Washington to adopt new U.S. PFAS limits, but may take two years

A Washington Department of Ecology test well

A Washington Department of Ecology test well in the Lazy Acres neighborhood in Tumwater. Statewide, more than 300 water sources contain some amount of PFAS. (Andy Engelson for Cascade PBS)

The Washington Department of Health plans to lower the limits on “forever chemicals” in drinking water after the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency announced new lower limits on Wednesday.

The EPA released new nationwide maximum contaminant levels for per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances – known as PFAS – after a year-long review. The DOH responded to that announcement with an explanation of what those new limits will mean for Washington. The new EPA maximum levels are mostly lower than the limits adopted in 2021 by the Washington State Board of Health.

Those state limits will stay in place until the Board of Health adopts the new federal levels, which can take up to two years, according to a news release from the DOH.

PFAS are a class of water-resistant human-made chemicals used in a wide variety of products from rain jackets to Teflon pans to firefighting foam. These so-called “forever chemicals” do not break down easily in the environment. They have been found to have negative health impacts that include higher cholesterol, decreased immune response, thyroid disease and increased risks of kidney and testicular cancer.

The DOH offers a page filled with information about PFAS, and so do the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Recent reporting at Cascade PBS revealed how much of a problem these substances have been in Washington.

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Origins season three winners will document Indigenous reefnetting

Origins winner at SIFF

Origins grant winner Samuel Wolfe (right) and his creative partner Tyler Rowe (left) at the Seattle International Film Festival. (Arlo Ballard/Cascade PBS)

The winning filmmaker for the third season of Cascade PBS’ Origins series will be Samuel Wolfe, who will create a short-form docuseries telling the story of the last reefnetters in the Salish Sea. Wolfe and his team were announced as the winners Saturday at the closing ceremony of the Seattle International Film Festival.

Wolfe was one of several dozen directors to apply to work with Cascade PBS to create a video series that reflects the makeup of our region told from an insider’s perspective. The key requirement for the Origins grant was that the filmmaker be part of the community they are documenting. 

The project will receive $40,000 in grant funding to cover production costs for the five-part series, as well as technical and editing support. Their work has the potential to be broadcast and streamed by Cascade PBS. 

The inaugural season of Origins, “Refuge After War,” examined the experiences of Vietnamese and Afghan refugees forced to flee and resettle in Washington after the fall of Saigon in 1975 and Kabul in 2021. 

Reefnetting is considered one of the most sustainable fishing practices and is an important tradition in Indigenous culture. Wolfe’s series will focus on the Kinley family, the last Native permit holders from the Lummi Nation.  

The docuseries is intended for release on Cascade PBS platforms in March 2025. 

L&I issues $650K in fines after ag worker death in East Wenatchee

A blue sign along a driveway leading to a big building.

The headquarters of the Washington State Department of Labor & Industries in Tumwater. (Lizz Giordano/Cascade PBS)

Washington State Department of Labor & Industries fined two central Washington companies a combined $650,000, the agency announced Wednesday, after a fruit storage worker died from asphyxiation inside a controlled-atmosphere room in October.

The worker for Pace International LLC was found unresponsive after spraying apples in a Stemilt Growers’ storage room in East Wenatchee in which the oxygen had been removed to help preserve the fruit. 

In an investigation, L&I found the worker from Pace entered the room without a safety monitor as required by law. A Stemilt employee also failed to warn the worker that his oxygen monitor alarm had sounded near the entry to the storage room, indicating the room lacked sufficient oxygen, according to L&I.

“Both companies own a piece of this preventable tragedy,” Craig Blackwood, assistant director for L&I’s Division of Occupational Safety and Health, said in a news release, adding, “It’s a wonder that Pace hasn’t had a worker die before now. They’ve been gambling with workers’ lives for a long time and they finally lost.”

L&I also discovered Pace International’s training handbook allowed workers to enter controlled-atmosphere rooms with an oxygen level of just 17.5% despite state regulations requiring oxygen levels to be at 19.5% or higher.

