Wednesday, October 7, 2015

Mushroom Hunting Safety

Mushroom hunting (also known as foraging) can be a fun and rewarding outdoor activity for people of all ages. Once regarded as a strange and eccentric hobby, it has slowly grown in popularity over the years and attracts people for different reasons. Most wild mushrooms are considered nontoxic, but some cause serious adverse health effects, including death. Always follow proper precautions when mushroom hunting to protect your health.

The most important rule for all mushroom hunters whether they’re beginners or experts is: Never eat a mushroom until you are absolutely certain that it is edible.

Staying “better safe than sorry” is absolutely necessary when mushroom hunting. Being “almost certain” is not enough, and can lead to an emergency room visit – or worse. There is also no single test that can accurately determine whether or not a mushroom is poisonous. Ignore advice that you may have heard about poisonous mushrooms tarnishing silver spoons or turning blue when bruised – certain poisonous mushrooms might do this but there is no scientific evidence that it’s always the case. A mushroom’s scent is not a reliable indicator of safety, nor is taste. Witnessing a wild animal eating a mushroom is not a guarantee that it will be safe for you to ingest. If you have ANY doubts about the safety of a wild mushroom, do not eat it.

There is an incredibly diverse variety of wild mushrooms, and some deadly mushrooms can look remarkably similar to edible ones. The best way to safely start mushroom hunting is to hunt with and learn from experts who are knowledgeable about wild mushrooms specific to your area. Fortunately, there are numerous resources in our region, including the South Sound Mushroom Club, which is located right here in Thurston County. In this region there is also the Puget Sound Mycological Society and the Olympic Peninsula Mycological Society. There are many field guides with photographs and detailed written descriptions of wild mushrooms that are important tools in mushroom hunting. Careful study of all aspects of a mushroom (size, color, cap shape, gill spacing, texture, smell, where it grows, etc) can help you determine whether or not it is safe to eat.

Another important aspect of mushroom hunting is to stay safe while out foraging. Always wear visibly bright clothing (a neon orange vest and hat is best) and carry an emergency whistle. Be aware what other activities may be going on in the wooded area, especially any kind of animal hunting. Use the buddy system and let someone know where you are going and when you plan to be back. Make sure to have layers of clothing for sudden changes in weather, sturdy footwear, and to be on the safe side, pack more water and food (especially protein) than you think you need.

Here are a few other things to keep in mind when mushroom hunting in order to make it a safe, fun, and rewarding experience:

·        When collecting wild mushrooms, be sure to keep different types separate during collection and storage. Edible mushrooms can easily be contaminated by poisonous ones.
·        Use cloth or paper bags, a basket, or a box to collect mushrooms in. Plastic bags trap heat and moisture that can cause mushrooms to deteriorate quickly.
·        Immediately store freshly-collected mushrooms in a refrigerator in a paper or cloth bag. Be sure not to rinse or wash collected mushrooms until you are ready to cook them. Storing mushrooms while wet will cause them to deteriorate quickly.
·        Don’t collect mushrooms from roadsides, golf courses, public parks, private lawns, or near railroad tracks. Mushrooms that would otherwise be considered safe and edible could be compromised by exposure to exhaust fumes, pet waste, or chemical pesticides that might be present in these kinds of areas. Undeveloped lands are the best place to collect mushrooms, but look up rules and regulations that govern mushroom collecting and foraging on public lands and always request permission before attempting to forage on private land.
·        Be considerate to other mushroom hunters. If you find mushrooms you want to collect, be sure not to take them all so that future foragers can enjoy them too.

Like many outdoor activities, mushroom hunting does have some risks. However, if you’re interested and want to try it out, go for it! By following basic precautions and taking the time to learn from experienced mushroom hunters and field guides, you can keep yourself safe and have a great time too! Happy hunting!

Monday, September 28, 2015

World Rabies Day

Rabies is not usually the first thing that comes to mind when people think of public health issues. In the United States the threat of the disease has been greatly reduced over the years due to successful public health efforts. However, it is by no means eradicated. Each year about 40,000 Americans receive post-exposure prophylaxis (PEP) shots because of possible rabies exposure, and one or two people will die from the disease. Altogether, the disease costs $300 million annually in this country. The good news is that it is entirely preventable and progress is being made each year. World Rabies Day was created in 2007 to draw attention both to the danger of rabies and the progress that has been made in bringing it under control in the United States and around the globe.

