PCC Natural Markets: A tenfold increase in cancer risk is not acceptable

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PCC Natural Markets, the iconic Seattle-based food market, called out the state Department of Ecology in their comments on new proposed water quality standards:

A tenfold increase in cancer risk (and the additional increase in allowable risk from PCBs) is not acceptable.

The comments came in a letter from Eli Penberthy of PCC’s public affairs department. He points out that increasing the cancer risk in the standards does harm to local business:

Our ability to offer fish and shellfish harvested from Washington waters depends on knowing those foods are safe to eat. Without improved water quality standards, our business and the local fishermen we support will be impacted.

Fishing and shellfishing are huge parts of the state’s economy:

Washington’s maritime industry is a crucial part of our economy, generating $30 billion in revenue each year and about 148,000 jobs. Fishing and seafood processing account for nearly 60 percent of that revenue, according to a 2013 report supported by the Puget Sound Regional Council and the Economic Development Council of Seattle. PCC sold more than 300,000 pounds – totaling $4.4 million in sales – of seafood last year, including Washington shellfish and groundfish.

Some people like to say making better water quality standards is bad for business. That just isn’t’ true:

I know you face pushback from big businesses against tighter standards that would force them to improve stormwater and wastewater treatment, but this draft plan would place zero burden on polluters and all of the burden on local commercial and recreational fishermen, their customers, and fish consumers. This cannot be considered progress…

Washington should follow in Oregon’s footsteps and write protective water quality standards:

The only appropriate action at this time is to establish stronger water quality standards that truly are protective of human health, as the state of Oregon has done already. Clean water is vitally important to the health of our communities and a sustainable local economy. We have long had among the weakest standards in the nation, and now is the time for positive change.

Darn Right: “there should be no allowance for more cancer in our communities”

Great oped this morning by Laura Skelton of Washington Physicians for Social Responsibility and Steve Gilbert of the Institute of Neurotoxicology and Neurological Disorders:

Gov. Jay Inslee and the Department of Ecology have raised Washington’s FCR from a measly 6.5 grams per day to 175 grams per day to better protect consumers. However, with that increase comes a tenfold increase in cancer risk, from one in a million to one in 100,000. Taken together, these two changes counterbalance each other, leaving levels of many toxic chemicals, including PCBs, mercury, and arsenic, exactly the same.

This is cause for serious concern. Cancer is one of the leading causes of death in Washington, and there should be no allowance for more cancer in our communities. The decision to raise cancer risk also unfairly impacts communities that rely on local fish, which includes tribal members, Asian-Pacific islanders, and commercial and recreational fishermen.

The long, sad journey of HB 1472 shows why we need a better water quality rule

As it was passed out of a senate committee last week, HB 1472 — the governor’s much lauded plan to control toxics — suffered a fatal blow. The committee tacked on a provision to the bill that essentially stripped the Department of Ecology’s authority to enforce the bill.

The governor had considered the bill to be a vital portion of his water quality package. A major part of that package was an increase in the cancer risk by 10-fold. This bill to control toxins was supposed to make up for that.

But, even before it reached the Republican controlled Senate, the bill had already been diluted. The state house inserted language sun-setting the bill after only 10 years and requiring the legislature to come up with specific funding for the bill.

And, the fact is that the Environmental Protection Agency won’t even consider the toxics bill at all when they consider the governor’s water quality rule. The review process EPA needs to go through only considers the rule the state is proposing, not legislative activity.

NWIFC chair Lorraine Loomis explains why the tribes were always dubious about the bill:

Further complicating matters, Inslee ties development of the new state water quality standards to a $12 million statewide toxics reduction program that will require legislative approval. That is unlikely given the $2 billion state budget shortfall.

Inslee’s proposal would also require the Legislature to grant the Department of Ecology more authority to regulate toxic chemicals. That is also highly unlikely given the Legislature’s historic reluctance to grant Ecology more power to control chemicals in our environment.

The plan also calls for revising standards for 167 chemicals that the Clean Water Act requires states to monitor in our lakes, rivers and marine waters. But standards for 58 of those – including cancer-causing chemicals like dioxins and PCBs – will stay the same.

