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.

Ecology releases preliminary draft rules for standards that increase cancer risk rate

The Associated Press covered the release of a preliminary draft rule on new water quality standards:

The state Department of Ecology on Tuesday released a draft rule that updates contentious water quality standards partly tied to how much fish people eat.

The official draft rule will be released in January 2015 and will include a public comment period. Tribal governments and other organizations have opposed the plans because they increase the cancer risk for fish eaters from 1 in a million to 1 in 100,000.

“This rule should already be in place,” said Jim Peters, a member of the Squaxin Island Tribal Council. “We’ve had three different times where we had dates set for them to start promulgating their rules. And every time they haven’t been able to meet them.”

The Northwest Indian Fisheries Commission, which represents 20 western Washington tribes, has criticized the draft rule and has asked the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency to intervene.

“That’s just not acceptable for our tribe, for any tribe in the state or anybody who eats a lot of salmon,” Peters said, noting that the plan would increase the cancer-risk level for some chemicals. “They really don’t understand that impact to our people.”

You can find the actual preliminary draft rule here.

New report on corporate opposition to improving water quality standards

Borderlands Research and Education is out with a new report that “documents how big business and conservative and far right groups are opposing increased FCRs, threatening tribal treaty rights, environmental justice and ecological health in the state.”

From the report:

Typical to anti-environmental campaigns, these companies assail the science behind higher FCRs and threaten economic harms should they be raised. More troubling, however, many companies involved in lobbying against raising FCRs are also attacking the core idea of environmental justice and the concept that public policies should seek to end disproportionate environmental impacts on communities of color.

The report can be read here or downloaded directly here.

Tribes call on EPA to update water quality standards

Jerry Cornfield at the Everett Herald wrote about a meeting the treaty tribes in western Washington are having with EPA today:

“The tribes’ principal objective for revised water quality standards is to protect the health of future generations, and we have determined that your proposal does not meet this goal,” reads the letter.

Tribal leaders will meet Monday with Dennis McLerran, EPA regional administrator.

Under the federal Clean Water Act, the state must adopt standards that ensure rivers and major bodies of water are clean enough to support fish that are safe for humans to eat.

Since 1992, the state has operated under a rule that assumed the average amount of fish eaten each day is 6.5 grams which is about a quarter of an ounce per day.

Inslee’s proposal unveiled July 9 would increase the fish consumption rate to 175 grams a day — a figure tribal leaders accept. The higher the number means fewer toxic pollutants would be allowed in waters.