Getting tougher on water pollution standards … but will the water really be cleaner?

Washington’s clean-water regulations to ensure the safety of eating fish from local waters are indefensibly lax, everyone agrees. That’s about to change, but without broader cleanup, water will still be polluted.

 

PREV 1 of 3 NEXTNew proposed water-quality standards expected to be issued soon by the state are intended to more accurately reflect how much fish people eat. These fishermen were trying their luck for salmon running in the Duwamish River last September.Enlarge this photoMARCUS YAM / The Seattle Times, 2013New proposed water-quality standards expected to be issued soon by the state are intended to more accurately reflect how much fish people eat. These fishermen were trying their luck for salmon running in the Duwamish River last September

New proposed water-quality standards expected to be issued soon by the state are intended to more accurately reflect how much fish people eat. These fishermen were trying their luck for salmon running in the Duwamish River last September.
MARCUS YAM / The Seattle Times, 2013

 

By Linda V. Mapes, Seattle times

 

Eat only as much fish as the state assumes you do every day, and you’d starve, for sure: It’s a chunk not much bigger than a Starburst candy.

But that could be about to change, under new regulations in the works at the state Department of Ecology. Washington seems likely to follow Oregon’s lead and set a water-quality standard for daily fish consumption at 175 grams, or about 6 ounces, per day.

The level is set not to regulate how much fish people eat, but how clean water needs to be. The standard sets pollution cleanup and control limits for industry, municipal sewage plants and other dischargers to local waters.

While it sounds like a modest step forward, implementing more realistic fish-consumption standards — Washington’s current standards are based on an outdated national average — has been a battle, chewing up years of effort and the political capital of two governors.

That’s because municipal sewage plants, pulp mills and other dischargers fear the cost of tighter pollution standards. Boeing famously entered the fray last year in widely reported warnings about the potential effect of unreasonable standards on its continued business operations.

“We support a water quality standard that protects human health and the environment, while at the same time, allows for the growth of our business and the state’s economy,” Boeing spokeswoman Megan Hilfer wrote in a statement to The Seattle Times in an email July 1.

No one contests that the new levels will in some cases result in setting pollution-discharge limits too tiny even to measure with existing technology.

Gov. Jay Inslee and the state Department of Ecology are expected to announce the new proposed standard Wednesday and to work toward issuing a draft rule after that. The regulations will go through a lengthy public-comment period and be finalized only with the approval of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, probably sometime next year.

The importance of water-quality standards to human health is well known, especially to people who eat a lot of fish. Because pollutants find their way from the uplands to the water, ultimately everything, for better or worse, winds up in the tissues of fish. Pollutants such as mercury and PCBs can cause a variety of serious illnesses and impairments, from cancer, to permanent IQ reduction in children. Pregnant women, the young and the frail are most at risk.

As the state develops commercially, the abundance of healthy fish from the state’s home waters has been slipping away. Toxics are just part of the problem. Habitat, every scientific report on salmon recovery shows, is the most important thing to securing abundant runs of fish for people and wildlife.

Yet the state is losing ground, literally, in runoff caused by development of uplands and cutting of forests.

And even as Seattle and King County water and sewer ratepayers spend hundreds of millions of dollars to clean up Puget Sound, the city of Victoria, B.C., continues to spew untreated sewage directly into the Salish Sea — prompting a dust-up with Inslee, but still no resolution of the problem.

Inslee inherited the fish-consumption wrangle from former Gov. Chris Gregoire, who failed to implement new regulations amid scorching opposition from businesses. As the struggle to get the standards updated roils behind the scenes in Washington, regulators in Oregon, and business leaders, are carrying on with that work behind them.

The Oregon Department of Environmental Quality has issued dozens of discharge permits since updating its standards in 2011, including permits for more than a half-dozen municipalities, a meatpacking plant and other industrial users. The path forward in Oregon required implementation of flexibility in setting timelines for compliance and variances, said Jennifer Wigal, water-quality program manager at the department.

A similar approach is in the works in Washington. Kelly Susewind, director of Washington Department of Ecology’s water-quality program, charged with drafting the regulations, said he wants to take the five-year time limits off compliance schedules and variances, to give regulators and dischargers a way to work out realistic solutions under new, more exacting standards.

Dennis McLerran, regional administrator for the Region 10 office of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, whose approval is required for Ecology’s regulations, said he backs flexible implementation.

