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Originally published Thursday, November 7, 2013 at 5:09 PM

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Guest: Fish consumption rate does not reflect reality

If you eat fish or shellfish more than once a month, Washington’s water-quality standards do not protect you from the health risks of toxic chemicals, writes guest columnist Billy Frank Jr.


Special to The Times

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IF the food we put in our mouths should not be used as a standard to protect water quality and human health, what should we use? Industry standards?

An Oct. 24 Seattle Times editorial argued that the state should stop using the fish-consumption rate as a proxy for Washington water quality.

You need to ask yourself: How much fish and shellfish do I eat?

If you eat fish or shellfish more than once a month, Washington’s water-quality standards do not protect you from the health risks of toxic chemicals that can get into our seafood.

Washington is known for its seafood consumption, yet uses an unrealistically low fish-consumption rate to regulate pollution in our waters. The lower the rate, the higher the level of pollutants allowed.

State government admits that the current rate of 6.5 grams of seafood per day — about one 8-ounce serving a month — does not protect most Washington citizens from toxics in our waters that can cause illness or death.

This is especially true for American Indians, Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders, sport fishermen or anyone else who eats fish or shellfish more than once a month. You can get a good idea of your personal fish consumption rate and more information at keepseafoodclean.org

Oregon recently increased its fish-consumption rate to 175 grams per day, the most protective rate in the country. We believe citizens of Washington deserve at least that same level of protection.

But efforts to develop a more accurate rate and achieve better water quality for all of us who live here are being stymied by Boeing and other industry leaders. They say a higher rate would be impossible to meet and too costly to implement. And they argue that the technology doesn’t exist to achieve higher standards of water quality.

That’s the same argument industry used on the Clean Air Act, the Clean Water Act and just about every other law aimed at protecting public health and the environment. In nearly every case, industry has developed innovations to meet those standards. If we don’t demand cleaner water and better protection of our health, we won’t get it.

Unfortunately, Boeing has refused to participate in Gov. Jay Inslee’s advisory group of tribal, local government and business leaders working to help develop a more accurate fish-consumption rate while maintaining a healthy economy.

We understand that industry might need time and flexibility to meet better standards. The state Department of Ecology is considering variances and longer schedules to enable compliance. All of us who live here deserve standards that will protect our health and ensure that our fish and shellfish keep their worldwide reputation for quality.

We want Boeing to stay in business and keep making airplanes right here. We should not be fighting over the state’s fish-consumption rate. The amount of fish and shellfish we eat is a fact, not a policy choice.

Instead, we should be working together to create a prosperous and healthy future for all of us. We can have both healthy people and a healthy economy, but we have to work together. It starts by sitting down to talk.

Billy Frank Jr., a Nisqually tribal member, is chairman of the Northwest Indian Fisheries Commission, which provides natural resources management assistance to 20 treaty Indian tribes in Western Washington.



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