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Washingtonians Could Safely Eat More Fish Under New Water Pollution Rules

July 9, 2014 | KUOW
CONTRIBUTED BY:
Ashley Ahearn


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  • A member of the Swinomish tribe returns a salmon carcass to the water as way of giving thanks. Washington's governor announced pollution standards meant to protect the health of people who eat a daily serving of fish from Washington waters. credit: Katie Campbell
  • Pollution standards introduced by Gov. Jay Inslee would allow Washington residents to safely eat more fish. credit: Flickr Photo / Michael B
A member of the Swinomish tribe returns a salmon carcass to the water as way of giving thanks. Washington's governor announced pollution standards meant to protect the health of people who eat a daily serving of fish from Washington waters. | credit: Katie Campbell | rollover image for more

Washington’s pollution standards would be made much tougher — making water clean enough that people can safely eat a daily serving of fish — under a plan laid out by Gov. Jay Inslee.

The governor announced Wednesday that he wants Washington to use the same fish-consumption standards that guide water pollution rules in Oregon.

As a consequence, waters in Washington would be clean enough that people can consume 175 grams of fish a day, up from the current federal standard of 6.5 grams a day. That’s the difference between a daily serving and a monthly serving of fish or shellfish.

“It protects people for whom fish is a staple, including tribal members, Asian Pacific Islanders, and recreational fishers,” Inslee said of the standards he proposed.

Industries and cities that must comply with water pollution standards have been lobbying against the tougher standards. Inslee acknowledged in announcing his new proposed rules that this was a “troublesome and tricky political problem,” but said he is confident the new, tougher standards do more than just deliver a political fix.

Boeing spokeswoman Deborah Feldman said the company is “concerned that the standards put forth by the governor today could result in little to no improvement to water quality, and be a substantial detriment to Washington jobs and economic health.” The company has previously opposed state attempts to tighten water quality standards.

Fish Consumption Rates
Credit: InvestigateWest.

In the new plan the governor called on the State Department of Ecology to limit zinc, PCBs, pthalates, plasticizers and other chemicals commonly found in household goods, building materials and runoff from paved surfaces. Inslee said expanding the use of permeable pavement and rain gardens, while boosting research on eco-friendly roofing and green chemistry, will help stymy pollutants before they get into waterways.

Tribal members and environmental groups said the new plan was a step in the right direction, but they cautioned that the new plan allows for a slight increase in cancer risk for fish consumers.

“This is a political decision, not one based on sound science,” said Lorraine Loomis, vice chair of the Northwest Indian Fisheries Commission and fisheries manager for the Swinomish Tribe. “While a toxics control effort is needed, it is not an effective replacement for strong water quality rules and standards.”

Inslee said the issue has been framed “as a choice between protecting human health and protecting our economy. I reject that choice, because both values are essential to the state of Washington and our future. It really is not an either-or situation between the environment and the economy.”

“We’ve found a better way to protect the health of all Washingtonians, including those who eat locally caught fish as regular part of their regular diet,” Inslee said. “These tougher standards…will demand more of local government and industry. But I’m confident these can be done without damage to our very vibrant Washington state economy.”

Inslee said most of Washington’s new pollution standards will be more protective than those currently in place.

“If we do this, we will make our waters cleaner and safer and we will in fact reduce Washingtonians’ risk of having cancer and other harmful effects,” Inslee said.

Inslee ordered the state Department of Ecology to come up with a draft rule by September. He intends to put a full package of toxics reductions initiatives before the 2015 Legislature. A final rule would be in place after the session ends.

© 2014 KUOW
Washington fish consumption Oregon water pollution fish consumption rate Inslee
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