“We are interested in working with the state on a package of implementation tools that includes compliance schedules, variances, intake water credits, even how you look at some chemicals. But we want to make progress. Otherwise, why do it?”

One place he is not inclined to budge, though, McLerran said, is cancer risk, because implementing a higher risk would allow bigger inputs of some pollutants to local waters. That could put people who eat a lot of fish at higher risk — and compromise treaty-protected fishing rights.

“Some of our high fish consumers when they signed on to transfer (their) lands, signed on to continue to harvest and eat fish, and when and if they can’t, then the treaty right is a bit vacuous,” McLerran said.

“From my perspective we want a standard that is protective, and protective of all people.”

A daily consumption standard of a little over 6 ounces of fish as set forth by Oregon — the highest standard in the country — is less than a typical half-pound filet an adult would have for dinner. And it’s a snack, compared with the estimated 2.2 pounds a day that the ancestors of Washington tribes were counting on when they signed the treaties with the U.S. government ceding tribal lands for non-Indian settlement.

People shouldn’t be afraid to eat fish now, Susewind said. The increased risk of cancer from eating fish today is almost zero — compared with a background risk of cancer from all causes of about 1 in 2 for men, or 1 in 3 for women.

And many common foods, from butter to chicken to tuna, have more PCBs in them than Puget Sound coho, according to an Ecology analysis.

The ubiquity of pollution is one reason Christie True, director of King County Natural Resources and Parks, said she hopes new state regulations don’t just crank down on pollutants at tiny levels in sewage discharges and other so-called point sources, but instead go after bigger sources of trouble in Puget Sound, including stormwater.

Just making compliance schedules workable doesn’t address the problem if the regulations misdirect spending and effort, she said.

“We want to make sure whatever investments we are making make a substantial improvement in water quality,” True said. “If we just focus on the point-source discharge, we are missing huge opportunities. All of these things, arsenic, PCBs, dioxins, those are coming through our watershed through street runoff and rain runoff, these are getting washed into our water without any kind of control.”

Dianne Barton, water-quality coordinator for the Columbia River Inter-Tribal Fish Commission, which pushed Oregon to get started on updating its standards, and is deeply involved with other Washington tribes in setting new standards in Washington, said tribes want progress, but not at any price.

In many rural and suburban areas of the Northwest, tribes are among the largest employers, running all kinds of industries themselves, and they want cost-effective solutions that make a true difference too, Barton said.

“The tribes have always believed that this is not something we are going to achieve overnight,” Barton said. “We can get creative.

“Whether as we move forward that includes variances or resources we haven’t developed yet, we are committed to being actively engaged so we can move the (Columbia) Basin forward.”

The rain advantage

By Monica Brown, Tulalip News

TULALIP, WA. Living in the Pacific Northwest, there is one thing that is certain, it may rain today. Spring is here and with it comes the rain. The Tulalip area averages about 3” of rain every month during the spring. With summer around the corner, rain water management is on the minds of home owners that are thinking about improving the look of their yard. During the spring, rainwater runoff is inevitable, causing soil erosion and flooding. But there are useful ways to handle the runoff that are beneficial for the environment and your yard during the drier summer months.

In your yard, prior to the construction of your house, rainwater was absorbed and filtered by the plants and trees eventually making its way back in the air through evaporation and transpiration or back down into the water table and eventually into the ocean. After construction, the surface of the house and driveway are impermeable and cause rainwater to runoff in concentrated places eroding the soil and washing pollutants into nearby streams, rivers, lakes and oceans.abpRB55_Labeled_400w

Two widely used methods for managing rainwater runoff, are to harvest it from the roof into barrels or to divert it into a rain garden. Harvesting rainwater is a more simple method that works by fixing a barrel to the gutter of the house to catch and store water to use on garden plants. Rain gardens require more work to install but are low maintenance in the long run.

A good example of a rain garden can be found at the Tulalip administration building near the backside of the parking lot. The building’s rain gardens have been used to prevent erosion by catching the parking lot runoff and filtering out the pollutants as the water passes through the soil and natural vegetation.

 

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Marysville rain garden registered with the Puget Sound rain garden initiative.

