September 3, 2015


Chris Wilke, Puget Soundkeeper Alliance (206) 297-7002
Wendy Steffensen, North Sound Baykeeper, (360) 733-8307
Lauren Goldberg, Columbia Riverkeeper, (541) 965-0985
Jerry White, Spokane Riverkeeper, (509) 835-5211
Janette Brimmer, Earthjustice, (206) 343-7340 x1029

On Tuesday, September 2, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) released a proposed rule to strengthen water quality standards in Washington State. These standards set levels of cleanliness for all state waters and are a critical tool for reducing pollution and protecting public health.

Environmental groups, local food advocates, fishermen, tribes and public health professionals have pushed hard for standards that will protect all people who eat fish. Prior to EPA’s proposed rule, the Washington Department of Ecology proposed and then withdrew a draft rule weakened by pressure from industry groups. A toxics control package intended to compensate for the rule’s weak points failed to pass in the legislature.

“We applaud EPA for stepping in to provide leadership on water quality standards. The Washington State Department of Ecology has failed for years to set standards that adequately protect the people of this state,” said Wendy Steffensen, RE Sources for Sustainable Communities North Sound Baykeeper.

Water quality standards are based on formulas that take into account established health risks, the amount of fish people eat (the fish consumption rate), an allowable cancer rate, and several other factors. Ecology’s rule raised the fish consumption rate from the current 6.5 grams/day (about one cracker-sized serving) to a more accurate 175 grams/day, but also increased the allowable cancer risk rate, from one in a million to one in a hundred thousand. The increased cancer risk canceled out many of the protective effects of the new rule, allowing unacceptable levels of known cancer-causing chemicals to remain unchanged.

EPA’s proposed rule leaves the fish consumption rate at 175 grams/day, while holding firm on one in a million for allowable cancer risk. The rule is significantly stronger than Ecology’s proposal, and moves closer to meeting Clean Water Act requirements for protecting water uses The rule now enters a public comment period. While Ecology still has the opportunity to propose its own strong protections, any rule the state writes must receive EPA approval.

Fish consumption is a crucial element of the rule because the amount of fish people consume is directly tied to how many contaminants they ingest. If people eat more fish, they ingest more contaminants. Data from Washington shows that many populations consume more than 175 grams/day, and EPA’s proposed rule states, “a FCR of 175 g/day very likely does not reflect unsuppressed consumption rates of tribes within the state.”

“Basing our water quality standards on a fish consumption rate of 175 grams/ day and a 1 in 1 million risk rate is in line with Oregon state standards and is the right direction for keeping the people of Washington State safe,” said Brett VandenHeuvel, Executive Director of Columbia Riverkeeper.

“Clean water and healthy seafood is the right of all Washingtonians,” said Chris Wilke, Executive Director at Puget Soundkeeper. “We are pleased to see that EPA has moved to make water quality in Washington State a priority. We encourage Ecology to uphold the same high standards as EPA, to protect our water quality and the health of the people of Washington State.”


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.