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Groups Want Decision on EPA Standards for Healthy Fish Consumption

Washington currently estimates people eat about 8 ounces of fish per month. (lauramusikanski/Morguefile)

Washington currently estimates people eat about 8 ounces of fish per month. (lauramusikanski/Morguefile)
March 3, 2016

SEATTLE - A lawsuit filed by a number of environmental groups in the state of Washington against the Environmental Protection Agency might have you rethinking the fish proportions you eat.

Waterway watchdog groups and commercial fishing organizations are asking the U.S. District Court to decide on a case against EPA for not finalizing rules in Washington that would more accurately reflect average fish consumption rate, and thus regulate the waterways they come from better.

Attorney for Earthjustice Janette Brimmer says she was asked to delay the lawsuit.

"And wait for the state to take their 999th try at this," says Brimmer. "And we just said, 'no,' that people are being affected by this and it's not OK. So we just moved ahead and haven't heard anything else from them."

Environmental groups are concerned the standards for healthy consumption are too low, and people could be consuming too much fish from polluted waterways with high levels of toxins.

According to environmental groups, because EPA assumes people eat less fish than they might actually be eating, a higher level of toxins such as mercury and PCBs is allowed in the waters where fish are caught.

EPA proposed a rule change back in September to reflect more current data but has yet to finalize it.

Katelyn Kinn, staff attorney of the Puget Soundkeeper Alliance, says the EPA action is long overdue.

"At this point it's crystal clear that they've made the determination our state agency is not setting a protective standard and it is time for EPA to step in and set one that does protect us," she says.

The current rate is 6.5 grams per day, which amounts to about two cans of tuna per month.

Brimmer says this low standard doesn't take into account cultural differences for eating fish and disproportionately affects certain groups in Washington.

"There are surveys of the Lower Elwha tribe that are over 500 grams per day," says Brimmer. "So plainly, people eating what in their culture is a normal amount of fish are getting so much more in terms of toxins with the standards set the way they are."

Brimmer adds Asian Pacific communities and fishermen also are concerned about the low standards because of their high consumption rate.

Eric Tegethoff, Public News Service - WA