It's simple: We shouldn't have to fear for our health when we eat fish. The water in which fish live should be clean. The sediments at the bottom of the ocean should be free from toxic contamination and heavy metals. And we should be able to trust that government agencies are appropriately setting critical standards and enforcing the laws that are designed to protect our food supply, our people and our environment.
In Washington, one of those critical standards -- the fish-consumption rate -- is set by the Department of Ecology. The fish consumption rate estimates how much fish, by weight, each person eats on a daily basis. Ecology uses this standard to determine how much pollution industry can release and how thoroughly cleaned up toxic sites have to be.
The higher the fish consumption rate, the cleaner Puget Sound and other waterways will need to be. Unfortunately, Ecology has consistently failed to set a realistic fish consumption rate, thereby allowing high levels of pollution into the waters of our state.
This failure to set an appropriate fish consumption rate is due in large part to massive business and political pressure (see Robert McClure's work at InvestigateWest, invw.org, for a detailed accounting of the pressure on Ecology and the governor's office). That kind of pressure at the state level means we need intervention from a higher level of government -- specifically, the Environmental Protection Agency. But so far the EPA hasn't intervened to require Ecology to implement an accurate fish consumption rate.
For this reason RE Sources' North Sound Baykeeper, along with EarthJustice and the three other Waterkeeper organizations in Washington State, filed a notice of intent to take legal action against the U.S. EPA. We want politics and lobbying removed from the fish consumption equation, so Ecology can set a realistic, science-based rate and start protecting human health.
Washington's inadequate current standard, 6.5 grams a day, is among the lowest in the country, roughly the amount of salmon you would put on a cracker. It adds up to about one fillet a month. At that rate, none of us are safe, especially subsistence fishermen and tribal members who depend on fish for their daily protein or pregnant mothers and children who are more susceptible to the dangers of toxic contamination.
When we look at local issues right here in Whatcom County -- the cleanup of contaminated sites on the Bellingham waterfront, or the amount of pollution that industries discharge into area waterways -- it brings home how important the fish consumption rate is. If we don't have the right rate, we don't get a clean Bellingham Bay, or Nooksack River, or a clean delta, or clean shellfish. We aren't protected from contamination. It's that simple.
Washington's remarkably low fish consumption rate means that none of us are protected. It's you and me, it's moms and kids. It's people who fish every day, who don't have enough money to buy fish or other protein in stores. It's tribal members who have spent thousands of years depending on fish for sustenance.
We all deserve to be able to eat fish without the the fear that it will make us sick, and we have the rights to swim, drink and fish in clean water. It's to protect those rights that we at RE Sources' North Sound Baykeeper filed a 60-day notice of our intent to sue the EPA. We need to make sure that Ecology implements a realistic fish consumption rate as soon as they possibly can.
We hope you will join with us -- RE Sources' North Sound Baykeeper, Spokane and Columbia Riverkeeper, and the Puget Soundkeeper Alliance -- to make sure that the EPA and Ecology do the right thing and protect the health of people of the state of Washington.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Matt Krogh is the project manager for the North Sound Baykeeper, a program of RE Sources for Sustainable Communities. RE Sources promotes sustainable communities and protects the health of local people and ecosystems through science, education, advocacy and action. The North Sound Baykeeper, a member of the Waterkeeper Alliance and Waterkeepers Washington, is charged with protecting and preserving the marine waters of Whatcom and Skagit counties.