Seattle Times: State water-pollution proposals not tough enough for fish and human safety, critics say

Lynda Mapes in the Seattle Times put together a nice summation of where we are on the state’s proposed water quality standards released yesterday:

The EPA’s version regulates more pollutants more tightly and does not provide the same tools for permit holders that could in some cases provide more time to implement the rules or variances from them.

“You could draw some Orwellian references to say these implementation tools are for nonimplementation,” said Chris Wilke, executive director of Puget Soundkeeper, a nonprofit in Seattle dedicated to cleaning up Puget Sound.

Wilke said he has given up on the state writing rules that are tough enough and at this point would rather see the EPA’s proposed rule go into effect. His group has filed a 60-day notice of intent to sue to speed up its implementation.

Tribes also were critical of the state’s proposed standards. The rule is based on 175 grams of fish consumption — up from the present level of 6 grams — which tribes emphasize is already a big compromise for some communities. Surveys show many Indian people eat far more: At Lummi Nation, some tribal members surveyed in 2013 said they were eating 918 grams — or a little over 2 pounds of fish and shellfish a day.

That makes it even more important that levels of pollutants the state will allow are set lower, tribal leaders said.

“I have to hide the smoked salmon in our house or the kids will eat it all,” said Jim Peters, council member at the Squaxin Island Tribe, near Olympia. Setting tighter pollution levels benefits not only tribal members, but everyone who enjoys harvesting fresh fish from local waters, Peters said.

The state has been working for several years to update the standards — so long the EPA in the meantime moved in 2015 to make federal requirements more strict.

“They have delayed so long the EPA has moved the bar,” said Paul Lumley of the Yakama Nation and executive director of the Columbia River Intertribal Fish Commission. “They have recommended stricter standards and Washington knows the new rules and that their proposed rule is not good enough for EPA’s updated criteria.”

In a prepared statement issued Wednesday, the EPA’s northwest regional office noted managers are still hopeful the state will draft its own rules that the agency can accept, rather than doing it for them.

Fran Wilshusen, director of habitat services for the Northwest Indian Fisheries Commission, said the state still has a long way to go. “You are talking about eliminating toxics from the environment and that requires that strong regulatory piece,” Wilshusen said. “That is where tribes are, and we have said it over and over again.”

EPA should stay the course on water quality standards

Cross posted at NW Treaty Tribes

“Stay the course.” It was one of our late chairman Billy Frank’s favorite sayings. It was his way of encouraging us to keep moving toward our goals, regardless of who or what stands in our way.

We hope the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency will stay the course in the fight for more protective water quality standards for everyone who lives in Washington.

The federal Clean Water Act requires states to develop standards that ensure our waters are clean enough to provide healthy fish and shellfish that are safe to eat. EPA had to step in more than 20 years ago to develop human health standards for the state.

Now EPA has stepped in again to revise those standards to make sure they are fully protective of Washington’s residents. The state has tried to revise its standards in the last several years, but has repeatedly started, stopped, and delayed that work.

In early September, EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy provided necessary leadership by advancing a federal rule to update Washington’s outdated standards. The proposed rule reflects our region’s high level of fish and shellfish consumption and the best available science.

EPA stepped up to the plate after the state missed repeated deadlines. Gov. Jay Inslee has now ordered the state Department of Ecology to start rulemaking again.

Given the state’s track record, we do not have confidence that they will successfully complete this rulemaking. The state Legislature last year shot down Inslee’s water quality proposal, and could frustrate efforts again next year.

Meanwhile, EPA’s clock is ticking.

Under the Clean Water Act, once the agency determines that new standards are necessary to protect water quality, it is required to act promptly.

In addition to increasing the fish consumption rate to 175 grams per day and keeping the current cancer protection rate of one in one million, EPA’s proposal would more strictly regulate some of the most toxic chemicals such as PCBs, arsenic and mercury. These three chemicals are responsible for most fish consumption health advisories in the state. EPA’s proposal also uses the best available science by following the most recently updated federal guidance on these toxins.

In the few details the governor provided about his proposed plan, he would leave PCBs and mercury at their current levels and provide a more lenient standard on arsenic. Preserving the status quo for some of the worst pollutants and weakening standards for others will not get us where we need to be. While tribes support Gov. Inslee in his efforts to control pollution at the source, we believe a strong water quality rule should be the cornerstone of any such effort.

