A way to protect health and jobs

We may now have a way to eat our fish and have our jobs, too.

The state Department of Ecology on Monday proposed a new water quality rule that, based on a realistic amount of fish consumption, will set pollution standards for rivers, lakes and other bodies of water and will allow industry, specifically Boeing and other manufacturers, to comply with those standards, reduce the amount of toxic chemicals being released into the environment and do so in an affordable, transparent manner.

Previously, acceptable levels of toxins were based on the amount of fish we supposedly consume, an estimate set in a 1974 federal study of 6.5 grams a day, less than 2 ounces a week. That’s about one and a half fish sticks a week, a ridiculous amount that Ivar Haglund would not have kept clam over. The new fish consumption standard assumes a much healthier and more generous rate of about a six-ounce serving a day of fish from state waters.

The new rule is tied to toxics-reduction legislation sought by Gov. Jay Inslee that seeks a greater emphasis on preventing toxic chemicals from entering the environment on the front end, rather than trying to clean them up on the back end where they enter the food web from wastewater discharges. Much of the toxic chemicals enter into the environment in small but steady amounts, such as copper from brake pads on vehicles, flame retardants in furniture, softeners used to make plastics and metals in roofing materials.

The rule and legislation seek to create chemical action plans that will bring together agencies, industry and others to recommend ways to reduce and eliminate specific chemicals and, where possible, find safer alternatives or procedures to those chemicals.

The updated water quality standards will be more stringent regarding about 70 percent of chemicals and will remain at current levels for about 30 percent. The only exception is made for arsenic because it occurs naturally at a relatively higher rate in state waters. A federal drinking water standard will instead be used for arsenic levels.

Agricultural use of pesticides and related chemicals would remain under the control of federal law. And the Ecology Department says the new standards it seeks should create minimal costs for most wastewater dischargers.

Reaction to the proposal from industry, environmentalists and the state’s Indian tribes, whose members’ diet and culture relies even more substantially on fish and seafood, will follow. But Rob Duff, environmental policy adviser for Inslee, in a telephone conference Monday said the Department of Ecology has worked to include those stakeholders in development of the rule and its legislation.

While this moves through the Legislature this session, the federal Environmental Protection Agency is keeping a keen watch on the process and has started its own rule-making process to update the state’s water quality standards should the state falter and fail to adopt new standards.

These are our waters, our fish and our industries. It’s best for all three if we adopt our rules.

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