At its core, Inslee’s plan does more to preserve the status quo than result in any real improvement to our water quality standards. It is a political solution to a human health issue. The concept of a larger toxics reduction program to tackle pollutants at the source is a good one, but it is not an acceptable substitute for strong water quality rules. We should have both.

Russ Hepfer of the Lower Elwha Tribe even predicted the eventual fate of the bill last summer:

To make up for the loss of protection under the cancer risk rate, Inslee proposes a statewide toxics reduction effort that would require legislative approval and funding. While the idea of a large toxics reduction program is a good one, it is not a substitute for an updated state water quality standards rule that carries the force of law.

No one knows what the Legislature might do, but two things are certain. There will be more delay and more opposition to Inslee’s proposal. Boeing and other opponents to improved water quality rules will likely engage in full-strength lobbying during the session to block any meaningful change, claiming that it will increase their cost of doing business.

The purpose of the bill was to make up for the state failing to write a strong water quality rule, one that wouldn’t rollback cancer protections for all of Washington citizens. But, now that the bill itself is toothless, you have to wonder if the governor should just write a stronger rule.

EPA: increasing cancer risk by 10-fold does not “fully reflect best available science”

Last week’s end of the public comment period on the state’s proposed water quality rules included substantial comments from all levels of our community. This includes the federal Environmental Protection Agency, whose job it is to enforce the Clean Water Act  (which the state water quality rules have to abide by).

So, what did the EPA think about the state’s effort to lower the cancer risk rate in the new rules? Not much:

Other elements of Ecology’s rule proposal, such as its revision to the state’s long-standing cancer risk level of 10-6 to 10-5, do not fully reflect the best available science, including local and regional information, as well as applicable EPA policies, guidance, and legal requirements. Specifically, a cancer risk level of 10-5 does not provide appropriate risk protection for all Washington citizens, including tribal members with treaty-protected treaty rights, when coupled with ash consumption rate of 175 grams per day or higher. By using a 10-5 cancer risk level, the state has substantially offset the environmental benefits of raising the fish consumption rate for carcinogenic human health criteria.

You can read the entire EPA letter to the state here.

Water quality standards are about way more than the end of the pipe

There is a difference between pollution that comes from a factory or a wastewater treatment plant and pollution from streets or a farm:


Here is a good explanation between the two from the EPA.

This is an important distinction because most of our pollution problems today are from persistent non-point sources, like stormwater runoff from roads and parking lots.

But, in the framing of the debate on making our water quality standards better, the governor’s office is only talking about point sources. For example, in a recent story by Chris Dunagan the Kitsap Sun:

Inslee has tied the new water quality standards for point discharges at the end of pipes to his legislation for dealing with stormwater and nonpoint pollution. If the legislation does not pass, he said he would reconsider his overall proposal for combating pollution.

The problem is that the water quality standards the state is proposing under the Clean Water Act (which they say only cover point sources) actually apply to point and non-point sources.

This story is legally incorrect. Dunagan, playing into the governor’s messaging, talks about “water quality standards for point sources” for the purpose of messaging that water quality standards only regulate or apply point source end of pipe discharges. But the reality is that we use water quality standards for much more than just regulating point sources – like for monitoring and listing of waters to determine whether and how polluted they are. They are also used to develop TMDLs (watershed clean up plans) which set pollutant allocations for both point and non point sources. And they are used to develop 401 certifications for federal permit usually dredge and fill or FERC licenses.

Speak up against increasing our cancer risk rate!

The state Department of Ecology is holding a series of public hearing on changes to our water quality standards, including a 10 fold increase in the cancer risk rate. Increasing the cancer risk rate is not acceptable! Show up and tell the state to protect everyone.

You can read more about the danger of raising the cancer risk rate here.

March 3
6 PM – 10 PM
Location: CenterPlace Event Center/Great Room
2426 North Discovery Place
Spokane Valley, WA

Mar 4 6 PM – 10 PM
Location: Yakima Convention Center / Room B
10 North 8th Street
Yakima, WA

Mar 12
6:30 PM – 10 PM
Location: Department of Ecology Headquarters
300 Desmond Drive SE
Lacey, WA Map Map

If you come out to the March 12 meeting in Lacey, Keep Our Seafood Clean members will have supplies on hand for you to make signs to get your point across.

