Washington environmental regulators will soon find out if their new water-quality rule is good enough for the Environmental Protection Agency.
The fish consumption rule, as it’s called, sets tougher limits on how much toxic pollution cities and businesses can discharge into lakes, rivers and marine waters.
The Department of Ecology adopted its new rule Monday and submitted it to the EPA for approval. The new standards are supposed to mean that if a person eats a daily 175-gram serving of fish from Washington waters for 70 years, the resulting chance of that person developing cancer will be one in 1 million.
Washington’s previous water quality standards for contaminants assume people in the state consume roughly 6.5 grams of fish per day. That amounts to two full fish servings per month. Surveys and studies have shown some groups in the state can consume between 200 and 800 grams of fish per day, especially among Native American and immigrant populations.
The proposed rule also sets standards for 97 chemicals that are part of wastewater discharges. And it sets dozens of standards for water quality in rivers and lakes that are at least as protective as federal standards.
“We believe our new rule is strong, yet reasonable. It sets standards that are protective and achievable,” said state Department of Ecology Director Maia Bellon in a prepared statement. “With this rule now complete, we will continue to press forward to reduce and eliminate toxics from every-day sources.”
Washington’s previous draft rule on fish-consumption standards was withdrawn after the EPA indicated it would not accept it. The federal agency said it would issue its own rules on Washington’s water quality if the state did not act. That came after environmental groups threatened to sue the EPA over the issue of fish consumption and allowable pollution levels.
Then in October Washington Gov. Jay Inslee announced he wanted the state to write a new rule with the goal of winning EPA approval. Although the new rule is significantly different from the previous draft proposal, some environmental groups and American Indian tribes have pushed for more stringent rules, saying Washington's latest plan still does not adequately protect water quality.
The EPA now has 60 days to accept the new rule or 90 days to reject it.
Clarification: Aug. 2, 2016. An earlier version of this story did not clearly describe the circumstances of the failure of an earlier rule-making process by Washington on fish consumption standards for water quality. The draft rule was withdrawn after the EPA indicated it would not accept it.