L&I fined Pace $574,000 and Stemilt $76,300. Pace has appealed. The agency also placed Pace on its severe violator list for the eight willful and two serious violations the agency issued. 

The agency created the Severe Violator Enforcement Program to increase monitoring of companies that are “resistant or indifferent” to safety rules. A recent Cascade PBS analysis of L&I records found more than a third of severe violator companies had not received required follow-up inspections. 

Stemilt was also fined $2,700 in 2022 after two employees worked in a room that lacked sufficient oxygen without the use of oxygen monitors. 

UW President Cauce calls for ceasefire and end to campus protest

University police walk past graffitti in the UW campus

University police walk through the UW campus on Sunday, May 12, 2024. (Genna Martin/Cascade PBS)

University of Washington President Ana Mari Cauce on Wednesday voiced her support for a ceasefire in Gaza while strongly urging the students protesting on the Seattle campus to take down their tents and dialogue.

In an email to UW students, staff, faculty and academic personnel, Cauce reiterated her support of free speech and peaceful protest. She told the student newspaper, The Daily, that she has no plans to sweep the tent encampment on the UW Quad, as some other universities have. She believes dialogue is going to accomplish more than protest, which began more than two weeks ago and now has escalated to spray-painted graffiti on buildings all over campus.

“We believe that engaging in dialogue is the most productive path to a resolution that can see the encampment voluntarily depart,” Cauce wrote. “Indeed, even before the encampment started, we were meeting with a cross section of students who are deeply moved by the humanitarian crisis.”

Among the discussions, which Cauce described as cordial, was a lesson on how the university invests its endowment fund. A member of the UW Investment Management Company met with some of the protesters and let them know that the university has no direct investments in Boeing or weapons manufacturers, Cauce wrote in her email.

She called some of the new graffiti on buildings all over campus both antisemitic and violent, “creating an unwelcome and fearful environment for many students, faculty and staff, especially those who are Jewish.” Cauce said the graffiti appears to be an effort to compel the University to agree to the protesters’ demands, which she said have expanded beyond the initial pleas for the University to cut ties with Israel and Boeing.

Students protesting the Israel-Hamas war have continually reaffirmed their commitment to remain on the Quad until their demands are met, and say they have no plans to disassemble the encampment.

The King County Council greenlit a proposal that will boost the minimum wage in unincorporated King County to $20.29 an hour, one of the highest in the country.

Councilmembers Girmay Zahilay, Rod Dembowski, Teresa Mosqueda and Jorge L. Barón co-sponsored the measure, which aims to lift wages in unincorporated areas to match those of nearby cities. For example, the current minimum wage is $16.28 an hour in Skyway, a county neighborhood next to the city of Tukwila, which has a minimum wage of $20.29. Seattle’s minimum wage is $19.97 per hour and the state’s is $16.28. 

This ordinance impacts only unincorporated areas of King County, and would not include cities like Redmond or Bellevue that abide by the state’s minimum wage, or cities like Renton, where voters recently set a city minimum wage of $20.29, which starts in July.

The proposal, which would also need a signature from King County Executive Dow Constantine, would take effect on Jan. 1, 2025, and could be subject to increase based on inflation at that time. 

There would be exceptions for small businesses with lower revenues and fewer employees. Businesses with 15 or fewer employees and an annual gross revenue of less than $2 million would be allowed to pay employees $17.29 an hour, $3 less than the proposed legislation. This difference would decrease annually by 50 cents until there is no difference in 2030. 

Businesses with 15 or fewer workers but have an annual gross revenue of $2 million or greater, and businesses with more than 15 but fewer than 500 employees, would have an hourly minimum wage of $18.29. This difference would decrease annually by $1 until there is no difference in 2026. 

Washington AG subpoenas Seattle Archdiocese for sex abuse records

Washington Attorney General Bob Ferguson at a previous news conference.