It is uncertain when or if the state will complete its rewrite of water quality standards or what those standards will look like. One thing seems to be certain – they won’t be as protective as the federal rule that is ready to be implemented.

That’s why the treaty Indian tribes encourage the EPA to proceed decisively with rulemaking. If the state is able to develop standards acceptable to the EPA, then the agency can rescind its rule in favor of the state standards.

In the meantime, every day of delay increases the impacts of toxins in our waters by slowing development of rules we know are necessary to protect the human health of everyone who lives here.


Lorraine Loomis is the chair of the Northwest Indian Fisheries Commission.

For more information, contact: Tony Meyer or Emmett O’Connell, (360) 438-1181.

Eating large amounts of Port Angeles Harbor crab could raise risks of cancer and why that matters

The Peninsula Daily News recently covered the release of a study that points out, unsurprisingly, that eating crab and other shellfish from Port Angeles Harbor could give you cancer:

Eating a lot of crab from Port Angeles Harbor could increase the risk of cancer, according to 13-year-old research presented to the Clallam County Board of Health on Tuesday.

The report issued in February 2005 stems from samples taken in 2002 mostly off the old Rayonier mill site, a firmer pulp mill that became a cleanup site in 2000.

In 2007, a health warning against eating crab or shellfish from the harbor was issued.

The Lower Elwha Klallam tribe sought an update on the warning, but neither the state departments of Ecology nor Health had funds to take new samples or evaluate them, according to Amy Leang, health department toxicologist.

The story pointed out that no one actually eats shellfish exclusively from Port Angeles Harbor, so the increased risk of cancer is only potential at this point. But, pointing that out misses the point, according to the Lower Elwha Klallam Tribe.

Because tribes are limited by treaties with the federal government to where they can harvest fish and shellfish, cutting off any source of food is catastrophic. This is why the Lower Elwha Tribe spent over a century to remove dams on their river. The dams cut off access to a vital food source for them, the tribe couldn’t pick up and move somewhere else to fish.

The same is true for pollution in Port Angeles Harbor (pdf link):

The Lower Elwha Klallam Tribe wants to be able to fish and harvest shellfish in Port Angeles Harbor as their ancestors did, to achieve this goal this much more robust consumption rate than the (lesser, more general) default must be used.

The Tribe is trying to increase consumption in an attempt to improve over all tribal health. The Tribe The Tribe is trying to survive. is trying to survive.

The Elwha are not asking for special treatment, they are asking for equal protection from contaminants. The default rates are considered to be safe for the average consumer. The Elwha consume much more than average and therefore require a more thorough cleanup for equal protection.

Russ Hepfer, the vice-chair of the Lower Elwha tribal council, talked about why a robust fish consumption rate matters to him and his tribe:

Roundup of EPA’s big announcement yesterday

KUOW: Feds Propose Tougher Clean Water Rule For Washington, Holding Line On Cancer Risk

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.

Northwest Treaty Tribes: Treaty Tribes Welcome EPA Action

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.

CRITFC: Washington State Gets Stricter Water Quality Standard

“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.”

Everett Herald: EPA seeking tougher water quality rules for Washington

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.”

EPA steps in and offers better water quality standards to Washington State

Details are still coming, but it looks like the federal Environmental Protection Agency is delivering some good news for Washington State:

From the Longview Daily News:

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency is following through on its promise to propose a new clean-water rule for Washington, in case the state doesn’t come up with its own plan in time.

The agency is set to publish its proposed rule in mid-September. It posted an early copy on its website Wednesday.

In early August, Washington was on track to adopt a major rewrite of the state’s clean water rules, known as the “fish consumption rule.” But Gov. Jay Inslee put that rule on hold and directed the state Department of Ecology to reassess its approach.

The EPA says it would halt its own process if Washington submits a plan to them.

Under federal law, rivers and other water bodies must be clean enough so people can safely eat fish from those waters. The issue has been a contentious one, pitting tribes and environmental groups against businesses and cities.

