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Washington moves forward to adopt new water quality standards for toxics

The Washington Department of Ecology (Ecology) today begins formal rule-making activities to adopt new human health-based water quality standards for toxics.

The new standards will include updating assumptions about how much fish Washingtonians eat.

The state’s water quality standards are important because they guide how the state regulates water pollution. The human health-based standards are particularly important because their goal is to keep Washington’s fish and shellfish the cleanest in the nation and protect people who eat them.

The effort is part of Ecology’s job responsibilities as the agency delegated by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to carry out the Clean Water Act in Washington.

Ecology anticipates that the public process will include discussions of a broad array of issues, including what chemicals to address, new chemical toxicity factors, regional information on fish consumption, levels of acceptable risk, and implementation.

Ecology has compiled current fish consumption research in a draft technical document that evaluates available data on fish consumption by Washington residents called the “Fish Consumption Rates Technical Support Document” (https://fortress.wa.gov/ecy/publications/publications/1209058.pdf).  Ecology will use this document to inform risk management decisions associated with development of the new water quality standards.

“It’s our job to ensure that people can use our waters safely, whether they’re swimming or eating fish. This effort is an important step in doing that job and protecting our quality of life,” said Ecology Director Ted Sturdevant.

Ecology will begin this effort by convening a wide array of interests for an extensive and inclusive public process. Ecology invited tribal governments, local government, business, environmental, and recreational interests to help the agency with this effort through a Policy Forum it is convening. The Policy Forum will work through difficult policy issues and it will be open to everybody.

The Policy Forum will provide a structured dialog throughout the rule-making process. The Forum will help key interests understand issues, offer advice, and provide perspectives as Ecology addresses the complex science and public policy issues of adopting human health criteria.

Today, Ecology begins two separate rule-making activities on different sections of Washington’s water quality rules.  These rules implement state statutes and the federal Clean Water Act.

The first rule – the human health criteria rule – will allow the state to adopt new human health-based criteria into Washington’s water quality standards. The standards are important because they drive how much toxic pollution the state allows facilities to discharge. This is reflected in water quality discharge permits. They also protect people who eat fish and shellfish that pick up toxics from the environment.

Washington’s current water quality standards for toxics were issued by the EPA in 1992 through the National Toxics Rule and do not accurately reflect the amount of fish and shellfish consumed by individuals within Washington state.

The second rule – the implementation tools rule – supports the first rule. It addresses recent state legislation and water quality permit compliance challenges under the new standards. The goal of the implementation tools rule is to improve regulatory tools that keep water quality permit holders in compliance as they work to meet permit limits and control sources of pollution.

Ultimately, EPA will need to approve Washington’s new standards.

Ecology re-filed the implementation tools rule-making documents, which it previously filed in October 2011, to be in step with the new human health criteria rule-making.

Gov. Gregoire issued Executive Orders 10-06 and 11-03, requiring agencies under certain circumstances to suspend non-critical rule making. Following these executive orders, Ecology’s director determined that the human health criteria rule-making was necessary to protect public health, safety, and welfare or necessary to avoid an immediate threat to the state's natural resources.

The agency director also approved moving forward with the implementation tools rule as provided under the executive orders because it was requested by the regulated entities to help them meet existing and new requirements.

For more information on the Governor’s Executive Orders (10-06 and 11-03) and the Ecology Director’s decisions related to the rule-making suspension go to www.ecy.wa.gov/laws-rules/rulemaking_suspension.html.

To follow this effort, visit the website Reducing Toxics in Fish, Sediments and Water(http://www.ecy.wa.gov/toxics/fish.html) and sign up to receive email updates.

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