Washington Attorney General Bob Ferguson at a previous news conference. (Matt. M. McKnight/Cascade PBS)

Washington Attorney General Bob Ferguson has filed a subpoena to try to force the Seattle Catholic Archdiocese to turn over records on suspected sexual abuse, he announced Thursday.

In July 2023, the Attorney General’s Office requested massive amounts of information from the archdioceses of Seattle, Yakima and Spokane, so it could map the extent and details of sexual-abuse incidents, the number of priests involved and the transfers of suspected priests from assignment to assignment. So far the three archdioceses have not provided the requested information, Ferguson said.

“We need a public accounting of childhood abuse,” Ferguson said.

Consequently, the Attorney General’s Office filed the subpoena in King County Superior Court, requesting a May 22 hearing. The three archdioceses share a common trust fund that is used to compensate victims of sexual abuse, and Ferguson wants access to those records as well.

In a written statement, the Archdiocese of Seattle said it had been generally cooperating with the AG’s office without specifically addressing the breadth of the information sought in the attorney general’s requests and subpoena.

“Sexual abuse of minors and vulnerable adults is an issue the Archdiocese of Seattle takes very seriously and has been proactively addressing for more than 40 years,” the statement said, noting that the church has taken many steps toward preventing abuse, including reporting abuse, supporting victims and their families and publicizing their actions. “We have a good understanding of the content of our files and we have no concern about sharing them with the Attorney General lawfully and fairly,” the statement said.

Michael Pfau, a Seattle attorney whose firm specializes in abuse cases, estimated that over the past 23 years his firm has represented roughly 90 sex-abuse victims in the Spokane Archdiocese, fewer in the Yakima Archdiocese and “hundreds” in the Seattle Archdiocese. His firm has successfully obtained records from the archdioceses, but he noted that the Attorney General’s Office’s requests are much broader than asking for a specific file on a specific person.

Lifelong Catholic Mary Dispenza, 84, of Bellevue, attended Thursday’s press conference. As an elementary-school girl in the Los Angeles area, she was sexually abused by a priest. 

“Even at the age of 7, I knew it was wrong. … In my own way, I felt ashamed.” She “buried” those memories until she was 52 — even during a 15-year period as a nun. “I didn’t share with anybody, but I talked to God,” she said. 

“All the dioceses in the world need to become transparent. … There is no justice without truth-telling,” Dispenza said. 

Ferguson, also a lifelong Catholic, said: “I don’t speak much about my faith. … But what the church is doing is inconsistent with the teachings of Jesus. … The church needs to be transparent about what happened.”

The attorney general’s office can instigate only civil actions in Washington, not criminal actions. Whenever the AG’s office handles criminal cases, it does so at the request of a county prosecuting attorney’s office. 

Washington candidate filing week begins for the 2024 election

Voters drop off ballots at the White Center Library ballot box

Voters drop off ballots at the White Center Library ballot box on voting day, Tuesday, Nov. 7, 2023.  (Genna Martin/Cascade PBS)

Candidate filing week for races in the general election begins Monday, May 6. People interested in running for federal, statewide, Legislative and Superior Court and Court of Appeals positions can file for election with the Secretary of State’s office through Friday, May 10. People interested in running for local races can file with their local county elections offices.

These races are slated to be on the Aug. 6 primary ballot. The top two vote-getters in each race will proceed to the general election on Nov. 5. The exception to that rule is if only one or two candidates file to run for a nonpartisan race, such as judge. In that case the race would skip the primary and appear on the general election ballot.

Statewide seats this year are governor, lieutenant governor, secretary of state, attorney general, superintendent of public instruction, treasurer, public lands commissioner and insurance commissioner. In the Legislature, all seats in the state House are up for election, as well as 25 seats in the state Senate. Federal races on the ballot this year are all 10 congressional seats and U.S. Sen. Maria Cantwell’s seat. 

