The very important process of setting a more protective fish consumption rate in the state of Washington has been on quite the rollercoaster ride this summer and fall. Below is an update on where the process is and how Spokane Riverkeeper is involved.
In a nutshell, the Washington State Department of Ecology has been in the process of changing fish consumption rates with the goal of making them more protective and more accurate to the amount of fish that people in the state of Washington actually eat. For more background check out my blog post from May when I was trying to get people turned out to provide comments at a public hearing on the topic.
The problem is this: in a state where people have subsisted primarily on salmon and seafood for thousands of years, the state assumes people only eat a cracker-sized portion of fish per day. 6.5 grams, to be exact. In fact this issue is so large I posted a comprehensive piece in the Huffington Post in mid June.
Why does a low fish consumption estimate matter? Because each of our pollution control regulations is tied to human health, and the human health threshold for cleanup or control is tied to the consumption rate.
According to Washington State Department of Health toxicologist David McBride, who spoke in Spokane at a water quality conference earlier this year, “Our current discharge standards don’t protect you. Washington uses one of the lowest fish consumption rates in the nation to set water quality standards, but we have some of the highest fish-consuming populations in the nation.”
In early July, thanks to an editorial in the Spokesman from the Washington Policy Center it became clear that industry was digging in their heals to prevent this process from yielding results that would be most protective of the most people in the state, but that would allow them to continue to pollute our state’s waterways as they have been.
Which is why it wasn’t too surprising that a few weeks later in a letter from Ted Sturdevant the Director of the Washington State Department of Ecology, it was announced that Ecology was changing course on the process and introducing a new approach. Part of that approach would be creating a delegates table to meet for a year to discuss how best to go about this very important process. A process that is also happening in Idaho (more on this in another blog post).
“A right delayed is a right denied.” These are the words of Martin Luther King Jr. and they aptly describe the consequences of Washington State’s decision to delay adopting new toxics water quality standards: people who regularly eat locally caught fish are being denied the basic right to eat fish free of toxic pollution.
Which leads us to the present, and Spokane Riverkeeper’s current thought on the delegates table and basically what we are calling an unnecessary delay in this critical process. In a letter sent to EPA Region 10 and the Washington State Department of Ecology, Spokane Riverkeeper, Columbia Riverkeeper, North Sound Baykeeper and Puget Soundkeeper, collectively Waterkeepers Washington, have declined to participate in the delegates table, joining a growing number of of tribes saying this new approach will add years of delay to the adoption of accurate, protective human health criteria water quality standards.
Her’s an excerpt from our letter, “Although we will not participate in Ecology’s Delegate’s Table, we will continue to provide input on the development of new standards and associated rules given the critical importance of adopting accurate standards. While we agree with Director Sturdevant’s calls for a comprehensive approach to reducing toxins in Puget Sound and our state’s rivers, lakes, and streams, we disagree that delaying the adoption of new toxics standards is in the best interests of the millions of Washingtonians who eat fish and shellfish.”
I will be sure to keep everyone apprised of what happens next. Until then, continue to speak loudly and urge Idaho and Washington regulatory officials to NOT back down to industry pressure and stand up and protect Washington and Idaho citizens.