The Washington Department of Ecology Monday began the process of reassessing how much seafood Washington residents consume each day. The more seafood that people eat the higher their exposure may be to pollutants in the water. As a result, water quality standards would have to be adjusted.
Right now the Department of Ecology says that the average Washingtonian eats 6.5 grams of seafood per day. That’s about a forkful. But there are many who say that number’s not even close to accurate — including Ted Sturdevant, director of the Department of Ecology. He gave the opening address at Monday’s meeting.
“Today we recognize that our current assumptions are really woefully inadequate and they need to be changed to reflect reality,” Sturdevant said.
Some data shows that Asians and American Indians may be eating upwards of 300 grams a day.
And that’s important because if the state acknowledges that people are eating more creatures that live in the water, that means the water needs to get cleaner. This past fall Oregon upped its number to 175 grams per day.
Fran Wilshusen, habitat services manager for the Northwest Indian Fisheries Council, says by setting the higher standard in Oregon, that state took a big step toward regulating polluters and cleaning up their waters.
“If we have the opportunity to move it up to the 175 grams or higher,” Wilshusen says, “then we have an opportunity to protect the surface waters from further toxic loading but also to protect the human health for all of us who live in the Puget Sound region.”
If you want to raise water quality you have to ask where the pollution is coming from.
Recent research shows that the majority of the toxic contaminants that get into Washington waters aren’t coming solely from single, large polluters like factories or mills. They’re also coming from a wide range of personal and individual sources.
Sturdevant says the new regulations need to address all sources of pollution, not just the big ones.
“That’s one of the things that this rule-making really needs to wrestle with is how do we make sure that we’re getting after the real pollution sources? More and more the problem is not really single industrial dischargers it’s coming from these very diffuse sources.”
Sturdevant added that public education is going to be key.
It took Oregon several years to get the seafood consumption amount changed.
“This has not been an easy path for them.” Fran Wilshusen says, “It won’t be an easy path here in Washington but we have to start out by recognizing and acknowledging that we’re all eating a lot more than 6.5 grams of fish a day.”
The Department of Ecology is taking public comments about updating the seafood consumption rate until the end of the month. Then the agency will begin revising the sediment and water quality standards. The proposed rate will go to the EPA for final approval by the end of 2012.
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