Regulating Pollution
4:54 pm
Fri October 11, 2013

Clean Water Suit Alleges State's Fish Consumption Rate Outdated

How much fish is safe to eat? That’s the key question in a federal lawsuit filed today

The plaintiffs are trying to force stricter limits on pollution in local waters. A coalition of groups including clean water advocates, tribes, and the commercial fishing industry have filed suit against the Environmental Protection Agency.

They want the feds to force Washington state to adopt tougher regulations, as required by the Clean Water Act. The amount of toxic discharge the state allows is based on assumptions about how much fish people eat. The plaintiffs say the current assumption—6.5 grams per day, or about as much as would fit on a cracker, is woefully inadequate and unsafe.

“It’s about a single bite of fish,” said Chris Wilke with Puget Soundkeeper Alliance, a plaintiff in the suit. 

Wilke says that rate was adopted in 1992 as a placeholder, and it's well-known that the figure is out of date. 

“Now we understand some groups eat more than 6.5 grams a day," Wilke said.  "In fact, some groups eat as much as 200 or 300 [grams], or even more," he said. 

Oregon recently adopted a much higher standard, of 175 grams  per day—nearly 27 times higher than Washington's current standard.

But Washington has dragged out the process after pushback from big industrial employers including Boeing.

The state Department of Ecology says it is working on an update and expects to have a draft rule ready by early next year. The department will reveal some of the options it is considering at a public meeting on Nov. 6.