The Tulalip tribes have begun helping residents to find the most useful way they can to manage their stormwater runoff and are providing informational packets to all Tulalip residents. For more information about rainwater management in your yard and your options, contact Val Streeter in the Tulalip Tribes Natural and Cultural Resources department at 360-716-4629 or email vstreeter@tulaliptribes-nsn.gov

For those located off of the Tulalip reservation, the Puget Sound rain garden campaign is helping to install 12,000 rain gardens by 2016. The campaign offers in depth information about rain gardens, incentives in your area and local resources to help you get started. For more information about the Puget Sound rain garden campaign visit the website at http://www.12000raingardens.org/.

 

raingarden

“What makes it a rain garden is in how it gets its water and what happens to that water once it arrives in the garden.” Vienna, WV website article What is a Rain garden?

 

 

Rainwater management options

Driveway Infiltration trench controls stormwater from running off your property by collecting and infiltrate stormwater from your driveway until it soaks into the ground.

Dry well reduces erosion and ponding water by collecting runoff in an underground well structure that allows the water to leach back into the soil slowly.

Pervious walkways, driveways and patios made from material that allows water to seep through cracks while still providing a flat and stable surface.

Rain barrel  will reduce stormwater runoff and allows you to use captured water for lawns, gardens and indoor plants.

Rain garden reduces the amount of stormwater coming from you property and recharges your groundwater by capturing stormwater in a bowl-shaped garden that uses soil, mulch, and plants to absorb and treat stormwater before seeping back into the water table.

Vegetated Swale receives drainage from roads, sidewalks and driveways though a shallow channel that slows stormwater runoff and directs it to an area where it can infiltrate through plants that trap sediment and remove pollutants and prevent erosion.

 

Native Americans vow a last stand to block Keystone XL pipeline

 

By Rob Hotakainen

McClatchy Washington Bureau February 17, 2014

Faith Spotted Eagle sits in her home in Lake Andes, South Dakota on Monday, Feb. 10, 2014. Spotted Eagle is fighting against the proposed Keystone XL pipeline. TRAVIS HEYING — MCT

Faith Spotted Eagle sits in her home in Lake Andes, South Dakota on Monday, Feb. 10, 2014. Spotted Eagle is fighting against the proposed Keystone XL pipeline. TRAVIS HEYING — MCT

WASHINGTON — Faith Spotted Eagle figures that building a crude oil pipeline from Canada to the U.S. Gulf Coast would bring little to Indian Country besides more crime and dirty water, but she doubts that Native Americans will ever get the U.S. government to block the $7 billion project.

“There is no way for Native people to say no – there never has been,” said Spotted Eagle, 65, a Yankton Sioux tribal elder from Lake Andes, S.D. “Our history has caused us not to be optimistic. . . . When you have capitalism, you have to have an underclass – and we’re the underclass.”

Opponents may be down after a State Department study found that the proposed Keystone XL pipeline would not contribute to global warming. But they haven’t abandoned their goal of killing what some call “the black snake.”

In South Dakota, home to some of the nation’s poorest American Indians, tribes are busy preparing for nonviolent battle with “resistance training” aimed at TransCanada, the company that wants to develop the 1,700-mile pipeline.

While organizers said they want to keep their strategy a secret, they’re considering everything from vigils to civil disobedience to blockades to thwart the moving of construction equipment and the delivery of materials.

“We’re going to do everything we possibly can,” said Greg Grey Cloud of the Rosebud Sioux Tribe, who attended a two-day conference and training session in Rapid City last week sponsored by the Oglala Sioux Tribe called “Help Save Mother Earth from the Keystone Pipeline.” He said tribes are considering setting up encampments to follow the construction, but he stressed that any actions would be peaceful. “We’re not going to damage anything or riot or anything like that,” he said.

Like much of the country, however, tribal members are divided over the pipeline. In South Dakota, the battle pits those who fear irreversible effects on the environment and public safety against those who trumpet the economic payoff and a chance to cash in on a kind of big development project that rarely comes along.

In Winner, S.D., where the population numbers fewer than 3,000, Mayor Jess Keesis is eager to welcome construction workers from a 600-member “man camp” that would open just 10 miles from town if President Barack Obama approves the pipeline.

“Out here on the prairie, you know, we’re a tough people,” said Keesis, who’s also a member of the Prairie Band of Potawatomi Nation in Kansas. “We deal with drought and eight-foot blizzards and all kinds of stuff all the time, so anytime we can get something like this to give us a shot, it’s a good thing.”

Opponents say the risks are too great.

