A coalition of clean water advocates in Washington state say the Environmental Protection Agency is failing to protect people in Washington from toxic pollution in fish — and if nothing is done, they’re going to sue.
Waterkeepers Washington — the coalition that includes Spokane Riverkeeper Bart Mihailovich — announced today their 60-day letter of intent to sue under the Clean Water Act, claiming that the federal agency is “violating its duty under federal law” by allowing Washington’s Department of Ecology to set an unrealistic fish-consumption rate.
“EPA has long known that Washington Ecology never properly adopted a realistic fish consumption rate,” says Janette Brimmer, an Earthjustice attorney representing members of Waterkeepers Washington, in a media release.
The “fish-consumption rate” is a core issue because it determines the amount of pollution that’s allowed. An Inlander story from earlier this year explains:
The basic science is simple. Depending on the dose, anything — arsenic, botulism, chocolate sauce — can be dangerous or harmless. Toxins in fish aren’t as problematic if they’re eaten very rarely. Washington state’s water-quality standards, therefore, rely on assumptions about how much fish people eat.
But in its current water-quality standards, Washington assumes each person only eats 6.5 grams of fish per day. That’s about half the amount that would fit on a soda cracker — one-thirtieth of a single plate of seafood at Anthony’s restaurant. The figure’s a national average, left over from a Department of Agriculture survey in the 1970s that included those who never ate fish.
Local tribes say the number is wildly inaccurate. In the 1990s, surveys of four Indian tribes on the Columbia River showed the average tribal member ate nearly 10 times more fish than that.
Waterkeepers Washington says in the release that they filed the letter of intent to sue “after years of unsuccessful attempts to persuade the federal agency and Ecology to set a realistic fish consumption rate and better protect people’s health from the risks of neurological damage, cancer and other diseases.”
Reporting from InvestigateWest shows how Boeing and other businesses have fought to keep the consumption rate low, and the costs they would take on if the rate were set higher. The issue became a sticking point during the most recent Washington budget negotiations, with Boeing lobbying for a multi-year study of fish consumption. Democrats called this a stalling maneuver to delay a new standard, and ultimately removed it from the budget.