Regional News

Details of draft fish consumption rule released

Sep 30, 2014

Washingtonians get a chance to preview proposed water quality standards for toxic chemicals that include new fish consumption rates.

Consistent with Governor Jay Inslee’s July 9 directive, the Washington Department of Ecology is making details of the preliminary draft rule available for early review.                           

“This meets the clear directive from the governor that we update our clean water standards to protect the health of all Washingtonians, our environment and our economy,” said Ecology Director Maia Bellon. “Those most affected have been anxious to see the details, and now they can get a preview of the complete proposal.”

“The majority of our concerns about toxics come not from big pipes but from the every-day chemicals in our environment. We are working with business, local government, and tribes on a proposal to prevent the use of largely unregulated toxic chemicals the Clean Water Act cannot address,” said Gov. Inslee. “Allowing these toxics to continue exposing our children and getting into our waterways is costly to clean up and damaging to public health. Prevention is the more effective way to protect Washington’s people and environment.”

The new preliminary draft rule proposes standards for how clean our waters need to be, and would control pollution limits for businesses and municipalities that discharge waste water. The rule contains a unique provision that no standard would allow more pollution than today’s standard, except arsenic that occurs naturally. Seventy percent of the standards would actually enhance protection by requiring cleaner water.

The water quality standards are initially calculated using a complex set of equations with many inputs – including fish consumption rate, cancer risk rates, average body mass for people, and bioconcentration factors for each chemical. What ultimately determines how clean our waters must be is not the individual input factors, but the output of the equations and the overarching policy decision that no standard will be less protective than today (with the exception of arsenic). 

Ecology’s preliminary draft rule would increase the fish consumption rate from 6.5 grams a day (about one serving a month) to 175 grams a day (about one serving a day) to better reflect current data and protect Washingtonians who eat a lot of fish. The calculation also includes a 10-5 input for the cancer risk rate, up from the previous input of 10-6.

“We’ve heard a lot of concerns that we are allowing a higher input risk rate for cancer. We recognize that it’s confusing, but the actual risk is not higher,” said Bellon. “What matters to people and fish is not the formula but the outcome – it’s less about the complex formula going into the standard and more about the level of pollution coming out of the pipe. And the end result is that most standards are more protective and, with the one exception of naturally occurring arsenic, no standard is less protective than today.”

Ecology also completed an extensive preliminary economic analysis that shows the new water quality standards would create minimal costs to industries and local governments that discharge waste water.

Ecology’s proposal includes further clarification about flexible implementation tools that industries and local governments could use to achieve the new water quality standards.

What this means for industries and local governments: 

  • They would not be required to clean up pollution that they didn’t cause.
  • Compliance schedules or variances could allow them to meet new standards over a specific period of time if they are demonstrating measurable progress and are on a path to meet standards as soon as possible.

Ecology expects to issue a formal draft rule in January 2015 and will invite public comments.

Ecology’s proposal is directly tied to a broader toxics-reduction package Gov. Inlsee will propose to the 2015 Legislature. It will address larger pollution challenges that the Clean Water Act alone can’t solve.

Details about the preliminary draft rule can be found on Ecology’s website

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