Yakama Nation demands clean up of Columbia River following release of fish consumption advisories

Source: Pyramid Communications

TOPPENISH, Wash.—Yakama Nation Chairman Harry Smiskin today said state and federal governments must act to clean up polluted sections of the Columbia River that are contaminating fish. The call for action followed the release of fish consumption advisories by the Oregon Health Authority and Washington Department of Health.

“The fish advisories confirm what the Yakama Nation has known for decades,” he said. “State and federal governments can no longer ignore the inadequacy of their regulatory efforts and the failure to clean up the Columbia River.”

In the Treaty of 1855, the Yakama Nation retained fishing rights throughout the river. The Yakama Nation repeatedly identified contaminated sites along the Columbia, expressing concerns for the health and culture of the Yakama people and calling upon the state and federal agencies for cleanup actions that would protect the tribe’s resources.

“The new advisories once again pass the burden of responsibility from industry and government to Tribes and people in the region,” Chairman Smiskin said. “Rather then addressing the contamination, we are being told to reduce our reliance on the Columbia River’s fish,” “This is unacceptable. The focus should not be ‘Do not eat’—it should be ‘Clean up’ the Columbia River.”

For more information visit www.yakamafish-nsn.gov.

Time to Move Forward on Fish Consumption Rate

By Billy Frank, Jr., Chairman, Northwest Indian Fisheries Commission

OLYMPIA – The Washington state legislature deserves thanks for not caving in to demands from Boeing and others to require yet another study of fish consumption rates in Washington to tell us what we already know: Our rate is too low and does not protect most of us who live here.

It wasn’t easy. A Senate measure requiring another study before beginning rulemaking on a new rate was tied to passage of the state budget, and nearly led to a government shutdown. Boeing and others have been trying to stop or delay development of a new rate because they say it would increase their cost of doing business.

The fish consumption rate is part of the human health standards used by state government to determine how much pollution is allowed to be put in our waters. The 20-year-old rate of 6.5 grams per day – about one eight-ounce seafood meal per month – is supposed to protect us from more than 100 toxins that can cause illness or death.

It’s a sad fact that Washington has one of the highest seafood-eating populations, but uses one of the lowest fish consumption rates in the country to regulate water pollution and protect human health. Another study could have delayed development of a new rate for three years or more.

Tribes have been reaching out to business and industry to discuss implementation of a new fish consumption rate. We are sensitive to possible economic impacts of a higher rate, and we want to continue working together to create a meaningful path forward. But those efforts have largely been ignored, and that’s too bad, because we have solved bigger issues than this by working together.

We are encouraged, however, by the actions of Dennis McLerran, regional Environmental Protection Agency administrator. He has stepped forward to express his agency’s commitment to protecting water quality and human health in Washington.

In a recent letter to Maia Bellon, director of the state Department of Ecology, McLerran pledged to support the state in developing a more accurate fish consumption rate. He made it clear, however, that if the state can’t or won’t get the job done, he will use his authority to establish a new rate. “The EPA believes there are scientifically sound regional and local data in Washington that are sufficient for Ecology to move forward in choosing a protective and accurate fish consumption rate at this time,” McLerran wrote.

Ecology director Bellon has said that we could have a more accurate fish consumption rate adopted by late 2014, and we intend to hold her to that. Oregon has increased its fish consumption rate to a more realistic 175 grams per day; we think Washington residents deserve at least that much protection.

We’re spending too much money, time and effort to clean up and protect Puget Sound and other waters to let business and industry continue to pollute those same waters. Right now we are paying for our state’s low fish consumption rate with the cost of our health, and that’s not right.

Developing a more accurate fish consumption rate isn’t about jobs versus the environment. It isn’t just an Indian issue. It’s a public health issue and needs to be treated that way. We can’t allow politics to trump common sense when it comes to protecting our own health and that of future generations.

If you want to learn more, visit the Keep Our Seafood Clean Coalition website at keepseafoodclean.org

Fish consumption rate: Why 20 years of studies is enough

Source: Northwest Indian Fisheries Commission

Over at Keep Our Seafood Clean, we’ve taken a look at the current debate in the state legislature over funding a new study on fish consumption rates in Washington. This isn’t a new debate, but after twenty years of study, some are still calling for “more study.”

Catherine O’Neill’s broad piece on the fish consumption rate has a great explanation on all of the attacks on previous fish consumption studies and why decades of work is enough.

Throughout the process of updating the FCR in Washington, there have been broadsides on the science that supports increased rates.

Although the relevant surveys of tribal fish consumption were carefully conducted to ensure their scientific defensibility, and have consistently been found to meet EPA’s (and sister states’) standards in this regard, their validity has nonetheless continued to be challenged by industry and individuals.

Ecology’s initial (Fish Consumption Rate Technical Support Document) FCR TSD considered three studies of tribal fish consumption and one study of Asian and Pacific Islanders in King County, finding each of these four studies to be scientifically defensible. In its FCR TSD, Ecology developed a set of criteria to determine the technical defensibility of fish consumption survey data, to be used in assessing the data’s relevance and appropriateness to the regulatory context in Washington, i.e., for use in standards for water quality, surface water cleanup, and sediment cleanup. …

As documented at length in the FCR TSD, each of the tribal studies considered… was found to have “satisfied” Ecology’s measures of technical defensibility.

The support for the previous studies has been deep and wide:

Moreover, the scientific defensibility of each of the tribal studies had previously been considered and affirmed in various assessments by EPA and by sister states. After an evaluation of the surveys according to five criteria, including the study’s “soundness,” “applicability and utility,” “clarity and completeness,” its handling of “uncertainty and variability,” and whether the study’s methods and information were “independently verified, validated, and peer reviewed,” EPA selected each of the tribal studies for inclusion in its general guidance document for conducting exposure assessments, the Exposure Factors Handbook. EPA Region X, moreover, recommends the Tulalip/Squaxin Island and Suquamish studies in its guidance for cleanups in Puget Sound, giving “highest preference” to these “well-designed consumption surveys.” Oregon’s independent Human Health Focus Group conducted an extensive year-long review and found each of these studies to be scientifically defensible, deeming them both “reliable” and “relevant.”

But, yet:

Still, the scientific defensibility of the tribal studies has been questioned, repeatedly, by individuals and industry as part of the Washington process. Some commenters asked that the tribal survey data be “verified” or sought additional “peer-reviewed studies generated through traditional means.”

Some people have asked that all the year’s of previous study be treated differently that other studies:

Some commenters called for the raw data (as opposed to the studies summarizing the survey results) to be “turned over” for “independent review” – a highly unusual request in general, given the ethical protocols that govern studies with human subjects, and a request in this context that is at the very least insensitive, given tribal populations’ understandable mistrust of handing over their raw “data” to outsiders.

To the credit of the state, the pushback against questioning these studies has been consistent. For example, in terms of turning over the “raw data”:

Ecology also called upon experts at the University of Washington School of Public Health to explain the standard practice in the field with respect to custody of survey data – an explanation that confirmed the inappropriateness of requests that the raw data be turned over to the public.

Even as late as last fall, Ted Sturdevant, then director of the Washington Department of Ecology told a house committee: “I’m confident that the studies that we’re relying on were done with all appropriate scientific rigor.”

So, why the need for even more study?