Ashley Ahearn

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Oil Trains
7:51 am
Wed July 2, 2014

Workers Question Safety Culture Of Railroad Hauling Volatile Crude Oil

BNSF Railway, the second-largest freight network in the U.S., is at the center of the boom in crude by rail. The railroad touts its commitment to safety. Current and former workers question the safety culture on the ground.
Credit Michael Werner

Crude oil shipments by rail increased by more than 80 percent, nationally, last year.
Most of it is coming from the Bakken oil fields of North Dakota. That crude is more flammable than other types of oil, and has been shown to catch fire and explode when trains derail. More than 15 trains of Bakken oil move through some parts of the Northwest each week, en route to refineries and terminals in Washington and Oregon. Burlington Northern Santa Fe Railway transports the majority of that oil.

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Sea Stars
8:30 am
Mon June 30, 2014

Scientists Close In On What’s Killing Sea Stars

An ochre star's arm dangles by a thread, one of the signs of sea star wasting syndrome.
Credit Katie Campbell / Earthfix

On the west coast sea stars, or starfish, are dying by the millions. Scientists have called the disease Sea Star Wasting Syndrome, and it’s decimated populations from Mexico to Alaska. But scientists aren’t exactly sure what’s causing the die-off. This spring, the epidemic has spread into Oregon, and now, Hood Canal and the San Juan Islands in Washington.

The village of Eastsound on Orcas Island draws thousands of tourists in the summer months. They come to see whales, bald eagles… and for avid beach combers -- sea stars.

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Education & Health
10:16 pm
Thu June 5, 2014

Inside The Box: Part 2 Of The Portable Classrooms Investigation

A "greener" portable classroom at Perkins Elementary School in Washington state.
Credit The Seed Collaborative

Students around the Northwest go to school every day in portable classrooms. These classrooms are an affordable solution to budget-strapped districts that need more space.

But they can be bad for student health and performance. That’s why some districts are moving away from portable classrooms. One district in Spokane has found a solution.

Courtney Flatt brings us part 2 of our special series "Inside the Box".

Walking into the new Jefferson Elementary School is like walking into a model home. Everything looks tidy.

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Education & Health
3:49 pm
Thu June 5, 2014

School Districts Explore Solutions For Excessive Portable Classroom Use

Portable classrooms are meant to be temporary, but many school districts are using them long-term, raising health concerns and even making some students feel like second-class citizens.
Credit Wikipedia

Thousands of students in Washington and Oregon go to school in what are known as “portable classrooms”.

These temporary structures were a quick solution to the problem of growing population and lack of funding for school facilities in parts of the Northwest.

But many of these “temporary” structures are still around. They’re not environmentally friendly or healthy places for students to learn.
 

From the outside, Billie Lane’s classroom looks like a trailer home, standing in the parking lot behind the Kalles Jr. High school in Puyallup.

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Landslides
6:46 am
Thu April 3, 2014

Living in the Shadow of Landslide Risk

Ben Van Dusen has lived in a landslide and flood-prone area near Mt. Index in Washington's Cascade Mountains for 20 years. He says he loves the beauty of the place but feels "stuck".
Credit Ashley Ahearn

The landslide in Oso, Washington served as a devastating reminder of one fact of life in the Northwest: landslides happen.

In some places, it’s a risk people have learned to live with.

Landslides have wiped out the only access road to one rural community along the Skykomish River three times since December. A dozen homes in the Mt. Index River Sites community were destroyed by the slides. Fortunately no one was hurt.

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Land Use Planning/Disasters
8:43 pm
Tue March 25, 2014

Landslide Science Not Connecting With County Planning Decisions

Bonnie Brown's cabin in Oso, Washington before the March 22 landslide.
Credit Bonnie Brown

The Northwest is a region prone to landslides. That, of course, is on many people’s minds as the town of Oso, Washington recovers from the tragic slide that happened there this past weekend. There is a lot of scientific data and maps showing where landslides have occurred in the past. The question is whether or not it’s getting used.

Bonnie Brown sent me a picture of the cabin her parents built on the Stillaguamish River in the 70s.

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Endangered Species
6:43 am
Fri February 21, 2014

Stalking Puget Sound Steelhead with Science

Crew members of the research vessel "Chasina" drop an acoustic telemetry receiver down into Puget Sound. The device will record the passage of tagged steelhead.
Credit Ashley Ahearn

Steelhead in Puget Sound have been listed as “threatened” under the Endangered Species Act since 2007.

Millions of dollars have been spent improving the habitat of this iconic fish, but the population isn’t increasing.
In fact, a lot of the fish aren’t even making it out of Puget Sound.
And scientists can’t pinpoint why. KUOW’s Ashley Ahearn jumped in a boat with one scientist who’s looking for answers.

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Shellfish
7:28 am
Wed January 29, 2014

As China's Shellfish Import Ban Drags On Northwest Chefs (re)Learn How To Cook A Geoduck

A geoduck crudo prepared by chef Michael Gifford.
Credit Ashley Ahearn

It’s been almost two months since China banned all shellfish imports from most of the west coast after finding high levels of arsenic in a sample from Washington.
The move has hit Washington hard. Particularly the geoduck clam industry.
These long-necked oddities are a delicacy in China… but here in the Northwest, not so much. That might be changing. Ashley Ahearn headed to one of Seattle’s hottest restaurants to find out how one chef is whetting appetites for this local clam.

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Environment
8:27 am
Tue January 28, 2014

Scientists Say Stop Worrying About Fukushima Radioactivity In West Coast Fish

It’s been almost 3 years since the earthquake and tsunami struck Japan. Hundreds of millions of gallons of radioactive water were released from the Fukushima nuclear plant. Fish there have been contaminated and some Japanese fisheries are still closed due to ongoing leaks. That’s made many people nervous about eating fish caught on this side of the Pacific Ocean.

It’s a gray Sunday morning at the Ballard farmer’s market in Seattle.

[Market sound “Hey Charlie. You got your seahawks gear on.”]

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Environment
1:04 pm
Mon January 13, 2014

Information Gap In Northwest Oil Train Emergency Response

More oil is moving along Northwest railways. The Bakken Oil fields of North Dakota are booming. But Bakken oil is explosive at relatively low temperatures. There have been several oil train accidents since the boom began, one of them costing the lives of 47 people in Quebec.

That’s prompted KUOW’s EarthFix team to take a look at how prepared the Northwest is for the rise of oil train traffic. Ashley Ahearn reports.

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