January 12, 2015

Chris Wilke, Puget Soundkeeper Alliance
(206) 297-7002;

SEATTLE, WA—Today the Department of Ecology (Ecology) released its formal draft of the updated water quality standards for Washington State, a necessary step given that our state currently has the weakest standards in the nation, due in large part to an outdated fish consumption rate of just 6.5 grams per day. The proposal put forth by Governor Inslee and Ecology changes that fish consumption rate and certain other elements of the equation. But by increasing allowable cancer risk, the end result remains largely the same. If this draft proposal is approved, it will leave Washington fish consumers without adequate protection and pollution permit limits for industry and businesses will be mostly unchanged, allowing many potent neurotoxins and cancer-causing pollutants to remain at their current levels.

The federal Clean Water Act requires states to protect their citizens from unsafe levels of pollution in locally-caught fish and shellfish using scientific data on fish consumption and health risks. However if this proposal is approved, levels of PCBs, mercury and many other pollutants in Washington waters would remain unchanged, allowing unacceptable health risks to continue for anyone who consumes fish from Washington waterways.

“The only appropriate action at this time is for the state to establish stronger water quality standards that are protective of human health,” said Chris Wilke, Puget Soundkeeper and Executive Director. “It is entirely unacceptable to counter an increased fish consumption rate with a policy decision to allow for more cancer in our communities.”

The Governor’s proposal fails to accomplish the simple goal of protecting people from harmful pollutants. In fact, it raises the allowable cancer risk tenfold statewide, from one in a million to one in 100,000, with a fortyfold multiplier for PCBs – a potent class of cancer-causing chemicals that already cause health warnings in certain Washington waterways, including Puget Sound.

Governor Inslee also proposed a legislative source control package, which could result in additional authority for Ecology to restrict toxics in consumer products and other materials. While a positive step, it is not a substitute for strong regulatory standards to protect water quality and safe seafood. The source control package could also take money from the Model Toxics Cleanup Fund, diverting resources from cleanup efforts.

The Environmental Protection Agency, which must either approve Washington’s standards or step in and take over the state process, has announced that it will develop a separate water quality standards proposal by August of 2015. The agency has already expressed concerns about delays and the increase in cancer risk rate included in the state proposal.

The public is encouraged to comment on the draft rule. Comments will be accepted through public hearings and through letters submitted by mail or email. All public comments are due by March 23rd.

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