Inslee Proposes Fish Consumption Rates and Cancer Rates

By Steve Jackson

Washington Governor Jay Inslee is proposing new water quality standards that are designed to limit hazardous chemicals released into area waterways. The Governors proposal, announced Wednesday, would improve water quality by establishing new standards that will give more authority to the Department of Ecology.

Under orders from the Environmental Protection Agency, Washington has been trying for several years to upgrade its water quality standards that date to the 1970s. One of the standards proposed dramatically updates the “Fish Consumption Rates” that the average Washington resident eats. Currently that standard is set at 6.5 grams of fish per day, or only one fish meal per person per month.

Kelley Susewind of Ecology says the new proposed standard is much higher. Susewind says "the governor gave us direction to increase that to 175 grams per day, which is a small fish meal per day. That’s based on a number of studies based on higher consuming populations, like native Pacific Islanders, Native Americans, those types of folks.” 

175 grams per day is the same standard Oregon adopted two years ago. Increasing the amount of fish eaten per day in the formula reduces the amount of toxic chemicals allowed in the water. But the formula also factors in an acceptable rate of cancer in the overall population from exposure to a chemical.

The current standards allow for an increased cancer rate of one case in 1 million people at the 6.5 gram a day level, the new standard would be one case in 100 thousand people at the 175 gram a day rate. Even with that change, Susewind says the plan is to make sure chemical releases into waterways do not increase.

Susewind: “If you just did that straight up, took the output of the numbers and plugged it into the equation, some chemicals equations would be allowed to be higher, we would allow more than we currently do. And the governor said that would not be acceptable to him, under no case would we allow more chemical pollution than we do today.”

Ecology says of the 96 chemicals regulated under the rule, about 70 percent will have new more protective standards. Ecology is also being directed to come up with a toxics reduction package to deal with other chemicals not listed among the 96 covered. The proposed rule is coming under fire from environmental groups who don’t like the new cancer risk standards, and from some in industry who don’t like the new fish consumption standards. 

The legislature will consider the toxics reduction package. The new proposal of fish consumption and cancer rates will undergo a period of public comment, before being submitted to the EPA for approval.

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