In 2013 there was a 4.8% decrease in rabies cases from the previous year and canine rabies has been almost entirely eradicated in the United States. Domestic animals now make up only eight percent of all cases nationwide. Cats are actually the greatest domestic animal threat, making up 53% of all domestic animal cases. Responsible pet owners can continue to help make that number drop by taking a few simple steps to keep their pets safe and healthy.

  • Bring your dog or cat to a veterinarian each year to be sure they are up-to-date on their rabies vaccination. Dogs and cats that have potentially been exposed to rabies and are not up-to-date on their vaccination will need to be quarantined for six months or put down, so please vaccinate your pet!
  • If your pet is not spayed or neutered, consider doing so. Spaying and neutering helps to reduce the number of stray dogs and cats, which are at high risk of contracting and spreading rabies.

Besides protecting your pets, take steps to protect yourself and your family too. If you have children, teach them to never handle wild or unfamiliar animals, even if the animal looks friendly. Keep food or water inside for your pets since the food and water kept outside could attract wild animals in your area. Always keep your garbage can securely covered as well. The best way to protect yourself might also be the most obvious – stay away from unfamiliar animals, including dogs and cats that you do not know, and do not attempt to feed, pet, or pick them up.

The vast majority of rabies cases involve wildlife, with raccoons, bats, skunks, and foxes being the primary culprits. In Washington, bats have been the only wild animal to carry rabies since the 1920s. Bats are very beneficial to us because they eat many insects. But bats can be a hazard when they mistakenly end up in our homes. If you have a bat in your house, do your best to safely capture or contain it and call your local public health department; we may want to test the bat to make sure you or your family were not exposed to rabies.

Outside of Washington, bats and skunks are responsible for most rabies cases. Many different types of animals can be infected, however, and if you encounter any animal acting strangely or displaying any of the following signs of possible rabies infection, please contact animal control as soon as possible.

  • General sickly appearance
  • Significant saliva or drooling
  • Problems swallowing
  • Difficulty moving or paralysis
  • Biting at everything
  • Appearing more tame than you would expect

When traveling, especially internationally, take any animal bite very seriously and seek medical attention. Talk with your health care provider about travel-related vaccinations before you leave and see if rabies vaccine would be advised.

Together, public health professionals, veterinarians, and YOU can continue to take steps to reduce the threat of rabies and keep ourselves, our pets, and our families healthy and safe!

Thursday, September 24, 2015

Be Septic Smart!

September 21, 2015 marked the beginning of the third annual Septic Smart Week. Septic Smart Week is a program created by the Environmental Protection Agency to educate septic system owners about the importance of proper septic system care and maintenance.

Did you know that approximately one-quarter of American households have septic systems, and nearly 60,000 of those are located right here in Thurston County? Septic systems come with homeowner responsibility - you don’t pay sewer fees, but need to save up for regular maintenance costs such as inspections and pumping. A poorly-maintained system may lower your property values and puts the health of our families and communities at risk. If you are unsure if your home is served by an on-site septic system, contact the Septic Helpline at (360) 867-2669 and ask for the septic system record drawings of your home.

If you have a septic system, take steps to prevent its failure. If you notice any of the following, contact a septic system professional immediately to prevent further damage to your system and pollution of the drinking water in your area.

  • A strong odor around the septic tank and/or drainfield
  • Pooling water and/or surfacing sewage in the area of your septic system
  • Bright green, spongy grass on the drainfield, especially during dry weather conditions
  • Wastewater backing up into drains in your home

The average cost of repairing or replacing a conventional home septic system can be $10,000 or more, while regular inspection and maintenance typically costs only $150 to $300 each year. Every system and situation is unique and is influenced by four things: size of your household, amount of water used by your household, type and size of septic tank, and soil conditions. Regular care and maintenance of your system protects not only your home’s property value, but your family, your community, and the environment, from exposure to dangerous bacteria and viruses if your system fails.

For more information about how to properly maintain your septic system, visit our website by clicking here, or call our Septic Helpline at (360) 867-2669.

Thurston County Environmental Health maintains a database of septic system professionals who are currently certified to perform services in the county. Click here to access our lists of qualified designers, professional engineers, installers, pumpers, and monitoring specialists. When hiring any contractor, be sure to get multiple estimates, check their references and certifications, and be clear about what services you are requesting.

Friday, September 11, 2015

Wash Away Those Back-to-School Germs

By Kateri Wimsett, Education and Outreach Specialist

September is here once again back to school time here in the South Sound. Kids and parents are adjusting to new schedules and new teachers. As kids go back to school they share close contact with other kids and teachers all day, five days a week. That means they are exposed to lots and lots of germs and can bring illnesses home with them. So right now is the perfect time to talk to your kids about effective handwashing. Handwashing has been called the single most effective way to keep from getting sick. This would depend on how well hands are actually washed.