Two weeks ago, an alliance of Native American groups approved a statement saying emphatically that no pipeline would be allowed in South Dakota and that tribes stand ready to protect their “sacred water” and other natural resources.

That includes Native women, who opponents of the pipeline say would become easy prey for thousands of temporary construction workers housed in work camps. According to the federal government, one of every three Indian women are either raped or sexually assaulted during their lifetimes, with the majority of attacks done by non-Native men.

O6vIM.La.91“If you like to drink water, if you like your children not being harmed, if you don’t want your women being harmed, then say no to the pipeline,” Grey Cloud said. “Because once it comes, it’s going to destruct everything.”

Opponents said they don’t want to have to follow through on their plans. They hope that they have the ultimate trump card with a president who just happens to be an adopted Indian. That would be Barack Black Eagle, who was formally adopted by Hartford and Mary Black Eagle of Montana’s Crow Indian Tribe in 2008, when he visited the tribal reservation during his first presidential run.

“They didn’t do that by accident – they saw something in him, and I hope he recognizes that within himself,” Spotted Eagle said.

Grey Cloud said Obama would be “going against his word” if he approves the pipeline: “His main promise was to not allow pollution in our area.”

Keesis said the project carries risks but ultimately would be a winner for the region. He said the city of Winner and surrounding Tripp County would get a windfall of roughly $900,000 a year from construction workers patronizing the town’s restaurants, bars and its recently upgraded digital theater. Even the city would make money, hauling liquid waste from the nearby construction camp to its municipal facilities.

After spending 20 years working in oilfields and boomtowns, he’s convinced that much has changed, with construction workers “under the gun to behave.”

“I’ve been in boomtowns all my life: Wyoming, Texas, California, Colorado, Alaska, everywhere,” he said. “I don’t think it’s going to be near as bad as what people have in their minds. The oilfield, as with any other occupation like this, has really mellowed over the last 20 years. It’s not the Wild West like it used to be. . . . But you’ve got to take a little bad with the good.”

Obama, who has not said when he’ll make a final decision, is under heavy pressure to approve the project. Just last week, all 45 Republican senators sent a letter to the president, saying thousands of jobs are at stake and reminding him that he had promised them to make a decision by the end of 2013.

Nationally, project backers appear to be riding the momentum, armed with a State Department report on Jan. 31 that minimized the climate change impact of building the pipeline. Republican House Speaker John Boehner of Ohio said the report shows Americans that there is “no reason, scientific or otherwise, to block this project any longer.”

While Obama has kept mum, his administration has been offering hope to tribal officials.

“If we’re developing an area that runs through Indian Country, it’s very important that we reach an agreement that makes sense to tribes,” Interior Secretary Sally Jewell told tribal officials during a visit to Oklahoma in November, according to a story published in the Native American Times. “If not, that might mean the pipeline or transmission line goes somewhere else.”

In South Dakota, the proposed line would not go through any of the state’s nine reservations, but opponents say its close proximity would still pose a hazard.

TransCanada officials say they’ve worked closely with the tribes, even halting work in northeast Texas last year as a team of archaeological contractors dug for Indian artifacts at a sacred site.

With the southern section of the pipeline already open, company spokesman Terry Cunha said TransCanada is now working with 17 tribes in South Dakota, Montana and Nebraska, where the company needs Obama’s approval to build. He said the company hopes to begin work in those states in 2015.

Cunha said the company expects the pipeline to have a “limited impact” on the environment and that its work camps will be provided with around-the-clock security.

“We see it as a positive benefit,” he said.

Besides the short-term construction work, Keesis said his city would gain another 30 to 40 permanent residents who would work on pipeline-related jobs. He said Winner needs a lift, noting that since the city shut down its strip clubs a few years back, fewer pheasant hunters are visiting, opting to stay in big hunting lodges nearby.

“When I moved here, during the first three weeks of pheasant season, you couldn’t find a parking space,” he said. “Now you can park anywhere.”

But the economic argument is a hard sell for many tribal members in South Dakota, where history is still raw. It’s the scene of the some of the bloodiest battles between Indians and the federal government, including the 1890 massacre at Wounded Knee Creek by the U.S. 7th Cavalry that killed nearly 300 Sioux.

Spotted Eagle said she feels obligated to try to stop the pipeline, both to provide toxic-free land and water for her grandchildren and to protect women from attacks.