If you cannot make it to one of these meetings, use this form at Puget Sound Keepers to send the State of Washington a message.

Also be sure to sign this petition, asking the state to act.

Here is the Department of Ecology’s webpage on commenting as well.

Maine told to update water quality standards

A couple of months back the federal government sent Washington State a message that if they didn’t get the update to their water quality standards done soon and right, the EPA was going to step in.

A similar scenario is unfolding in Maine this week:

The EPA argues that Maine erred in setting its standards for protecting human health based on the results of a statewide fish consumption survey that assumed a person ate an average of 32.4 grams of fish a day. The EPA found that peer-reviewed studies indicate “historic sustenance fish consumption rates among the tribes in Maine of between 286 to 514 grams per day,” the agency’s statement said. It has ordered Maine to recalculate its standards based on this new criteria.

EPA to step in for human health in Washington water quality standards

Four months ago treaty tribes asked the federal Environmental Protection Agency to step in and set water quality standards in Washington state that would protect human health. Late last night the EPA answered that call and told the state that they are moving ahead.

Criticism of Inslee’s draft propose plan centers around the tenfold increase of the risk of cancer from polluted water.

From King 5:

“We still hope that Washington will deliver us a water quality standards package that is approvable,” McLerran said in an interview Thursday. “It’s our preference to have states do their own, but again they need to be done timely.”

Under federal law, rivers and other water bodies must be clean enough so people can safely eat fish from those waters.

The announcement puts renewed pressure on the state, which began working on a contentious rule two years ago and has missed its own deadlines. McLerran told state officials in April that the EPA would step in if the state didn’t finalize a rule by the end of 2014.

Inslee’s plan also makes changes to the cancer risk rate, one of many factors use in a complicated formula to determine how clean waters should be. McLerran said the EPA has some concerns and the state needs to justify the change in that risk rate.

The EPA is expected to have a federal proposal by August, at the earliest, giving the state some time. The agency says it would halt its own process if the state submits a final rule to the agency, McLerran said.

“It’s been a long time coming,” said Russ Hepfer, who is vice chair of the Lower Elwha Klallam Tribe. “I really hope the state steps up. It’s important not only for us tribal people, but for everybody who eats fish around here.”

Regional EPA administrator Dennis McLerran told the state in a letter:

I continue to strongly encourage the State to fully consider issues that the EPA has raised during the State’s rulemaking process, particularly regarding he need for the State to base its decisions on sound science and the best available data, which provide evidence of fish consumption rates well above 6.5 grams per day in Washington, and to explain why a change in teh state State’s long-standing cancer risk protection levels is necessary and how it is consistent with its strategy for protecting higher fish consumers in Washington.

While tribes praised the plainly needed increase in the fish consumption rate last summer, they were puzzled why the proposal also came with an increase to the risk of cancer.

Puget Sound seabirds end up eating polluted fish

The Columbia Basin Bulletin points out an interesting study that shows just how pollution makes it through the food chain:

Seabirds nesting in Puget Sound consume fish, including Columbia River salmon, far more contaminated by long-lasting urban pollutants such as PCBs and flame retardants than seabirds feeding on the outer Washington coast, according to a new study led by researchers at the Northwest Fisheries Science Center.

Among the most contaminated fish detected in the study were chinook salmon. Three of 10 chinook salmon from Protection Island exceeded PCB thresholds for adverse health effects on fish and two of the 10 carried concentrations of PBDEs associated with increased susceptibility to disease in yearling chinook salmon.

One surprise was the elevated levels of POPs in salmon from the Destruction Island colony on the outer Washington coast. Two of the three chinook salmon from Destruction Island had PCB concentrations similar to fish from interior Puget Sound and other polluted sites. Those same fish also had the highest PBDE levels recorded in the study, far exceeding levels linked to increased susceptibility to disease.

You can read the entire study here.