As a mom of two, the main focus of my efforts is to cease the “rinse and run” my children are inclined to do. They often resort to “washing their hands” by running their soap-less hands quickly under water while running for the door. Because of this I’ve instituted the happy birthday song rule - after soaping they’ve got to sing “Happy Birthday” twice while scrubbing their hands. We’ve talked about how it’s the rubbing and scrubbing of your hands that actually is the most important step to get the germs off of your hands. I’m happy to report that as they’ve gotten older they appreciate the grossness of not washing their hands and are coming along in their efforts. 

A note about hand sanitizer, washing hands with soap and water really is better and advised.  If you are in a place where soap and water are not available and you have to use hand sanitizer use an alcohol based one with at least 60% alcohol (check the label).  Hand sanitizers do not eliminate all type of germs, nor do they remove the chemicals that may be on our hands .  They also are not as effective when hands are visibly dirty or greasy. 

It sounds kind of silly, but learning when and how to properly wash hands and making it a habit is important.  Remind your kids to always wash their hands:
  • After they use the bathroom.
  • Before they eat.
  • After touching animals or animal poop.
  • When they come into contact with someone who is sick.
  • When they come in from being outside.
  • When their hands are dirty.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) the “right way to wash your hands” includes:
  • Wetting your hands with clean running water and using soap. There is no need to use antibacterial soap. Regular bar or liquid soap works best.
  • Rub hands together, lathering or scrubbing for 20 seconds. Make sure to scrub between fingers, the backs of your hands, and under your nails. (As a side note it takes about 20 second for the scrubbing action to dislodge and remove germs.)
  • Rinse your hands under clean running water.
  • Dry your hands using a clean towel or air dry them.

Interested in the science behind this? Check out the CDC's "Show Me the Science-- How to Wash your Hands" web page.



Wednesday, August 26, 2015

FREE Septic $ense Workshops in September

Your home septic system is a major investment that comes with the responsibility for its care and maintenance. Sign up for one of our four free workshops held throughout Thurston County in September. Learn how to prolong the life of your septic system and protect not only your financial investment, but your family’s health and the environment as well. 

These workshops can benefit all septic system owners, from first-timers to those with years of experience. Attendees will be provided with information on:
  • The different types of septic systems – gravity flow, pressure distribution, mound, and sand filter
  • The three main components of a septic system – tank, drainfield, and soil
  • When to have your septic tank inspected and pumped
  • Warning signs indicating septic system damage or failure
  • How your home water use affects the lifespan of your septic system
  • What to avoid putting down the drain
  • The availability of loans and grants for septic system repairs and replacement

In addition to a better understanding on how to care for and maintain your on-site septic system, all workshop attendees will receive a $10 discount on septic tank pumping. 

Please sign up here or call (360) 867-2673 to reserve a seat at any of the following workshops:

Wednesday, September 16, 7:00 - 9:00 PM
Rochester Community Center, 10140 Highway 12, Rochester

Thursday, September 17, 7:00 – 9:00 PM
Pellegrinos Event Center, 5757 Littlerock Road SW, Tumwater

Wednesday, September 23, 7:00 – 9:00 PM
South Bay Fire Station, 3506 Shincke Road NE, Olympia

Thursday, September 24, 7:00 – 9:00 PM
Thurston County Fairgrounds Expo Center, 3054 Carpenter Road SE, Lacey

To register, please call 360-867-2673 or click here to sign up online at the Thurston County Environmental Health website. Space is limited, so please register as soon as possible. If you are unable to attend any of these workshops but have questions regarding the care and maintenance of your septic system, please call the Septic Help Line at 360-867-2669.

Wednesday, August 19, 2015

Become a volunteer for the Healthy Homes Program!

What: Thurston County’s Healthy Homes Program trains volunteers to provide free home visits to Thurston County residents to encourage behavior and actions to promote healthy living spaces – such as dealing with and preventing mold, creating healthy indoor air, reducing asthma triggers, reducing exposure to toxins, and more. We have a free volunteer training coming up this fall! You can learn all about housing-related health risks and how to prevent and reduce them. This training includes expert guest speakers, field trips, and opportunities to put what you learn into practice. It’s fun and the knowledge gained is useful in our daily lives.