“This is a form of militarism, bringing in these man camps,” said Spotted Eagle. “For those of us who have the history, it smacks of repetitive economics, when they put us in forts and they wanted our land. . . . All we’re willing to do here is sell our soul, just for the economy. That’s the dark side.”

Email: rhotakainen@mcclatchydc.com; Twitter: @HotakainenRob

House Farm Bill Provision would make eating fish more dangerous

As featured on eNews Park Forest.com, Dec 5, 2013

Washington, DC–(ENEWSPF)–December 5, 2013.  It’s farm bill debate time—again. And as conferee members saddle up to the negotiation table to attempt yet another meeting of the minds before the winter recess, most of the public watching and waiting for word on a resolution are focused on issues like food stamps and milk.

What most are not waiting for and has not been at the forefront of the media and public discussion concerning the pending farm bill negotiations are the small but dangerous provisions of the House bill concerning the Federal Water Pollution Control Act (expanded and overhauled as the Clean Water Act (CWA) in 1972) and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) ability to regulate pesticides used near, over, and in water. It should be.

fishing-207x300Seeking to nullify the Sixth Circuit’s ruling in National Cotton Council v. EPA and the resulting general permit, sections 12323 and 100013 amend CWA to exclude pesticides from the law’s standards and its permitting requirements. Known as the National Pollution Discharge Elimination System (NPDES), CWA requires all point sources, which are discernible and discreet conveyances, to obtain either individual or general permits. Whether a point source must obtain an individual or general permit depends on the size of the point source and type of activity producing the pollutants. Regardless of whether it is a general permit or individual permit, an entity cannot pollute without a permit and in most cases can only permit in the amounts (called effluent limitations) and ways prescribed in the permit.

Separate, but inextricably linked to the NPDES program, are CWA’s water quality standards, under which states are responsible for designating waterbody uses (such as swimmable or fishable) and setting criteria to protect those uses. If a water body fails to meet the established criteria for its use, then it is deemed impaired and the states, or EPA, if the state fails to act, must establish a Total Maximum Daily Load (TMDL), a kind of pollutant diet. The system comes full circle in that impaired waters with TMDLs can be integrated into the NPDES permits.

Neither CWA nor the NPDES program are perfect, but one need look no further than the fish we eat to understand the important role that this critical environmental framework plays in limiting human exposure to pesticides and other toxins.

CWA, Fish, and the Pesticide Connection

In the recently released Environmental Health Perspectives’ article, Meeting the Needs of the People: Fish Consumption Rates in the Pacific Northwest, the complexities of the CWA, its NPDES progam, and its water quality standards criteria are laid out in a disturbing tale of environmental justice and failing bureaucracies.

In short, Native Americans in the Pacific Northwest eat a lot of fish. It’s part of their culture and a way of life preserved in their legal and tribal rights, but they are facing increasing health risks due to the toxic chemicals in those fish. The solution to this problem seems fairly straight-forward: reduce the toxins in the water so that the levels in the fish are safe to eat. It’s a solution envisioned by CWA and its web of regulatory protections, however, as the article explains, “One of the variables used to calculate ambient water quality criteria is fish consumption rate.”

While the takeaway from the article is somewhat defeating and shows the far-reaching weaknesses of existing risk assessment methodologies, the underpinnings of the article —the connection between a water body’s water quality criteria, an entities NPDES permit, and the safety of the fish we put in our mouths— cannot be dismissed as irrelevant tales of woe. Whether the system is functioning perfectly or not, the point is that a system exists that contemplates the risks inherent to consuming toxin-laced fish and has the potential to protect the general consuming public.

From Fish Back to the Farm Bill

What does not have this ability is the Federal, Insecticide, Rodenticide, and Act (FIFRA). It is this federal framework, however, on which supporters of the House provision hang their hats and point to as the already-in-place protective standard capable of preventing water pollution from pesticides. Beyond Pesticides has debunked this argument in more ways than one. Other environmental advocacy groups have also pointed out that the sky has not fallen since EPA’s implementation of the general pesticide permit under CWA.

The Clean Water Act is intended to ensure that every community, from tribe to urban neighborhood, has the right to enjoy fishable and swimmable bodies of water. There is a lot of work still to be done to improve the nation’s waters and protect the health of people dependent on those waters.  Without the Clean Water Act, there are no common sense backstops or enforcement mechanisms for reducing direct applications of pesticides to waterways. It may not be perfect, but it is better than nothing, which would be the effect of the House farm bill. We can’t afford to lose these protections.

