CONSUMPTION KEYS POLLUTION LAW Clean Water Standards Based on How Much Fish People Eat

By Jim Camden; Becky Kramer | The Spokesman-Review (Spokane, WA), November 22, 2013 | Go to article overview

CONSUMPTION KEYS POLLUTION LAW Clean Water Standards Based on How Much Fish People Eat


Jim Camden; Becky Kramer, The Spokesman-Review (Spokane, WA)


Legislators grappled Thursday with a seemingly small question that has a big impact on Washington's pollution laws: How much fish do people eat?

The answer will affect water pollution standards on many state waterways and the companies that must meet those standards because some of the pollution ends up in fish. How much fish people eat can determine the risk for some cancers and other diseases.

The question is more complicated than it sounds, Kelly Susewind of the Department of Ecology told the Senate Energy, Environment and Telecommunications Committee. Some groups, particularly Native Americans, eat more fish than others, and some people don't eat any. Fish that spend their entire lives in a polluted river like the Spokane pick up more pollution than salmon, which are born in fresh water, live in salt water for much of their lives, then return to fresh water. Salmon that spend most of their lives in the Puget Sound can have as much as five times the polychlorinated biphenyls or PCBs, a known carcinogen, as salmon that spawn in coastal streams and live most of their lives in the Pacific.

So a person who only eats the highly touted Copper River salmon, which comes from Alaska and is only available a short time each year, would have less risk than someone who eats salmon from Puget Sound? asked Committee Chairman Doug Erickson, R-Ferndale. Yes, Susewind said, but the standards aren't being set to take that into account.

There is no statewide study of how much fish people eat and where it comes from, so the department is primarily using studies of tribes that primarily eat locally caught fish, he said.

Recent surveys indicate people on the Colville Confederated Tribes reservation eat about 400 grams of fish a day, Gary Passmore, the tribes' environmental trust director, said Wednesday at a conference in Spokane. Rates are similar for tribal and nontribal members.

Current state pollution standards assume people eat 6.5 grams of fish per day. That's a piece about the size of a saltine cracker, said Sen. Marilyn Chase, D-Shoreline. The department is considering the effects of assuming they eat 125 grams, about a quarter pound; 175 grams, about a third of a pound; or 225 grams, about a half pound, and estimating the potential increase in cancers. …

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