Who: This training is for people interested (or who work) in housing, improving health, safety, and giving back to the community. No prior experience is necessary; the training teaches all you need to know to conduct Healthy Homes Visits in pairs. These visits are free, voluntary, and completely confidential. We don’t do any sort of enforcement or mediation. We are invited to do the visit by the resident, where we perform a checklist and walk-through. Based on what we find we provide information, guidance, and resource lists to the residents to help them take the next steps. We are flexible with volunteer hours for people who will use the knowledge and skills from the training in their regular work.

Why: Housing conditions can cause health problems or make existing health problems much worse. This is especially the case for children, the elderly, pregnant women, and people with compromised immune systems. There are many simple, low or no cost ways for people to reduce the risks of housing-related health issues and our goal is to educate and empower residents to create habits that promote the healthiest possible living space. Program staff are available to work with and help volunteers to feel comfortable and confident in providing Healthy Homes Visits.

When: The training starts September 15 and runs every Tuesday from 6-9 p.m. through November 17, 2015. This is a total of 30 hours of fun, hands-on training and afterwards we ask volunteers to provide 30 hours of volunteer service (which is about 10 home visits) as their schedules allow. Volunteers can also put in time by participating in booths at community events, performing outreach, or working on special projects. We are flexible with volunteer hours for people who will use the knowledge and skills from the training in their regular work.

Where: The training is held at the Thurston County Public Health at 412 Lilly Rd. NE, Olympia, 98506; across from St. Peter’s Hospital. Intercity Transit bus routes # 60, 62A, and 62B serve the area. To sign up or find out more, contact coordinator, Elisa Kaufmann at  or 360-867-2674 (TDD 360-867-2603.) If transportation is an issue for anyone who is interested, please don’t let that stop you from applying. We are close to bus routes and there is a good chance that volunteers attending the training can carpool.

Apply today!

Monday, August 10, 2015

Recycle Light Bulbs for FREE

Disposing of your used-up light bulbs doesn’t have to be difficult. Some light bulbs, such as compact fluorescents (CFLs), require special care in use and disposal because they contain mercury. Thankfully, it’s free to recycle them safely. The tricky part is keeping them safe while storing and transporting them to a convenient location, but don’t worry, we’re here to help with that.

Transport safely
Ideally, store the used bulbs back in their original box and take them safely to the recycling location of your choice. Another way is to wrap them in paper and carefully place them into a cardboard 6-pack container. If travelling with loose bulbs, wrap carefully in paper or plastic and place into a box to keep from rolling around.  Don’t tape them together.

What if one breaks?
Avoid breathing vapors or touching broken materials.
Do not vacuum or sweep. Open windows to vent vapors for at least 15 minutes while keeping people and pets out of the area. After this, you can clean up the mess by following these simple steps.
  1. Use stiff paper or cardboard to pick up large pieces.
  2. Use duct tape to pick up small pieces and powder.
  3. Wipe the area clean with a disposable damp paper towel or wet wipe.
  4. Place all materials in a sealed container.
  5. Wash your hands thoroughly.
  6. Dispose of cleaned up, broken blubs at HazoHouse — not in your trash.

Where to recycle
Many bulbs nowadays contain some mercury including compact fluorescent tubes (CFLs), high-intensity-discharge (HID) lamps, neon lamps and mercury vapor lamps. This is why there are special requirements for cleaning up and why they can’t go into your regular trash. They can be recycled at HazoHouse, located at the Thurston County Waste and Recovery Center on Hogum Bay Rd. in Lacey.  HazoHouse accepts most unwanted household hazardous materials for free and is open everyday from 8 – 4:45.

Thanks to Light Recycle Washington, there are many other locations that accept unwanted fluorescent bulbs and tubes for free – many of these locations limit their acceptance to 10 bulbs per day.

Fluorescent bulbs
  • Batteries Plus Bulbs on Capital Mall Dr. in Olympia
  • Home Depot (all locations) – Tumwater off Littlerock Rd., Olympia on Fones Rd., Lacey on Marvin Rd.
  • Lincoln Creek Lumber/Ace Hardware at 2421 93rd Ave., SW, Tumwater
  • Lowe’s (all locations) – Lacey off Yelm Highway, Olympia on Martin Way
  • Olympia Ace Hardware at 400 Cooper Point Rd. SW
  • Puget Sound Energy at 2711 Pacific Ave. SE in Olympia

  • There is no way to recycle incandescent bulbs, simply place in the trash. 

LED (light emitting diode) lights

  • They are not considered hazardous, last many years and can be safely disposed of in the trash.