Tell your Senators to oppose any efforts to undermine the Clean Water Act.

 

For more information, read our factsheet, Clearing up the Confusion Surrounding the New NPDES General Permit and visit our Threatened Waters page.

Sources:  Environmental Health Perspectives, Natural Resources Defense Council, U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, http://www.beyondpesticides.org/

All unattributed positions and opinions in this piece are those of Beyond Pesticides.

Rain gardens at Tulalip admin building are decreasing pollution runoff

Admin building rain gardens, expect to see hundreds of blooms next spring.Photo by Monica Brown

Admin building rain gardens, expect to see hundreds of blooms next spring.
Photo by Monica Brown

By Monica Brown, Tulalip News writer

TULALIP, Wash. – The rain gardens at the Tulalip administration building have had a year to flourish, and flourish they have.  When you drive through the parking lot you see trees in the garden strips along with some shrubs, but towards the back you can see a spray of green areas that are roped off.  Some people are not aware that these roped off garden areas are not weeds, but are native vegetation and they were chosen specifically for their ability to remove pollutants.

“It’s a menagerie, but that’s how it was designed, to be low growing and provide a green landscape that would help filter out the pollutants,” said Derek Marks of Tulalip Natural Resources.

Last year, the Natural Resources department was able to take a few garden areas within the admin building parking lot and turn them into rain gardens. Shortly after it was completed it had been sprayed with herbicides, a major no-no when it comes to rain gardens. “You don’t build a rain garden to manage it with herbicides,” said Derek. “The rain garden themselves filter the pollutants; we’re not supposed to add pollutants to them.”

The gardens contain mainly different species of sedge, rush, woodrush and grass along with western buttercup, great camas and chocolate Lily. This last spring there weren’t many blooming camas or chocolate lily because the time between when they were planted and when they bloom in spring was too short for them to become established.

Chocolate lilyPhoto By Derek Marks

Chocolate lily
Photo By Derek Marks

“We’re expecting a lot more to bloom next spring. You’ll probably see several hundred camas plants out here blooming,” commented Derek, about the shortage of blooms this last spring.

Derek explains that, “the rain gardens are filter strips.” And, “the plants and microbes work hand in hand to break down the pollutants.” They remove toxins, oils and heavy metals that are in water runoff from the parking lot. Without the rain garden the pollutants in the water runoff would make their way out and contaminate the Puget Sound. The possibility of turning other garden strips within the parking area into more rain gardens has come up, but nothing has been decided on as of yet.

This pilot rain garden project was developed by Tulalip’s Natural Resources’, Valerie Streeter and Derek Marks. They caution that although some of these plants are known for being harvestable, these particular plants, and any that may reside in other rain gardens, are not harvestable because they are full of toxins.

Camas bloom Photo by Derek Marks

Camas bloom
Photo by Derek Marks

For those that would like to start their own rain garden, Washington State University and Stewardship Partners have begun a campaign to install 12,000 rain gardens in the Puget Sound area by the year 2016. The website for the campaign has videos to explain the whole process of putting in a rain garden and lists the many resources available to someone interested in installing one. Please visit 12000raingardens.org for more information about rain garden installation.

Diaguita Indians ask Chile supreme court to revoke Barrick Gold’s permit for Pascua Lama mine

In this May 23, 2014 photo, a chicken carcass lies on top of a tank found by grape grower Pascual Abalos Godoy on his morning rounds, who believes the chicken died from drinking contaminated water, in El Corral, near the facilities of Barrick Gold Corp's Pascua-Lama project in northern Chile. The residents living in the foothills of the Andes, where for as long as anyone can remember, have drunk straight from the glacier-fed river that irrigates their orchards and vineyards with clean water. Since the Barrick gold mine project moved in, residents claim the river levels have dropped, the water is murky in places and complain of health problems including cancerous growths and aching stomachs. (AP Photo/Jorge Saenz)

In this May 23, 2014 photo, a chicken carcass lies on top of a tank found by grape grower Pascual Abalos Godoy on his morning rounds, who believes the chicken died from drinking contaminated water, in El Corral, near the facilities of Barrick Gold Corp’s Pascua-Lama project in northern Chile. The residents living in the foothills of the Andes, where for as long as anyone can remember, have drunk straight from the glacier-fed river that irrigates their orchards and vineyards with clean water. Since the Barrick gold mine project moved in, residents claim the river levels have dropped, the water is murky in places and complain of health problems including cancerous growths and aching stomachs. (AP Photo/Jorge Saenz)

By Associated Press, Published: July 22

SANTIAGO, Chile — Chile’s Diaguita Indians are asking the country’s supreme court to require the world’s largest gold mining company to prepare a new environmental impact study for an $8.5 billion mine that straddles the mountaintop border with Argentina.

