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Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883
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Spin Control

Union leaders worry about new fish consumption standards

OLYMPIA – Washington state is rushing toward water quality standards that will be too strict and cost jobs without being backed up by good science, leaders of unions with workers in aerospace, timber and paper industries claimed Monday.

But a spokesman for Gov. Jay Inslee said the union leaders are jumping the gun because no decision has been made. What many call the fish consumption standards are still under review, he said. . . 

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. . . A handful of union leaders called a press conference in the state Capitol Building’s elaborate State Reception Room Monday to say they are convinced the state is headed for tough new standards that will allow far lower levels of toxic chemicals in Washington’s streams, rivers and bays. Chip Elliott, a representative of the state’s woodworkers unions, said the state should wait until new scientific studies are done on the effects of those chemicals on people who eat fish from those waters, the amount of fish they eat, and whether the very low standards being considered can be properly measured by existing equipment.

Joe Crockett, a union official who represents some Boeing machinists, said he was worried the aerospace giant will pull its assembly lines for new jetliners out of Washington state if the rules are too strict. “They’ll go somewhere else,” Crockett said.

The union officials said they were convinced the state would enact an unreasonable level, even though they didn’t know what the level would be. But David Postman, a spokesman for Inslee, said they were mistaken. The governor is still talking to people who have a stake in the new levels, including the unions.

“There is no proposal,” Postman said. “They’re reacting to something as if it exists; it doesn’t exist.”

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency wants Washington to revise some of its water quality standards. Among the concerns are the level of carcinogens in fish and other seafood, and the average amount of that food people eat. Right now, the fish consumption levels are relatively low – far lower than what’s eaten by some Native Americans and others who rely mainly on seafood for the protein in their diets.

The state Department of Ecology is studying the issue and Inslee will be proposing a new level of toxics later this summer, Postman said. But that’s not the end of the process. Under state law, the department will then have six months of hearings and discussions, during which the proposed rules will be reviewed and possibly amended.

Jim Camden
Jim Camden joined The Spokesman-Review in 1981 and retired in 2021. He is currently the political and state government correspondent covering Washington state.

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