King County has hundreds of employees working in the sciences on some of our region’s biggest challenges, from protecting fish habitat to helping people manage and overcome diseases, to keeping waterways clean, and King County Executive Dow Constantine recently met with six of them to learn more about their work and experiences.
At his August 6 Employee Listening Session, Executive Constantine had a wide-ranging conversation with Lara Whitely Binder, Climate Preparedness Specialist from the Department of Natural Resources and Parks (DNRP); Ecotoxicologist Carly Greyell and Water Quality Planner Josh Kubo from Water and Land Resources Division; Environmental Scientist Nina Wester and Process Control Supervisor Rick Butler from Wastewater Treatment Division; and Meaghan Munn, an Epidemiologist with Public Health – Seattle & King County.
“I’ve been hosting these listening sessions for a while now with different groups of employees from different areas and fields with different perspectives, and they’re always really interesting and informative,” Executive Constantine said. “This one is especially timely for me right now when we look at some of the challenges facing our environment locally, whether it’s the health of orcas or salmon, the impacts of pollution on our waterways, or the greater intensity and frequency of weather events.”
Munn, who works on King County’s Hepatitis C Test and Cure Program funded by a grant from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), talked about her work to help people infected with the hepatitis C virus (HCV).
“The new HCV drugs are 95 percent effective and can actually cure Hepatitis C, which is a pretty major breakthrough,” Munn said. “Our project is to get people connected to care and get them treated.”
Greyell, who works in the Toxicology and Contamination Assessment Group, spoke about some of the challenges in tackling polychlorinated biphenyls, or PCBs, that enter local waterways.
“I focus a lot on PCBs because that’s the contaminant that is big in the Duwamish and it’s really important for the orcas as well, as they’re endocrine disrupters,” she said. “We do a lot of monitoring to see which tributaries we might be getting the most PCBs from, and it’s definitely coming from the stormwater, it’s runoff from the land in certain areas. We do have a lot of information about that but it’s not in our jurisdiction; obviously they’re the places that are most developed and we do our work in unincorporated King County.”
Kubo, a Fish Biologist, talked about some of the difficulties facing Puget Sound’s salmon population.
“We’re producing a lot of fish out of the Puget Sound, a lot of hatchery fish and some decent wild fish,” he said. “However their survival from when they leave the Sound to when they come back is very, very low.”
He said that food web issues, contaminants, and a well-supported theory that the Upper Pacific is reaching carrying capacity for salmon are just some of the reasons for this struggle.
“Across all systems, from south Sound to north Sound, we’re having issues with making sure that the juveniles come back as adults, and hatchery fish are surviving quite a bit less than wild fish. So even if we were to produce a ton of hatchery fish, we might not get a lot of adults back.”
The group also talked about the current national environment around science, data and facts.
“Do you have any thoughts, stepping away from your day-to-day work, about the role of science in government and policy making, and the odd situation we find ourselves in having to defend the scientific method against political orthodoxy?” Executive Constantine asked the group.
“I feel lucky to be in a government context that supports science and the integration of science into natural resource management or any kind of resource management,” Kubo said. “At this level I feel that science is not only valued but there’s a continued push to produce good science because it will get utilized and it will get integrated. There’s almost a sigh of relief that you still get to do science.”