Being Frank: Preserve Water Quality Gains

Being Frank is a monthly column written by the chair of the Northwest Indian Fisheries Commission. As a statement from the NWIFC chair, the column represents the interests and concerns of treaty Indian tribes throughout western Washington.

We shouldn’t reverse course after more than 20 years of hard work to update Washington’s water quality standards. Today our state’s standards for protecting human health from toxics in our waters are among the strongest in the nation.

That’s why we were disappointed to learn that an industry coalition is asking the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency to rescind updated water quality standards developed with the state that took effect in November.

This request comes not because the science has changed, but because the politics have. Regardless, we believe that those who pollute our waters and threaten our health must be held accountable.

All along, industry has fought efforts to implement more protective water standards because they claim it will increase their cost of doing business, but have never said how much.

We believe that human health should come before profits and that an economy based on polluting our waters cannot be sustained.

It’s important to remember that the new standards won’t even be fully implemented for a number of years, giving industry plenty of time and flexibility to comply.

Water quality standards are based mostly on how much fish and shellfish we eat. The more we eat, the cleaner the water must be. Two numbers drive the standards: our fish consumption rate and our cancer risk rate from eating local seafood.

Until last November, the state used a fish consumption rate of only 6.5 grams per day – or about one big bite – to determine water quality standards. The rate was based on studies from the 1970s and was woefully out of date.

The new standards reflect a more realistic fish consumption rate of 175 grams or about 6 ounces per day. It’s a significant step forward even though studies show that tribal members, Asian and Pacific Islanders and many others eat much more than that per day.

Fortunately, these standards maintain the one in one million cancer risk rate already in place to protect us from toxics in fish and shellfish from our waters.

The new standards also tackle some of the most toxic chemicals in our waters such as PCBs, arsenic and mercury. These three chemicals are responsible for most fish consumption health advisories in the state.

These standards are a win for everyone and must be preserved. It would be wasteful to start over again only because political agendas have changed. The long process that established the new standards is based on sound science, and that science has not changed.

Here in the PNW our culture reflects the remarkable environment we share and the wealth it provides for all of us.

In developing the new standards, EPA clearly recognized the federal government’s trust responsibility to protect the health and treaty rights of the tribes, which benefits everyone who lives here.

Protective standards not only support our health and welfare, they drive efforts to control pollution at its source and help stimulate economic growth through scientific innovation.

All of our cultures and economies depend on clean and available natural resources. Forward is the only direction we should go with these more protective standards.


Lorraine Loomis is the chair of the Northwest Indian Fisheries Commission.

For more information, contact: Tony Meyer or Emmett O’Connell, (360) 438-1181.