That’s Not Real Blood And Gore


Ward McDonald and Megan Higgins portray accident victims in a wilderness training class

Environmental scientists and engineers often go deep into the wilderness to sample surface water, sediment, soil, and groundwater.  Some sites may take hours to hike into, and others may only be accessible by helicopter.  Taking samples is not highly dangerous in itself, but a medical emergency in a remote and unpredictable environment requires a different level of first aid training.

With this in mind, some of our staff recently took an intensive two-day wilderness first aid introduction to remote medicine.  The course was led by paramedic and Mount Rainer guide, Carrie Parker of Remote Medical International.  The material was practical and hands-on: patient assessment, traumatic injuries, medical emergencies, environmental emergencies, lifting and moving patients, and medical kits.

Realistic practice helped participants learn to handle serious situations when they are an hour or more from professional help.  We hope they’ll never have to use these skills, but they’ll be ready if they do.

10 Ways to Save Time on Your Computer and Phone

[ted id=1725]

Engineers, scientists, and basically anybody who uses a computer or cell phone needs to watch this brief TED talk by David Pogue.  In five minutes and 45 seconds I learned tips about my computer and phone that I’ve been happily using ever since, wondering how I got along without them before.

Maybe you’ve seen plenty of TED talks (if you haven’t, you should), but this one is particularly useful for the way it will immediately save you time, without any major adjustments to your schedule or mind set.

11 Things You Didn’t Know Were Under Your Feet


Unless you are a geotechnical or environmental engineer, or have similar reasons to be interested in such things, you tend not to think about what may be underground. You may know that sewers, pipes, and other utilities are down there. Underground oil storage tanks are also very common—sometimes undocumented and/or leaking. But what else might you find when you dig in the right (or wrong) place? Hart Crowser staff have been involved with projects where the following items were buried:

Cars. Squashed, in an old landfill.

Houses. Also squashed, with primarily the foundations and chimneys remaining.

Arsenic and lead from a historic glassworks factory. In the 1800s, toxic materials were used to color glass. The contaminants seeped into the soil, coloring it yellow, red, and black. This material was taken away so the property could be redeveloped.

Antique bottles and jars. Cold cream jars, cosmetic jars, medicine bottles, and others.

Burning coal. Thousands of underground coal fires are burning around the world right now. Since these fires can ignite spontaneously (by lightning) and burn for years, any exposed coal mine site is vulnerable.

Melted glass from the 1889 Great Seattle Fire. Fist-sized and iridescent, with impurities.

Skid Road Logs. In the 1800s, workers greased timber and slid it downhill to a sawmill in Seattle’s Pioneer Square. Some of these logs are in the fill in downtown Seattle.

A brick wall. While digging near Seattle’s Pike Place Market. The joke went:
“We hit a brick wall.”
“What’s wrong?”
“No, literally. We hit a brick wall.”

Golf balls. Found on the edges of a municipal waste landfill. One was a “gutta percha” ball dated just after the turn of the 20th century.

Petrified/fossilized wood. Found in a downtown Seattle excavation.

Medical waste. Needles, animal carcasses, and other appealing items found during a cleanup at a site on a river.

Raising Puppies for Guide Dogs for the Blind

Guide Dog Puppy

Paige, a Labrador retriever puppy from Guide Dogs for the Blind, and raiser Lou Travis.

Lou Travis, a Project Administrator in Hart Crowser’s Portland office, didn’t know what she was getting herself into when she signed up to be a Puppy Raiser for Guide Dogs for the Blind (GDB). She soon found out. Before getting the puppy, she completed an application, read a detailed manual, got a home visit, attended lots of little pup meetings and outings, and puppy sat. She also got permission from property managers and fellow employees to bring a puppy to work.

Finally, a cute little ball of fur named Paige became Lou’s new constant companion. The next 14 months were a constant stream of, “sit, wait, come, on your bed, down, stay, do your business, nice, kennel, stand, okay, let’s go, good girl, I’m sorry she’s working now but thank you for asking if you can pet her.”

Being a puppy raiser takes work and a great deal of patience, dedication, and love. There’s no pay (except puppy kisses). When the job is done it’s like sending a kid off to college. The adorable little ball of love has stolen your heart, but it’s time to send it off to someone who needs help getting somewhere safely, whether it’s by foot, bus, train, or plane.

