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In Our View / Safe-fish consumption


Ecology's politics of health

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Washington's Department of Ecology braids politics and science. It's a two-master scenario that doesn't always serve the public interest, especially when big business insinuates itself in the transmission of vital data (a euphemistic way of saying that, at times, politics trumps need-to-know.)
Established in 1970, the DOE predates the Environmental Protection Agency by a few months, and was the brainchild of Gov. Dan Evans and his chief-of-staff, James Dolliver. It quickly emerged as a template for other states to emulate.
Accountability and transparency have been agency watch words, all the while DOE directors reflect their boss' political agenda. Notwithstanding politics, most of these agendas have been a blessing to the people of the Northwest, from salmon recovery to kick-starting clean-up of the Hanford Nuclear Reservation.
InvestigateWest's Robert McClure, in an article that ran in The Herald on Friday, pulls back the curtain on a (euphemism again) sin of omission by DOE on the amount of local fish Washingtonians consume. If the figures were adjusted for the real world, many Washingtonians would discover that they've hit the water-pollution threshold.
As McClure writes, "At least twice, the department has been told by its overseers at the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency to fix the problem and better protect people's health. It was close to finally doing that last year -- until Boeing and other business interests launched an intense lobbying campaign aimed not just at the department but also at the Legislature and then-Gov. Chris Gregoire."
The irony is that the Department of Health advocates people eat fish twice a week, and consumption by tribal members has always been high. McClure expertly connects the dots, documenting correspondence between DOE and Boeing. A Boeing official said that it would cost the company millions and rein in future expansion. Those are sobering words from Snohomish County's largest employer.
Boeing holds permits to discharge wastewater at nearly 20 locations in King and Snohomish Counties, McClure reports. The Snohomish County locations are at 3220 100th St. SW and 3003 W. Casino Road, in Everett.
Boeing is not alone in its concern. For generations, the pulp and paper industry worried about acceptable levels of discharge, heavy metals and effluent. Harmonizing jobs and public health is a hellacious slog, but this can't be reduced to an either/or proposition. The DOE has a duty to provide accurate, fish-consumption estimates. Then, in the spirit of transparency (and preserving those jobs) the agency needs to work with Boeing and other parties to develop a mitigation strategy.
If this is too hot politically (it shouldn't be) policymakers could delegate agreement-noodling to the Ruckelshaus Center, run jointly by the UW and WSU. When it comes to public health, common sense and science need to supplant politics.

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