What comes next under water-quality standards imposed by the EPA? -Watching Our Waterways

Thanks to the EPA. This has been a long hard fought battle to more accurately track the pollutants in the fish that we eat.

The Environmental Protection Agency approved new water-quality standards for Washington state this week, overriding a plan approved by Gov. Jay Inslee and the state Department of Ecology. It was a rare posture for the EPA. Now the state will be pressured to appeal the EPA standards to federal court. Cities and counties as well as some industrial organizations are clearly unhappy with the EPA’s action, while environmental and tribal representatives got most of what they wanted. The EPA action is especially unusual, given that this state is known for some of the strongest environmental regulations in the country. After much dispute, Ecology finally agreed to much higher fish-consumption rates without increasing the cancer-risk rate, leading to more stringent standards for many of the chemicals. But Ecology had its own ideas for the most troublesome compounds with implications for human health. They include polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs), arsenic and mercury. Chris Dunagan reports. (Watching Our Water Ways)


2 Responses

  1. Thank you Chris. I’m very grateful to have your input on this.

  2. I submitted the following comment to the Kitsap Sun in response to this article, on behalf of Puget Soundkeeper. It is currently “awaiting moderation”, so I am not sure if it will posted.

    Respectfully, this article misses the point entirely, and presents the same tired “woe as me” refrain espoused by countless polluters since before the Clean Water Act.

    The Clean Water Act mandates we issue standards based on scientifically-derived environmental and human health outcomes. Not on what is convenient or a “best effort” to comply. The point of this exercise was to decide on water quality standards necessary to protect fish consumers from toxic pollution. If the fish are too toxic to allow unrestricted safe consumption, then we have a big problem, and this is precisely where we find ourselves. Impaired waterways where it is not safe to eat fish should indeed be listed as such, and pollution should be reduced.

    The State’s approach of “We have a better idea” (source control) has already failed in the 2015 legislature. Nothing was advanced in the 2016 Legislature either. Nonetheless, this approach is still available to the State, should they want to pursue it. And, it would be completely compatible with our newly-strengthened standards which are now going to be law. In fact, a “source control approach” would be strongly supported by these new standards. Time and again, since the Clean Water Act went into effect, new standards have allowed and incentivized innovations to produce solutions to protect our waterways.
    Essentially the point being offered by the Department of Ecology and polluting industries is this: This is going to be too hard, so let’s set the standards at a level that doesn’t actually protect people, but at a level that we can achieve. And we will talk about doing other stuff too.
    This not what we are doing here. This is about protecting people, especially ethnic groups and legal entities such as Northwest Tribes that rely heavily on locally caught fish.

    Now, we have finally set standards that reflect the actual impacts of pollution on people in Washington. If there are challenges in treating water to these standards, then we can look at existing tools that allow dischargers to meet standards over time (up to 10 years if needed). And, we can also look at ways to eliminate sources of toxic pollution, which is fact what the Clean Water Act envisioned. In the preamble it states: “It is the national goal that the discharge of pollutants into the navigable waters be eliminated by 1985.”

    Sadly, we already have fish consumption advisories for most major waterways including Puget Sound and the Columbia River and our endangered orca whales are some of the most toxic animals on the planet due to PCB contamination.

    It is unconscionable that the same polluting industries that had such an impact on our waters for decades are now effectively lobbying the State to act in their behalf.

    It’s time we stopped treating our waters as repositories for toxic waste. Setting strong scientifically-based limits is the first step to doing that.

    Chris Wilke
    Puget Soundkeeper

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