Intended changes to Washington state's water quality standards could harm health

Man fishing in the Duwamish River

UW SRP raises concern about EPA's intended changes to Washington state's surface water quality standard for human health.

UW SRP Manager of Community Engagement, BJ Cummings, attended a September 25th meeting hosted by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) Region 10 at its downtown Seattle headquarters. EPA gave a short presentation about the proposed withdrawal of human health criteria for Washington State waters that it had established in 2016. EPA announced the changes in May after a petition from eight business groups.

The proposed changes would have profound effects on water quality in the state, allowing for a fourfold increase in the acceptable amount of dioxin and nearly 20 times the amount of PCBs in Washington waters. These chemicals disrupt hormone function and raise the risk of cancer and other diseases in fish and those who eat them, including orca whales.

Representatives of the Nisqually, Suquamish, Stillaguamish, Puyallup and Makah tribes testified in opposition to the changes at the EPA's September 25 meeting, saying that the rollback of water quality protections would harm their health and violate their treaty rights.

The State of Washington has filed a lawsuit to block the withdrawal of criteria they say is essential to protect the environment and public health. EPA's public comment period on the rule change closes today. Comments provided by the UW SRP can be seen here.