More details can be found at the EPA website. But, in short, it looks like the EPA proposal would increase the fish consumption rate to a protective 175 grams a day and not allow an increase in the cancer risk rate by 10 fold.

If you’re interested in local food, you have to wonder “Who wants to eat contaminated seafood?”

Two huge voices in the local food movement, Kevin Davis (co-owner and executive chef at Steelhead Diner and Blueacre Seafood) and Julie Kramis Hearne (cookbook author and former restaurant owner) wrote a scathing oped on the governor’s proposal to increase the risk of cancer from eating seafood 1,000 percent.

As longtime restaurateurs, sports anglers, sustainable food advocates and concerned parents here in the Pacific Northwest, we understand exactly how much people in this region value local fish and shellfish. Whether on the Washington coast, in the Puget Sound region, Hood Canal or Columbia River Basin, fishing, crabbing, clamming and harvesting oysters are ways of life and part of the heritage that makes life in Washington so rich and special. It is also one of the reasons why we are so concerned with the quality of our state’s streams, rivers and other water bodies.

The state Department of Ecology has an opportunity right now to better protect those resources and the health of everyone in Washington who eats local fish and shellfish. Last year, the department proposed a long-overdue update to Washington’s water-quality standards. The current rule is inadequate and out of date, lagging behind our neighbors in Oregon, despite our strong fishing economy and culture.

Read the entire piece, it is well worth your time.

Now that the governor’s toxics bill is dead, now what do we do? Russ Hepfer explains why we need a strong rule

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Russ Hepfer is the vice-chair of the Lower Elwha Klallam Tribe and sits on the Leadership Council of the Puget Sound Partnership. He explained in a piece published in the Peninsula Daily News why we’ve always need a water quality rule that protects human health, whether or not the governor was able to get a toxics package through the legislature.

We need a strong rule of law and we need to be smart in how it’s implemented to break the stalemate in updating our state’s outdated and weak water quality standards.

State government has wrestled for decades with updating the standards that are supposed to protect us from toxics in our water that end up in the food we eat. The more fish and shellfish we eat, the cleaner the waters must be.

But Washington continues to use the same outdated and inadequate water quality standards developed about 40 years ago. Current water quality standards really don’t adequately protect any of us, the state admits.

That’s because business and industry, led by companies like Boeing, have successfully stalled any progress in updating the standards, claiming it would increase their cost of doing business.

A rule proposed recently by Gov. Jay Inslee would have properly increased our fish consumption rate from an embarrassing nationwide low of 6.5 grams per day (about one bite) to 175 grams per day, the same as Oregon’s. But that improvement would have been canceled out by a tenfold decrease in protection under the current cancer risk rate, from one in one million to one in 100,000.

Further complicating the issue, Inslee tied the rule to a $12 million statewide toxics reduction proposal requiring legislative approval. Legislators promptly stripped the most protective parts of a funding bill (HB 4217) for the program, leaving us all pretty much where we started: Unprotected and still waiting.

That’s too bad, because a toxics reduction program is a good idea. But to make it truly meaningful, it must be anchored by a strong rule of law.

Cities were one of the groups that Boeing and others said would feel the pinch of new water quality standards. They claimed higher standards would make water and sewer bills skyrocket.

But in a letter to Inslee, Bellingham Mayor Kelli Linville wrote: “We believe in setting the bar high, and then establishing realistic and affordable milestones to achieve our goals. Clean water and fish that are safe to eat cannot be accomplished over night, but that does not mean that we should settle for dirtier water and unsafe fish.”

The treaty tribes and U.S. Environmental Protection Agency have been clear from the start about what we want to see in updated state water quality standards: A fish consumption rate of 175 grams per day and a cancer risk rate of one in a million. Anything else is unacceptable.

The 175 grams per day fish consumption rate represents a huge compromise by the treaty tribes, whose members routinely eat far more, as do Asian and Pacific Islanders and others, including local anglers who like to eat what they catch. When those who eat the most fish and shellfish are protected, so is everyone else.

EPA has been keeping a close eye on our state’s lack of progress in updating water quality standards. The agency said it will set a strong water quality rule this summer if the state is unable or unwilling.

There’s still time for Gov. Inslee to do the right thing and write a strong rule of law. He doesn’t need legislative approval for that.

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.