in the region along the Duwamish.

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College announces changes in sexual assault policies

The sexual assault expert hired by Reed College last year has submitted his resignation with the elite private college still embroiled in turmoil over its sexual assault policies, a set of disciplinary procedures that the college itself recently determined were partially out of compliance with federal law.

With Reed faculty joining their voices to a mounting student campaign for change, the college has already made changes in its polices to meet federal legal requirements. Kevin Myers, director of strategic communications for
Reed, said additional policy changes are on the way. Some of those changes were announced to students Wednesday.

The sometimes fierce debate on campus has caused clashes between students and administrators, provoked alumni, spurred graffiti and flyers on campus, and prompted guerilla theater in the college dining room. Though the college hired a sexual assault expert last year, in part to help navigate reforms underway since August 31, the expert, Pete Meagher, has told the college he is leaving May 31, with changes still pending.

Fifty-eight percent of Reed College students signed a petition urging policy reform, presented to the college president, board of trustees and faculty and student governments April 22. Faculty also submitted a petition, saying the college may be inadvertently harming sexual assault victims through its policies, and some student victims and advocates think Reed is violating federal law.

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The high health costs of a Seattle's Superfund site: it can take years off your life

Read the related story on how people continue to eat contaminated fish from the Duwamish despite warnings.

Read the related story on how environmental justice is becoming an emerging issue in King County and the nation.


 

Living along the Duwamish River can erode years from your life.

The more than 38,000 people tucked into South Park, Georgetown and Beacon Hill neighborhoods along the river’s Superfund site suffer more illness – including asthma, diabetes and colorectal cancer – than elsewhere in King County. Babies born to families along the river are more likely to die and those who survive can expect a shorter life span than people born and raised just a few miles away.

Their obstacles are many. They are often poor. They are frequently overweight. Access to a supermarket, or to health care, can be tough.

But people here also carry the added burden of the river, a toxic stretch that is the legacy of Seattle’s industrial past. And Seattle’s industrial future continues to foul the air that residents breathe.

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UNSAFE TO CONSUME: Despite warnings, people fish the Duwamish

People aren’t supposed to eat the fish they catch in the Duwamish. But here’s the dirty river’s dirty secret: They do.

“People fish on the river,” said B.J. Cummings of the Duwamish River Cleanup Coalition, a nonprofit coalition of environmentalists, neighborhood groups, local businesses and Duwamish tribes. “These are people with little or no income and people for whom fishing is a really important cultural practice.”

The river is a source of food for tribal, immigrant and low-income anglers, despite post warnings telling them not to eat the fish.

A recent survey conducted by Public Health -- Seattle & King County confirmed that anglers are eating what they catch. Some because they don’t understand the warnings, or falsely believe that cooking will remove contamination.

Others because they said they don’t believe the warnings, or don’t care.

Morgan Barry, an outreach educator for Public Health – Seattle & King County, who helped organize the survey, recalls an encounter with an older man who was fishing the river. He told her he used to live downwind of the Hanford Nuclear Reservation, she recalled, and that he used to work with asbestos in the shipyards.

“He told me, ‘Everybody gets cancer,’ ” she said. In his world, that was just the way it was.

There are some 42 chemicals above federal standards in the river bed, including PCBs, dioxins, carcinogenic hydrocarbons, and arsenic. They are all chemicals known to cause cancer or other health effects, including reproductive harm, and immune system or neurological disorders.

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Super-toxic rat poisons mysteriously seep into our world

Part 1 of 2

VANCOUVER, British Columbia – With the spooky glow of his headlamp illuminating an antenna in his hand, Paul Levesque stalks one of Canada’s last remaining barn owls.

“Are you getting anything?” research team leader Sofi Hindmarch asks over a walkie-talkie.

“I got it!” Levesque responds. Then a few seconds later, dejected, he radios back: “No. I lost the signal.”

Working in darkness, with the quarter-moon obscured by clouds, these two scientists are trying to figure out what an elusive, radio-collared owl is eating along this country road just beyond the suburbs that ring Vancouver. Their mission is to determine whether the decline of Canada’s barn owl is tied, in part, to super-toxic rat poisons.

Scientists know that at least some owls are dying under gruesome circumstances, bleeding to death from stomach hemorrhages in an agonizing and days-long decline. The culprit: An extra-potent class of rat poisons that has flooded the market in recent decades, designed to more effectively kill rats, a food source for the owls.

Scientist Paul Levesque tries to locate a radio-collared barn owl.
Photo by Paul Joseph Brown, www.ecosystemphoto.com

Six of 164 dead barn owls, barred owls and great horned owls in a 2009 western Canada study had rodenticide levels high enough to kill them outright, causing the fatal stomach hemorrhages. Pesticide readings in 15 percent to 30 percent of the others appeared toxic and seem likely to handicap owls in a variety of ways, scientists say.

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