EPA Put on Notice over Wash. State's Fish Consumption Rate

Jul 23, 2013

The official estimate of how much fish people eat dictates the levels of pollution that are allowed, and a statewide coalition of clean water advocates says an accurate standard is long overdue.

Waterkeepers Washington is threatening to sue the federal government over lack of enforcement.

Right now, the state Department of Ecology sets water pollution standards based on an assumption about how much fish people eat that is woefully inaccurate, says Janette Brimmer, staff attorney with Earthjustice, which is  representing the members of Waterkeepers Washington who have threatened to file suit.

"Washington’s standard protects you for only 6.5 grams a day. That’s about the amount of fish that fits on a little cracker, per day,” Brimmer said. “And that amounts to like a small fish meal, maybe not even quite that, once a month. Obviously, most consumers in Washington are eating more fish than that, and, of course, health guidelines encourage us to.”   

Earthjustice is trying to get the EPA to enforce protections under the Clean Water Act. The group says the lack of action is allowing polluters to discharge dangerous amounts of mercury, PCBs, lead, and other toxins that are absorbed by fish and linked to cancer and brain damage.

The state Department of Ecology has been working on updating its standard for more than a decade and says it expects to have draft rules ready by the end of next year. But Brimmer says it’s gone on too long.

“We have seen now several deadlines come and go. Basically the Department of Ecology could just as well let that deadline slip by, just like it has all the previous ones,” Brimmer said.

The U.S. EPA declined to comment on pending litigation. It has 60 days to respond to the Waterkeepers filing.

Oregon recently enacted a standard that assumes people eat 27 times more fish than the current rule in Washington.

The non-profit journalism project InvestigateWest has documented how pressure from Boeing delayed more stringent water quality standards during Governor Chris Gregoire’s administration.

Just last legislative session, Boeing lobbied heavily for a new study of fish consumption rates that would have delayed the rule once again. That demand nearly shut down state government, but ultimately did not go through.