Matt Baca, Earthjustice, (206) 343-7340 x1021
Chris Wilke, Puget Soundkeeper Alliance, (206) 297-7002
Wendy Steffensen, North Sound Baykeeper, (360) 733-8307
Lauren Goldberg, Columbia Riverkeeper, (541) 965-0985
Seattle, WA—Reacting to an announcement by Governor Jay Inslee that the Washington Department of Ecology would take another shot at proposing regulations to protect people from toxins in the fish they eat, a coalition of organizations pushing for safer fish consumption standards countered that any standards need to protect all vulnerable people in the state and must do so as quickly as possible. After the state failed to act early this year, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) stepped and proposed new rules to ratchet back cancer-causing toxic pollution entering Puget Sound, the Columbia River and other waterbodies.
“Protecting people from exposure to toxics in the fish we eat is not negotiable,” said Matt Baca, an attorney at Earthjustice, which represents a coalition of clean water groups across the state. “EPA has already determined that Washington’s fish consumption standards are unsafe, and any proposal from Ecology must protect all of us and must do so now, not sometime in the next decade.”
The Governor’s announcement is the latest in a back-and-forth between the state and the EPA over these standards. In July 2014, Ecology proposed weak standards that left lax pollution rules in place and, in some instances, weakened public protections. Ecology withdrew that proposal in response to public outcry. In September, EPA stepped in and proposed far stronger standards for public health protection. Governor Inslee’s announcement signals Ecology’s decision to try again.
Environmental groups, local food advocates, fishermen, tribes, and public health professionals have long pushed for standards that will protect all people who eat fish caught in Washington. Ecology’s new proposal seems to mimic EPA’s in two important respects: it would increase the fish consumption rate from the current 6.5 grams per day (about one cracker-sized serving) to a more accurate 175 grams per day, and it would maintain the important cancer risk rate at one in a million. Ecology, however, has hinted that its forthcoming proposal may not make any actual in-the-water changes for many years.
“Ecology must not return to its earlier failed approach of giving the appearance of protection while riddling the rule with loopholes,” said Chris Wilke, Executive Director for Puget Soundkeeper Alliance. “Governor Inslee must do everything possible to protect the most vulnerable from the devastating effects of neurotoxins such as mercury and other harmful chemicals.”
“Our groups will be doing a careful reading of the proposal. A prime concern is making sure loopholes do not undo any new safeguards,” said Wendy Steffensen of North Sound Baykeeper.
BACKGROUND: Water quality standards are based in part on formulas that consider established health risks, the amount of fish people eat (the fish consumption rate), cancer risk rate, and several other factors. Fish consumption is a crucial element in these standards because the amount of fish people consume is directly tied to how many contaminants they ingest. Data from Washington shows that many people currently consume far more than 175 grams/day and historically have consumed even more than they do today. Under the Clean Water Act, states propose water quality standards, and EPA must ultimately approve or disapprove them.
# # #
Waterkeepers Washington is a statewide coalition of clean water groups committed to protecting and restoring Washington’s water resources. Members include Puget Soundkeeper, Columbia Riverkeeper, North Sound Baykeeper, and Spokane Riverkeeper.