Once the dog’s formal training is complete, GDB matches the dog with a handler to begin the final step of the training. Dogs that complete the training become working guides for blind or sight-impaired people, and career-changed dogs become therapy dogs or loving, well-trained pets. A select few become breeders (Paige is being considered for this).

It’s hard to give the pup back at the end. But according to Lou, “It’s an amazing and worthwhile experience that I’ll do again…absolutely! Try it…it will change your life!”

One Million Pounds

West African Elephant

What’s 12.75 inches wide, 70 feet long, and can hold the weight of 83 fully grown male African elephants?

Until recently the answer would not have been a helical pipe pile. But at University Village in Seattle, tests for a new parking garage showed that a single helical pile could hold over a million pounds. Until then, helical piles had been used for up to about one-third that weight (if you’re keeping track, that’s the weight of only 27 fully grown, male African Elephants).

Why is this important? Helical piles can be installed more quietly and with much less vibration than standard pipe piles. The piles can be screwed into the ground without disrupting property owners and users. They can also be a less expensive foundation option for certain sites. Helical piles are well suited for sites with soft or liquefiable soils over a firm bearing layer.

Helical Pile

A helical pipe pile is named for the helix (spiral)-shaped plate that winds around its base. Photo source: Advanced Geosolutions Inc (AGI)

More about helical pipe piles.

More about African elephants.

What’s Your Poison?

Effluent sampling

Environmental scientist holding colorimetric filter paper for effluent sampling

It’s poisonous, corrosive, and invisible. Volcanoes spew it. Swamps burp it up.

But you don’t have to be on Gilligan’s Island to encounter hydrogen sulfide. You can find it in right in your neighborhood…in the sewers. Highly toxic and potentially corrosive, this compound has a characteristic rotten egg odor (althought there is no odor at the most dangerous concentrations). It can build up in sewer lines, particularly when the effluent is stagnant in pipelines between sewer pumping cycles. Utility providers need to know when it’s there in order to protect their facilities.

Understandably, testing sewer systems for hydrogen sulfide requires precautions. The sampler wears a Tyvek suit, two pairs of gloves, and eye protection. Special equipment is used to test for explosive and poisonous gases in the atmosphere around the manhole. If that is clear, gas levels can then be measured in the manhole. If gas levels are high, then masks and ventilators may also be required. To prevent a fall into the sewer manhole (never a good time), the sampler uses a fall arrest system with a body harness and a self-arresting retractable lanyard, shown on the environmental scientist in the photo above. If he were to fall wearing this safety gear, he would hang high and dry (whew…) and then climb out by ladder. He also brings shaving equipment along in case he needs to wear a respirator, to ensure a good seal.

The effluent sampling is decidedly unsophisticated and basically involves collecting effluent from the base of the manhole using a plastic cup attached to a rod. The sewage is then placed in a container with colorimetric filter paper and effervescence tablets (aka Alka Seltzer!). The filter paper is then compared to a color chart and hydrogen sulfide concentrations can be determined.

The result? The utility provider now has the data to determine whether there is a problem, how serious the problem is, and what the next step should be.

Effects of the Proposed Steelhead Critical Habitat Listing

Steelhead Habitat

Example of Critical Steelhead Habitat

The National Marine Fisheries Service has proposed designating a few thousand miles of freshwater and estuarine habitat in Washington and Oregon as critical habitat for Puget Sound steelhead and lower Columbia River coho salmon. Both are listed as “threatened” under the federal Endangered Species Act.

If the designations come to pass, the extent of critical habitat protected from construction or other development activities under the proposed rule will substantially increase in the Puget Sound region. Many more miles of critical habitat will be protected from activities associated with forestry, grazing, agriculture, road building and maintenance, mineral extraction, sand and gravel mining, and dams. It will become increasingly important for anybody involved with these activities to accurately identify and classify the presence of listed fish species and associated critical habitats within a project’s impact area. This information must then be properly incorporated into a biological assessment that applies established criteria in a specific manner to assess and document project effects and measures taken to avoid, minimize, or mitigate those effects.

Developers who educate themselves about the Endangered Species Act and use design strategies to reduce habitat impact will better navigate the regulatory review process and be more likely to avoid needless permitting delays or denials.

