Thursday, September 3, 2015

New water quality standards for Washington State

BREAKING NEWS: New water quality standards for Washington State
by Wendy Steffensen

EPA just released a pre-publication proposed rule for the State of Washington’s water quality standards for human health. What does it mean and …
  • Why is the State of Washington getting new water quality standards?
  • What is in the rules?
  • Why did EPA release the rules, and not Ecology?
  • What happens next?
  • What does RE Sources think about these rules?

New water quality standards: The State of Washington’s water quality standard for human health have not been updated since 1992. Both the state and the federal government acknowledge that these rules are out-of-date. One of the biggest concerns lies with one of the variables used to set water quality standards:  the fish consumption rate. The amount of fish people consume is directly tied to how many contaminants they ingest from fish. If people eat more fish, they get more contaminants. The lower the fish consumption rate used in the water quality standard formula, the higher the amount of pollutants allowed in the water. Currently the state of Washington uses the low fish consumption rate of 6.5 grams per day (a cracker size serving), but we have known for years that Washington state is home to people who eat lots of fish.

The new rules: EPA’s proposed rule updates water quality standards based on new research and information on toxicity, and uses a fish consumption rate of 175 grams of fish per day and couples it with a protective allowable cancer rate of 1 in 1 million in the water quality standard formulas. This is in line with State of Oregon standards. While 175 grams of fish per day may seem like a lot of fish to some people, many sports and subsistence fishers and tribal members eat more than that.

EPA releases the rules, not Ecology: Early this year, Ecology finally published a long-awaited draft rule for water quality standards. The proposed standards were based on the assumption that people ate 175 grams of fish a day, a vast improvement over the current 6.5 grams of fish per day. Ecology’s acknowledgement of the need for a more protective fish consumption rate was, however, coupled with a less protective cancer rate, increasing the allowable cancer rate from 1 in 1 million to 1 in 100,000. Ecology’s draft rules were never finalized because they were tied to a legislative package designed to reduce pollutants at the source; the legislative package never made it through the Senate.
When the state does not act, it is EPA’s duty to step in to ensure the health and safety of the people.

Next: The proposed rule will be formally published in the Federal Register. After this, EPA will take public comment for 60 days. If the State submits a proposed rule before EPA finalizes its rule, EPA will review and act on the State’s new rule. If EPA approves a new state rule, it will stop its corresponding rules for Washington State.

Stay tuned:  We will alert you to the opportunity to comment on the new EPA rule.

RE Sources position: We are excited that EPA has released these rules. This sets in motion long-awaited updates to our current water quality standards. We hope that EPA has set the bar and the State will follow suit.

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