- Levi Hastings
Do you eat fish? No? Okay, do you drink water? Are you a human being who lives in Washington?
Then heads up: you're now set to enjoy a mixed bag of greater and weaker levels of protection from toxic chemicals flowing into the state's waterways, thanks to a proposal (PDF) today by Governor Jay Inslee.
I wrote about the approach of this wonky but hugely important decision, long in the making, for last week's paper.
Bottom line? People who fish and eat fish regularly, including tribal members and immigrant and minority communities, want Washington's forty-year-old formula for determining clean water standards to be updated and made as strong as possible, including bumping one variable in the equation—the assumed fish consumption rate—up to the level of Oregon's: 175 grams per day. (Wondering what 175 grams looks like? Picture a fillet of salmon.)
Inslee did that today, which is what you'd want from someone labeled by many as the country's "greenest governor."
Here's where he failed to live up to that title, however: the governor is also proposing to set another variable in the equation, called the excess cancer rate, at a level where, according to the governor's office, "if a person were to eat a 175-gram serving of fish from Washington waters every day for 70 years, he or she would have a 1-in-100,000 chance of developing cancer." Clean water advocates were pushing for a one-in-a-million chance.
The new formula must be approved by the feds at the Environmental Protection Agency.
Meanwhile, the governor said he's sending a package of reforms to the legislature that would empower regulators to combat the introduction of certain toxic chemicals—PCBs, flame retardants, plasticizers, and zinc—"further upstream."
"Many people have seen the mandate to update our water quality standards as a choice between protecting human health or protecting the economy," Inslee added in a statement. "I reject that choice because both values are essential to our future."
But no one seems to be buying it.
"This is a political decision, not one based on sound science," said Lorraine Loomis, vice chair of the Northwest Indian Fisheries Commission and fisheries manager for the Swinomish Tribe, in a statement. Tribes are supportive of the 175 grams per day fish consumption rate, "but are deeply concerned about a proposed tenfold increase in the cancer risk rate."
And even though businesses got their way on Inslee's proposed cancer risk rate—they'd called the current 10-6 number "unacceptable" in a March letter to governor—Boeing said today that it is "concerned that the standards put forth by the governor today could result in little to no improvement to water quality, and be a substantial detriment to Washington jobs and economic health." One could translate that this way: Worried about increased cancer risk? Don't clean up the water, just eat less fish!
Boeing's scaremongering, it must be noted, is totally at odds with the available data on the impact of Oregon's robust water cleanliness standards, which were updated in 2011, as well with testimony from public health experts and environmentalists.
Spokane's Bart Mihailovich, Affiliate Coordinator for the Waterkeeper Alliance, tweeted: "The Gov successfully split the baby. #disappointing #boeingwins #cleanwaterloses"
This post has been updated since its original publication.