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Something in the Water 

Viruses, discrimination and 2.5 billion gallons of sewage

Discharge Dispute

A Thurston County judge last week upheld a hearings board decision against the SPOKANE COUNTY WATER RECLAMATION FACILITY invalidating the treatment center's discharge permit over insufficient safeguards against the release of PCBs, linked to increased cancer risks.

Advocates with the Spokane Tribe, the Sierra Club and the Center for Environmental Law & Policy challenged the permit in 2011, accusing the state Department of Ecology of failing to impose clear restrictions on the release of PCBs. The state's Pollution Control Hearings Board invalidated part of the Spokane County discharge permit last year as a result of those concerns.

"We need to restore integrity to the state's pollution permitting process," says Rachael Paschal Osborn in a joint statement from the Sierra Club and CELP.

County water utility officials argue PCBs come into the treatment facility at close to 15,000 parts per quadrillion before being treated down to about 100 parts per quadrillion, a level so small it becomes difficult to measure. Officials declined to comment Tuesday, indicating they would continue evaluating their options for another potential appeal.

The $173 million facility has continued to operate under its existing discharge permit throughout the appeals process. It opened in late 2011 and treats about 2.5 billion gallons of sewage from the Spokane Valley area each year. (JACOB JONES)

Virus Alerts

By now, you probably know not to be too worried about an Ebola epidemic in the United States. The disease poses a huge threat to regions of West Africa, where standards of sanitation and the handling of dead bodies make contagion a genuine danger. But not in America, where transmission via direct contact with body fluids is less likely.

Instead, the common cold has been a bigger concern. Specifically, the D68 ENTEROVIRUS strain (one of several viruses that can cause colds) that's hit kids with asthma and respiratory problems nationwide, sending nearly a thousand to the hospital.

"It's really only of concern for smaller children, with a history of respiratory problems," says Kim Papich, spokeswoman for the Spokane Regional Health District.

Some of those children have been in Spokane. This fall, 32 were hospitalized with respiratory illness, and recent lab results confirmed that at least two of them were infected with the D68 enterovirus strain.

The good news is that the tide is already receding. "We feel like we already saw our peak in hospitals," Papich says. "The bigger threat to children's health is the flu."

Fortunately, this year's flu strain, unlike the enterovirus or Ebola, she says, can be addressed with a cheap, available vaccine. (DANIEL WALTERS)

No Bias Here

On Monday, Lewiston, Idaho became the ninth city in the state to pass an ordinance barring discrimination in housing, employment and public accommodations based on sexual orientation or gender identity.

The NON-DISCRIMINATION ORDINANCE was approved by City Council in a 5-2 vote. Lewiston joins Sandpoint, Coeur d'Alene, Moscow, Boise, Pocatello, Ketchum, Idaho Falls and Victor, which have similar measures on the books.

Idaho's patchwork of citywide non-discrimination laws gained national attention earlier this month when the Hitching Post Wedding Chapel in Coeur d'Alene preemptively sued the city over its ordinance. The suit, filed in the wake of same-sex marriage legalization in Idaho, claimed the city law would force the chapel's owners to wed same-sex couples against their religious beliefs. Coeur d'Alene's city attorney Mike Gridley said the chapel is exempt from the ordinance because the Hitching Post recently reorganized as a religious corporation.

For the past eight years, advocates in Idaho have called on legislators to pass an "Add the Words" bill, amending the state's Human Rights Act to cover "sexual orientation" and "gender identity." The bill has yet to receive a hearing. (DEANNA PAN)

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