People interested in running for these positions can file with the Secretary of State’s Office online or in person in Olympia. The filing fees for each seat are 1% of the office’s annual salary. Filing period closes Friday 5 p.m. sharp, according to the state.

Races for local seats – for example, District Court positions and the special election for Seattle City Council Position 8, currently held by Councilmember Tanya Woo, who was appointed to a vacated seat this year – will be handled at local elections offices (in these examples, King County).

The deadline to withdraw oneself from candidacy is 5 p.m. Monday, May 13.

Correction, May 8, 2024: An earlier version of this story misstated which races can skip the August primary. This has been corrected.

More students experiencing homelessness in Washington

Students board the bus to Hamilton International Middle School

Students board the bus to Hamilton International Middle School on the first day of school on Wednesday, Sept. 14, 2022. (Amanda Snyder/Cascade PBS)

The number of students experiencing homelessness in Washington has grown by about 15% compared to the school year when the pandemic began, according to new data from the Office of the Superintendent of Public Instruction.

OSPI reports 42,436 students were homeless or had insecure housing during the 2022-23 school year compared to 36,996 during the 2019-2020 school year, while the total population of students enrolled in public school decreased during that time.

The every-other-year report to the Legislature explains that the number of homeless students reported in the past few school years may have decreased during the pandemic because school districts had difficulty identifying and serving those students.

The report breaks down the homeless student population by ethnicity, and notes that while 3.8% of all public school students statewide have experienced homelessness, the percentages are greater among Native Hawaii and Pacific Islander students (11.8%), Black or African American students (7.4%), Native American or Alaskan Native students (7.2%) and Hispanic or Latino students (5.4%).

The federal definition for students who are entitled to special services related to homelessness is different from the generally accepted definition of what it means to be unhoused. This report follows this broader definition and offers some detail about the students’ living situations.

About 76% of homeless students are “doubled-up” or sharing the housing of other people due to the loss of their housing, economic hardship or a similar reason. Another 6.4% are living in hotels or motels, 10.9% live in temporary shelters and 6.7% are unsheltered or living in a car, campground, abandoned building or substandard housing.

OSPI also reports that more students experiencing homelessness fail to graduate than the general student population, more are reported as truant and have poorer attendance overall and more were suspended or expelled from school. 

Feds to introduce grizzlies to the North Cascades

Grizzly bears near Yellowstone Naitonal Park

Grizzly bears near Roaring Mountain at Yellowstone National Park. (Courtesy of E. Johnston/National Park Service)

Grizzly bears will roam the North Cascades region for the first time in 27 years under a restoration process conducted by the National Park Service and U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service, the two agencies announced Thursday

According to the agencies’ restoration plan, they will capture 25 grizzly bears from the Rocky Mountains or interior British Columbia and release them in the North Cascades over five to 10 years. The aim is for this initial population to grow to 200 bears in 60-100 years. 

Agencies have not yet set a timeline to relocate grizzly bears to the North Cascades. The National Park Service will publish updates on its website.

Federal agencies say restoring a grizzly bear population would bring back ecological interactions crucial and beneficial to the region’s fish and wildlife habitat, including seed dispersal to replenish plant life and regulation of the prey population. The U.S. portion of the North Cascades region spans 9,800 square miles. About 85% of the region is under federal management. 

However, not all welcomed the news. U.S. Rep. Dan Newhouse, R-Yakima, has proposed legislation to prevent the relocation, noting the potential impact on residents, livestock and wildlife. 

“This administration is, once again, disregarding local public opinion and instead catering to the whims of coastal elites and the out-of-touch environmentalist lobby, which has been rushing to finalize this plan since its inception,” Newhouse said in a news release Thursday. 

Grizzly bears inhabited the North Cascades for thousands of years, but the population has declined due to killing by humans. The species hasn’t been seen in the North Cascade since 1996. The species is currently classified as threatened in the lower 48 states. 

The bears will be designated as a nonessential experimental population under the Endangered Species Act, which provides additional flexibility in restoring a species’ population. 

