EPA to step in for human health in Washington water quality standards

Cross posted at Keep Seafood Clean

Four months ago treaty tribes asked the federal Environmental Protection Agency to step in and set water quality standards in Washington state that would protect human health. Late last night the EPA answered that call and told the state that they are moving ahead.

Criticism of Inslee’s draft propose plan centers around the tenfold increase of the risk of cancer from polluted water.

From King 5:

“We still hope that Washington will deliver us a water quality standards package that is approvable,” McLerran said in an interview Thursday. “It’s our preference to have states do their own, but again they need to be done timely.”

Under federal law, rivers and other water bodies must be clean enough so people can safely eat fish from those waters.

The announcement puts renewed pressure on the state, which began working on a contentious rule two years ago and has missed its own deadlines. McLerran told state officials in April that the EPA would step in if the state didn’t finalize a rule by the end of 2014.

Inslee’s plan also makes changes to the cancer risk rate, one of many factors use in a complicated formula to determine how clean waters should be. McLerran said the EPA has some concerns and the state needs to justify the change in that risk rate.

The EPA is expected to have a federal proposal by August, at the earliest, giving the state some time. The agency says it would halt its own process if the state submits a final rule to the agency, McLerran said.

“It’s been a long time coming,” said Russ Hepfer, who is vice chair of the Lower Elwha Klallam Tribe. “I really hope the state steps up. It’s important not only for us tribal people, but for everybody who eats fish around here.”

Regional EPA administrator Dennis McLerran told the state in a letter:

I continue to strongly encourage the State to fully consider issues that the EPA has raised during the State’s rulemaking process, particularly regarding he need for the State to base its decisions on sound science and the best available data, which provide evidence of fish consumption rates well above 6.5 grams per day in Washington, and to explain why a change in teh state State’s long-standing cancer risk protection levels is necessary and how it is consistent with its strategy for protecting higher fish consumers in Washington.

While tribes praised the plainly needed increase in the fish consumption rate last summer, they were puzzled why the proposal also came with an increase to the risk of cancer.