Attorney Lorenzo Soto filed the high court appeal Monday.

The Indians already won an appellate ruling that requires Barrick Gold Corp. to keep its previous environmental promises and says the watershed below the Pascua-Lama project is in “imminent danger.”

The Canadian company has publicly promised to do any work required.

But Soto says his 3,000 plaintiffs want Barrick to apply for a new permit that takes into account their anthropological and cultural claims to the watershed below the mine.

Barrick told The Associated Press it had no immediate comment on the court filing.

Copyright 2013 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

pascua10

Business interests trump health concerns in fish consumption fight

Fish Consumption Rates

“Our tribal leadership’s main responsibility is simply to protect our people,” said Marc Gauthier, a representative of the Upper Columbia United Tribes, before leaving the meeting. “It comes down to that basic human desire to protect your family.”

By Robert McClure
March 30, 2013

The Washington State Department of Ecology has known since the 1990s that its water-pollution limits have meant some Washingtonians regularly consume dangerous amounts of toxic chemicals in fish from local waterways.

At least twice, Ecology has been told by its overseers at the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency to fix the problem and better protect people’s health. Ecology was close to finally doing that last year — until Boeing and other business interests launched an intense lobbying campaign aimed not just at Ecology but also at the Washington Legislature and then-Gov. Christine Gregoire. That is the picture that emerges from recent interviews as well as government documents obtained by InvestigateWest under the Washington Public Records Law.

The problem lies in Ecology’s estimate of how much fish people eat. The lower the amount, the more water pollution Ecology can legally allow. So by assuming that people eat the equivalent of just one fish meal per month, Ecology is able to set less stringent pollution limits.

Meanwhile, citing the health benefits of fish, the state Department of Health advises people to eat fish twice a week, eight times as often as the official estimate of actual consumption. The state knows that some members of Indian tribes, immigrants and other fishermen consume locally caught seafood even more often than that and are therefore at greater risk of cancer, neurological damage and other maladies.

The Boeing Co. looms large in this story. In June 2012, Boeing said if Ecology went ahead with plans to make fish safer to eat, it would “cost the company hundreds of millions of dollars and severely hamper its ability to increase production in Renton and make future expansion elsewhere in the state cost prohibitive,” according to a Gregoire aide’s reconstruction of a conversation with a Boeing executive that month.

In July 2012, Ecology announced it would not go forward with a new rule to adjust the fish-eating estimate as planned. Instead the agency launched a “stakeholder process” that would delay any new rules for at least two years. Last week that process plodded on in Spokane, where state and local government officials and others spent more than three hours discussing the many contaminants that for years have prompted official state warnings against eating Washington fish too regularly.

“All we’ve seen is delay,” said Bart Mihailovich of the Spokane Riverkeeper environmental group, one of several that have refused to participate in the new series of meetings. “Why are we going back and doing what was already done?”

At the meeting in Spokane Thursday, a representative of Indian tribes called Ecology’s conduct “a betrayal” and explained that the tribes are boycotting the current process because it is unnecessary.

“Our tribal leadership’s main responsibility is simply to protect our people,” said Marc Gauthier, a representative of the Upper Columbia United Tribes, before leaving the meeting. “It comes down to that basic human desire to protect your family.”

Ecology had at least one other false start in fixing the rules, back in the mid-1990s, an effort that petered out even before a rule change was proposed, said Melissa Gildersleeve, the Ecology manager overseeing the current stakeholder process. That followed a 1994 study by the Columbia River Intertribal Fish Commission that documented how the national estimate of one fish meal per month was greatly and regularly exceeded by some members of Indian tribes.

While who eats how much contaminated fish is a slippery and much-debated corner of science, few of the parties involved in the current dispute in Washington contend that the current fish-consumption rate accurately reflects the true amount eaten, especially by some groups such as members of Indian tribes, subsistence fishermen and immigrants. The figure came from a 1973-74 federal study that asked consumers to fill our “food diaries” for three days, according to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.

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