Monday, October 14, 2013

No, You Shouldn’t Eat The Fish—Not Yet

Fish-consumption rates in Washington state— which has a lot to do with how much toxic pollution in fish people can safely consume— are back in the news, thanks to conservation and commercial fishing groups.  As of today, the state estimates that people consumer on average about 7 oz. of fish a month, about two servings, and has been very slowly considering revisions. On Friday, Earthjustice sued the Environmental Protection Agency to prompt the federal government to require the state to update consumption rates and better protect human health. ( EPA sued over Washington fish-consumption estimates )

This issue applies to ‘resident’ fish that inhabit our bays and estuaries year-round living in the toxic chemicals from our modern lifestyles— not the salmon that pass through our marine waters and estuaries. Everybody has known for years the consumption levels are too low, especially for Native Americans and subsistence fishers. The problem in raising the consumption levels to protect fish eaters is that it would also require tightening pollution standards governing the disposal of toxic chemical into our Puget Sound bays and estuaries.

On one hand, people are at risk eating contaminated fish. On the other hand? According to the spokesperson for the Association of Washington Business in the news article above, it’s a competitiveness issue for industries who care about health and human safety but need to consider regulations that might not allow them to “keep their doors open and people employed.”

As for the state regulator’s point of view, I heard Ecology staff Josh Baldi tell the Puget Sound Partnership’s Leadership Council that it’s not a simple matter because saying people eat more fish than two servings a month would mean that less industrial pollutants would be allowed to be discharged— and discharges are already so tightly controlled that it might not be cost-efficient to require industry to control more.

According to Boeing in a story filed by Ashley Ahearn of EarthFix, a higher fish consumption rate would cost the company hundreds of millions of dollars in upgrades at its facilities to lower pollution discharges into Washington waterways. ( Enviros and Fish Groups File Lawsuit To Raise Fish Consumption Standards )

So, do we have to choose? The health of Indians and subsistence fishers or airplanes and jobs? Industries and corporations would like to make it a choice because I’d bet people would choose airplanes and jobs.

But should we have to choose? It’s hard to believe that smart people who run places like Boeing cannot engineer ways to reduce and eliminate pollution to the Sound. After all, they do a pretty good job with airplanes.

Would it cost “hundreds of millions”? I don’t know and I don’t think they do either, and maybe it would create, not eliminate jobs.

But the best part of reducing and eliminating toxic pollution going into our waterways isn’t for the benefit of Indians and subsistence fishers— it’s for all of us who live and work and recreate in the waterways of Puget Sound. The real choice is a cleaner Sound and ensuring healthy human lives.

Let's keep it as simple as possible by thinking about corporations the way they like to be thought of— as individuals, people like you and me. No individual, no matter how rich or powerful,  is above the law. So, if I see an individual putting toxic chemicals into the waterway, I’d say stop and expect the government to do its job to stop the pollution. If the individual didn’t stop, I guess we’d see everyone in court— which seems to be where things are heading now.

--Mike Sato

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