Chris Wilke, executive director of the non-profit Puget Soundkeeper Alliance, says controversy had swirled around the state’s proposal to loosen the allowable levels of carcinogens.
“The state was walking back the cancer rate, from one in a million to one in 100,000. And alarmingly so for a class of chemicals that is extremely pervasive in the environment: PCBs,” Wilke said.
“The state was walking that all the way back to one-in-25,000 risk factor. And the EPA is holding strong at one in a million. So that is a significant step forward.”
The EPA’s latest proposal retains that lower cancer rate, setting pollution levels based on a consumption rate of about one serving of fish per day. That’s the same rate Oregon adopted four years ago.
The 20 treaty Indian tribes in western Washington today praised the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency for taking a leadership role to ensure our state’s water quality standards meet requirements of the federal Clean Water Act and protect human health.
EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy signed a proposed rule Monday that updates the current water quality standards for Washington’s waters to reflect the region’s fish consumption.
The federal Clean Water Act requires that states develop water quality standards to ensure our waters are clean enough to provide healthy fish that are safe for us to eat. But the state has been operating under outdated and inadequate standards developed more than 20 years ago, and has missed every deadline since then for updating them as required by federal law. The state admits that its current water quality standards don’t adequately protect any of us.
“This action by EPA Administrator McCarthy and Regional Administrator Dennis McLerran demonstrates true leadership. They clearly recognize the federal government’s trust responsibility to protect the health and treaty rights of the tribes, which also benefits everyone else who lives here,” said Lorraine Loomis, Chair of the Northwest Indian Fisheries Commission.
“The need to update human health criteria and water quality standards throughout the Columbia Basin has been a huge struggle for tribes in the region. Today’s decision by the Environmental Protection Agency is a monumental step forward. It signifies a shift for the state’s residents and the communities who rely heavily on the region’s fish and shellfish for their diets and need protection from toxics in their food,” stated N. Kathryn Brigham, Columbia River Inter-Tribal Fish Commission Chair. “Its consistency with Oregon allows us to take a regional approach to improving the water quality of the Columbia River and throughout the Pacific Northwest.”
Federal regulators aren’t waiting any longer for Washington to update its water quality standards.
The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency announced Wednesday it is moving ahead to impose tougher rules for discharging pollutants into the state’s waterway.
A proposed rule will be published this month. Then there will be 60 days of public comment and months in which officials review and respond to those comment before any changes would take effect.
But EPA officials know the state has spent several years working on drafting its own clean water rules without success. So if state officials launch another effort soon, the EPA is prepared to take a timeout in its work.
“We have made clear our preference was and continues to be for the state of Washington to develop its own standards,” said Dan Opalski, director of the EPA’s regional office of water and watersheds. “If they come forward with a new proposal we would pause our process.”