The bears will have radio collars to provide wildlife managers with updates on their movement. Sightings of the bears are expected to be rare during the first 10 to 20 years of the restoration effort. 

The restoration decision follows a two-year environmental impact evaluation process, which included more than 12,000 comments from the public. 

WA Supreme Court upholds temporary ban on high-capacity magazines

a wall of guns for sale

Guns for rent at the Bellevue Indoor Gun Range on Monday, Aug. 22, 2022. (Amanda Snyder/Cascade PBS)

On Thursday morning, Washington Supreme Court Commissioner Michael Johnston issued a ruling upholding a temporary statewide ban on the sale of high-capacity magazines for guns.

Earlier this month, Cowlitz County Superior Court judge Gary Bashor ruled that the state Legislature’s 2022 law banning high-capacity magazines is unconstitutional. Commissioner Johnston issued an emergency stay immediately following Bashor’s ruling to temporarily keep the state ban in place.

Johnston’s April 25 ruling extends the temporary ban on the sale of high-capacity magazines while the case makes its way through the appeals process.

In September 2023, Washington State Attorney General Bob Ferguson sued Gator’s Custom Guns in Kelso. The suit alleged the store had offered more than 11,400 high-capacity magazines for sale since the state ban on magazines with more than 10 rounds went into effect in July 2022.

After Bashor issued his ruling overturning the ban on April 8, Ferguson successfully petitioned the state Supreme Court for an emergency stay, arguing the law was both constitutional and critical for addressing mass shootings. Limited-capacity magazines force shooters to stop and reload more frequently, giving people time to escape or disarm the shooter, he argued.

In the ruling today upholding that emergency stay, Johnston emphasized the use of high-capacity magazines in mass shootings. He wrote, “The State contends there is an unacceptable public safety risk if I do not impose a stay and the trade in [high-capacity magazines] resumes.”

The brief continues, “It is all but certain mass shootings will occur in Washington. This legislation will not necessarily prevent them from happening, but it will increase potential victims’ chances of survival. By declaring the statute unconstitutional and enjoining its enforcement, the superior court deprives Washington’s citizens of needed protection enacted by their elected representatives.”

Johnston also cited the rush to buy high-capacity magazines in the 90 or so minutes between Bashor’s ruling and Johnston’s issue of an emergency stay.

Today’s ruling states that Gator’s Guns boasted on social media that they sold high-capacity magazines to about 250 customers in that brief window on April 8.

King County was awarded a $6 million grant from the Washington State Department of Commerce to create more than 400 electric-vehicle charging ports throughout the county. King County Executive Dow Constantine announced the grant on Tuesday, and says this is part of the county’s mission to expand its zero-emission vehicles. 

King County applied for this grant in a joint effort with 20 partners around the region – for example, community centers, multifamily housing, retail businesses – places where these charging stations will be installed. The charging grant was made possible through the state’s cap-and-invest program, Climate Commitment Act

These charging ports will be available to the public in 55 locations, including nine King County charging sites, 13 multifamily residential buildings and 16 other locations like Metro bus bases. 

Installation could begin in three months in areas that already have charging stations, and take longer for areas that do not, said Ross Freeman, King County Fleet Electrification and Electric Vehicle Infrastructure planner. 

King County, along with other public agencies, have been moving toward lowering carbon emissions from vehicles. King County Metro Transit has a combination of diesel and hybrid vehicles, but they’re making the move to fully battery-operated buses, Freeman said. The county recently created a fully electric base for 120 zero-emission buses. 

Freeman said about 10% of King County support vehicles are electric. These vehicles perform operation check-ups or service locations. About 5% of other vehicles are fully electric, but, Freeman said, a majority of county vehicles are hybrid. 

Earlier this year, the state Department of Commerce announced that it will spend $85 million to expand access to electric vehicle charging throughout the state, including in Yakima, Vancouver and Spokane.