The NMFS will accept public comments on the proposed rule through April 15, 2013.

Additional information, including maps of the proposed areas, are in the Federal Register announcement (78 FR 2725).

Volunteer Frenzy!

Food Lifeline volunteers

Yes, that’s a heart-shaped potato our team found in this huge bin.

Six Hart Crowser staffers volunteered their time at Food Lifeline last week to kick off this year’s participation in Food Frenzy. Food Frenzy is a team-building competition between hundreds of socially responsible companies working to help end hunger for children in Western Washington.

This particular session involved bagging potatoes from huge crates into 5-pound bags. We earned points for the Hart Crowser Food Frenzy team and, in just two hours, helped Food Lifeline to provide 4,154 meals.

Volunteering is just one of many ways to earn points for Food Frenzy. Check it out here. The main event takes place during two weeks in July, and it’s a lot of fun. If your company wants to compete, contact Food Lifeline.

New SEPA Rules and More on the Horizon

Infill Project

Infill projects, like this new commercial property, will benefit from relaxed permitting requirements under the revised SEPA rules.

At 42 years old, Washington’s State Environmental Policy Act (SEPA) needed a little makeover. It’s had nips and tucks (okay, amendments) before, but the most recent changes became effective on January 28. A little background: SEPA was put in place to help get agencies, applicants, and the public through a formal review of development projects—and the effects they might have—before government actions happen. Actions like construction permits, or adoption of regulations, plans, or policies.

Some highlights:

  • Streamlined regulatory processes make the program more efficient, while continuing to protect the state’s natural resources.
  • Process and documentation changes are better aligned with current technology.
  • Changes in the list of actions (and respective thresholds) that are categorically exempt from certain compliance requirements.
  • A useful table that better defines flexible thresholds for certain types of minor new construction in and outside of counties that use the Growth Management Act.
  • An electronic version of the environmental checklist form for disclosing and characterizing a proposal’s key features and for describing anticipated impacts and mitigation commitments.

What effect will these changes have on developers and communities? The elevated exemption thresholds will tend to increase the number of urban projects. For developers, this should mean less of a regulatory process, more predictability for project planning, reduced development costs, and shorter project timelines. Ultimately, this could make more affordable housing available, subject to market forces and demand.

While such benefits are encouraging, it’s important that the exemption thresholds don’t compromise key objectives of SEPA that ensure meaningful public review, project disclosure, informed decision-making, and protection of the natural and built environments. Existing regulations and reviews by various levels of government involving land use approvals, construction permit authorizations, and resource oversight and protection should continue to ensure that project-related impacts are properly considered and mitigated, and that meaningful public disclosure and input opportunities are maintained.

More comprehensive changes are scheduled to happen by December 31, 2013.

Details of the January 28 changes here.

Ecology’s New Freshwater Sediment Criteria

Sediment Sampling

The Washington State Department of Ecology has released Revised Sediment Management Standards that will become effective in September 2013. Differences from the existing Marine Sediment Criteria include:

  • Shorter list of compounds
  • Criteria are based on dry weight rather than organic carbon normalized
  • Total DDT (pesticide) and its degradation products are included. The compounds included in the totals are different from those used for marine sediment and soil criteria.
  • Criteria for polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs) are based on totals rather than individual compounds. The compounds included in the totals are different from those used for marine sediment and soil criteria.
  • Total petroleum hydrocarbon (TPH) criteria have been established. Additional sample extraction and cleanup or alternative laboratory methods may be required to remove false positive results from naturally occurring organic matter.

Laboratory detection limits must be lower than criteria and, for non-detected results, both the method detection limit and the practical quantitation limit must be reported.

Ecology may require toxicity testing in the following instances where criteria may not predict sediment impacts:

  • Sediment with unusual geochemical or biochemical characteristics influencing toxicity (release or bioavailability of contaminants) including total organic carbon in environments such as bogs and alpine wetlands.
  • Sediment with pore water or overlying water that has unusual geochemical or biochemical characteristics influencing toxicity (release or bioavailability of contaminants) including pH or hardness.
  • Sediment impacted by metals mining, metals milling, or metals smelting.
  • Sediment impacted by other toxic, radioactive, biological, or deleterious substances.

More information is on the Ecology website.