Thursday, January 15, 2015

Public Comment Wanted on Proposal for Unsafe Water Quality Standards

Waterkeepers Washington and the North Sound Baykeeper ask the public to comment on proposal for unsafe water quality standards

Thursday, January 15th 

On Monday, the Department of Ecology proposed new rules to update its water quality standards, which are still the lowest in the nation due in part to the outdated assumption about how much fish Washingtonians consume (called the fish consumption rate). The proposed rule would increase the fish consumption rate but would also increase the “acceptable” risk of developing cancer, called the cancer risk rate. These two equations are intended to work together to limit the amount of toxic pollution allowable in Washington waters. But increasing the protectiveness of one, while decreasing the other is sleight-of-hand math that accomplishes virtually nothing in the end.

Photo Credit:  Northwest Indian Fisheries Commission
Our government has an obligation to protect us and our water from dangerous pollution, not play politics to skirt around the issue. The standards to protect families from mercury and PCBs, two of the most long-lived and toxic chemicals in our waters, have not increased at all. This continues to put our youngest generations at risk.

The new rule also makes it more likely that industry will be granted permission to exceed these standards thereby allowing potent neurotoxins and cancer-causing pollutants to remain at current levels.

To his credit, Governor Inslee has said that the new proposed rule is directly linked to a companion toxics package that must be passed by the Legislature.  According to the governor’s office, the toxics package will strengthen existing programs to prevent releases of toxics, reduce the impacts of toxics in the environment, and develop safer chemicals for use in products. The toxics package is a great idea, but it, too, falls short. Passing the buck to legislative action and funding does not guarantee that water quality standards will be consistent or long term. Furthermore, the toxics package is being used to compensate for the shortcomings of the proposed water quality standards. Both must be strong enough to stand on their own.

The federal Clean Water Act requires states to have current and accurate water quality standards. One part of the standards tells us how clean our waters need to be in order for citizens to consume locally-harvested fish and shellfish safely. The North Sound Baykeeper and the Waterkeepers Washington coalition, continue to request strengthened water quality standards for our state’s health, in concert with tribal peoples, fishermen, and concerned families who regularly eat fish.  The draft proposal released by the governor and Ecology is inadequate in protecting human health.

Photo Courtesy of Northwest Indian Fisheries Commission
Your comments are needed on this draft proposal. Please tell Governor Inslee and the Department of Ecology that Washington deserves greater protection.  We are encouraging the governor to:
  • Decrease the risk of allowable cancer from 1 in 100,000 to 1 in 1 million.  The proposed rule actually increases your risk of cancer by increasing the cancer risk rate. We expect our government to help safeguard our health, not endanger it. We would like Washington to adopt the same standards as Oregon, with an appropriate fish consumption rate of 175 grams/ day and a cancer risk at 1 in 1 million.
  •  Disallow the expansion of variances. A variance can change the use and water quality standard for a segment of or an entire water body, allowing the water to be polluted for years, even decades.  The new rule expands how industries can get variances, increasing the likelihood of long delays in reducing water pollution.

Public comments will be accepted through public hearings and through letters submitted by mail or email. All public comments are due by March 23rd, 2015.

Email:                          Department of Ecology:

Mail:                           Cheryl Niemi
Washington State Department of Ecology
Water Quality Program
P.O. Box 47600, Olympia, WA 98504-7600

Governor Jay Inslee
Office of the Governor
PO Box 40002
Olympia, WA 98504-0002

Public Hearings:          March 3rd: Spokane, Washington 
March 4th: Yakima, Washington

March 12th: Lacey, Washington

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