State adopts ‘fish consumption rule’ after years of debate

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(Photo: NOAA.gov)

OLYMPIA, Wash. – The state Department of Ecology on Monday adopted a water quality rule that it says safeguards the health of Washington’s people and its economy.

The department said the “fish consumption rule”, as it is known, updates Washington’s water quality standards for toxics and establishes how clean Washington’s lakes, rivers and marine waters need to be. The standards set pollution limits for businesses and municipalities that discharge wastewater. They are based, in part, on the amount of toxics contained in the fish that people eat from Washington waters and are required by the federal Clean Water Act.

Last year, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency released its own draft rule for Washington. EPA would be required to adopt its rule if the state failed to complete a rule.

“We believe our new rule is strong, yet reasonable. It sets standards that are protective and achievable,” said Ecology Director Maia Bellon. “With this rule now complete, we will continue to press forward to reduce and eliminate toxics from every-day sources.

“The EPA has indicated its preference for a Washington-led rule and we believe we have developed a rule that EPA can approve,” Bellon added.

On Monday, Ecology sent the new state rule to EPA for approval. Under the federal Clean Water Act, EPA has 60 days to approve, or 90 days to disapprove, the state rule.

Tribes and environmental groups have argued for more stringent rules to reduce water pollution and protect public health, while businesses and others worried it could cost billions with little or no benefit to the environment.

According to the Department of Ecology, here are the facts-at-a-glance about new rule:

  • Updates standards for 97 chemicals. Previously, the federal rule that Washington relied on covered 85 chemicals.
  • Sets 88 marine and 73 freshwater standards that are equally or more protective than the current federal standards, and sets new standards for pollutants not currently regulated.
  • Sets an average fish consumption rate of 175 grams per day and a one-in-1 million cancer risk rate. “This means if you eat 175 grams of fish a day from Washington waters for 70 years, you would have a one-in-1 million chance of developing cancer beyond your current risk. The initial 2015 draft rule used the same fish portion with a one in 100,000 cancer risk rate.”
  • Maintains the current standards for PCBs, makes no changes for mercury, and aligns arsenic with the federal drinking water standard.
  • Clarifies language on how combined sewer-stormwater treatment plants can implement the new standards.
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