Environment | Opinion

Billy Frank: Treaty tribes eye tough water standards in Washington





Billy Frank Jr., the chairman of the Northwest Indian Fisheries Commission, presses for strong water quality standards in Washington:
There are two important numbers that go into determining how much pollution the state allows to be put in our waters. The numbers are 10-6 and 6.5.

The first number is your cancer risk rate from eating fish and shellfish containing toxics from pollution in our waters. Right now, that rate of 10-6 provides you a one in a million chance of getting cancer. But Gov. Inslee is considering changing the risk rate to 10-5, increasing your exposure to known carcinogens to one in 100,000. That’s a tenfold decrease in protection, and that’s not right. The second number is the amount of seafood that the state of Washington says you eat every day. The lower the number, the less protective water quality standards need to be to protect us from poisons in our water.

The problem is that the state’s current rate of 6.5 grams per day (equal to about one 8-ounce portion per month) is one of the lowest fish consumption rates in the nation. It’s lower even than states like Iowa, despite the fact that Washington has abundant seafood and one of the largest populations of fish and shellfish consumers in the United States. The state admits that the current fish consumption rate doesn’t protect most of its citizens, yet has used that very same rate to set water quality standards for more than two decades. After years of prodding by Tribes, environmental groups and others, the state has finally agreed to develop a more realistic rate and is considering a range from 125 to 225 grams per day.

The Treaty Tribes have been clear from the start about what we would like to see. We think the cancer risk rate should stay right where it is, and the fish consumption rate should be at least 175 grams per day. That’s the same rate that Oregon uses. We think everyone deserves at least that much protection. That’s especially true for Tribes, sport fishermen and anyone else who eats a lot of fish and shellfish.

Get the Story:
Billy Frank Jr.: Put people before profits (The North Kitsap Herald 3/31)