YAKIMA, Wash. (AP) — The Ecology Department wants to raise the estimate of the amount of fish Washington residents eat as a way to improve water quality standards and to protect fish eaters from taking in too many contaminants.
The state currently has a confusing system of two rates. An estimate of .23 ounces a day governs water quality, and an estimate of 1.9 ounces a day is used to regulate cleanup of toxic sediments, the Yakima Herald-Republic reported (http://is.gd/CgSkOU ) Monday.
The Ecology Department wants to set a single, higher rate.
“We feel like it’s high time to fix these numbers,” said spokeswoman Sandy Howard. “We don’t think the current rate is protective enough.”
A proposal from Ecology’s toxic cleanup specialists is expected next month. After public hearings across the state a new rate could be set by the end of the year, said Ecology spokesman Seth Preston.
“We’re still in thinking and listening mode in trying to put a proposal together,” he said. “It’s starting to firm up.”
Something as simple as an estimate of fish consumption has big implications for pollution regulations.
“There’s a lot of money involved, obviously. But there’s human health issues involved here as well as environmental issues,” said Department of Health toxicologist Dave McBride in Olympia.
Industry is willing to make changes to improve water quality but doesn’t want to get hit with unrealistic standards, said Courtney Barnes, the director of environmental policy for the Association of Washington Business in Olympia.
“I think the fear is having environmental standards that are not achievable,” she said.
Fish are generally healthy fare. The American Heart Association recommends that people eat about 6 ounces of fish a week.
The state of Oregon recently pushed its estimated fish consumption rate to the highest in the nation at just under 6.2 ounces a day, the Herald-Republic reported.
Washington’s water quality rate — 0.23 ounces a day — was established by the federal Environmental Protection Agency from a national survey conducted sometime in the 1970s. When the EPA in 2000 began recommending a rate of 0.62 ounces a day, the state’s rate stayed at 0.23 ounces. And, the cleanup rate of 1.9 ounces was derived from a survey of recreational anglers at Tacoma’s Commencement Bay more than two decades ago.
A 2002 consumption survey conducted by the Columbia River Inter-Tribal Fish Commission, which oversees fisheries on the Columbia River, showed that tribal members eat anywhere from 2 to 13.7 ounces of fish daily, said Yakama Nation Environmental Restoration manager Russell Jim.
For decades, Columbia River tribes — the Yakama, Nez Perce, Umatilla and Warm Springs — have complained that consumption rates are not protecting their people who are large consumers of fish. A low consumption estimate means people could be ingesting more contaminants than are considered healthy.
Yakama tribal member Alan Tahsequah spends each spring and summer along the banks of the Yakima and Columbia rivers, catching fish for his family.
“I have five kids, plus I keep some extra for friends,” the 35-year-old said while fishing near the Parker Dam on the Yakima River one recent afternoon.
The Yakama Nation is hoping for an estimated fish consumption rate at least as high as Oregon’s, said Emily Washines with the tribal fisheries department.