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Make Your Voice Heard: Tellthe EPA Not to Weaken PCB Standards for the Spokane River and All of Washington State

Please email the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and make your voice heard to keep water quality standards for your river and our statestrong!

Thanks to all of you who responded quickly to the Riverkeeper's Facebook post about Mayor Condon's visit to Washington D.C. to meet with a Trump-appointee within the EPA.  One of the purposes of that visit was to urge EPA to support a formal petition filed by the Northwest Pulp and Paper Association, Greater Spokane Incorporated, the Farm Bureau, and others that would rescind tighter standards for toxics, including PCBs, across the State of Washington.  The City of Spokane did not sign that petition, and in our view should in no way be part of any conversation about weakening water quality standards across the state.

In response to your emails, Mayor Condon sent a response explaining the positive actions the City of Spokane hastaken to clean-up the Spokane River.  We agree and believe the City should continue the great work on building infrastructure to keep PCBs out of our River.  However, those actions do not warrant weakening the standard of protections that exist for the River.  

Here are the Spokane Riverkeeper's thoughts on the Mayor's response:

  1. PCBs are a persistent pollutantcommon to discharges in the river from wastewater plants, industrial dischargers, and storm water; they also show up in ground water and small amounts are air born.  While banned in 1979, they continue to be produced inadvertently, migrate to our rivers, and accumulate in fish. 
  2. Last year, the EPA acted to reduce the allowable limit of PCBs in Washington's rivers from 170 pg/L to 7 pg/L to protect Washington state's vulnerable populations who consume a great deal of fish.  This is called a water quality standard (WQS).  Tribal populations, immigrant populations, sport fishers, and young children who consume fish are all vulnerable.  The entire state is struggling with PCBs, and fish advisories are common including on the Spokane River.
  3. It is true that there is no reliable testing method to measure PCBs down to 7 pg/L, and that meeting a stringent water quality standard is challenging for dischargers.  However, the history of cleaning up our waterways is that standards are set, and clean-water testing and filtration innovations follow.  Absolutely no progress is made if standards are not based on river health and public safety.  Pollution dischargers and environmental agencies have tools to allow room for these challenges.  For example, “compliance plans” can be folded into discharge permits that allow dischargers 5, 10, or even 20 years to meet challenging water quality standards. 
  4. Actions are occurring RIGHT NOW through the Spokane River Regional Toxic Task Force and through discussions initiated by the Washington Department of Ecology to better understand where PCBs are coming from, how to clean them up, and to identify tools to make sure that pollution dischargers, including the City of Spokane, can meet these new, tough standards.  
  5. The City of Spokane has done a good job investing in infrastructure and technologies to stop PCBs from entering our river.  We applaud that work and discuss the work with the city and community often. The new tanks that we see being built around the City to address combined sewer overflows (CSOs) and efforts to address storm water runoff has demonstrated the City's commitment to protect the River.  We support this work and will continue to do so.  However, this challenging work for all stake-holders needs to continue, and the City of Spokane will need to continue their upgrades to prevent PCBs from entering the river in the future.
  6. Riverkeeper bottom line;  Spokane should not be conducting any effort, or be a part of any conversation to weakenWashington state water quality standards that apply to our Spokane River.  Any effort on the part of any pollution discharger to weaken standards that have been put in place by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) for public health and safety will be met with a robust response from the Spokane Riverkeeper and the rest of Washington Waterkeepers.  It is one thing to ask for time to get over a challenging bar… and quite another to work on lowering that bar.

Speak up to protect your Spokane River. 
A Trump driven EPA has heard from the Mayor of Spokane, they have heard from Industry, from GSI and others, now they need to hear from us.  Please email Dennis Lee Forsgren,  EPA's new deputy assistant administrator for the Office of Water (at forsgren.lee@epa.gov or click here to use a template) and tell EPA that residents of Spokane love their Spokane River and they do not want to weaken the standards for cleaning up PCBs.  Tell EPA: 

  1. The water quality standard for PCBs in Washington State was put in place to protect the public from toxic fish.
  2. We love our Spokane River and eating clean fish in our river or any waterway across the state is an essential part of our quality of life. Many fish in our watershed have PCBs in their flesh.
  3. Under no circumstance should water quality standards be rescinded or modified.  Stringent standards are a cornerstone in driving river recovery and the clean up of poisonous PCBs.  The EPA should deny the Northwest Pulp and Paper Association's petition.
  4. Tools exist under the law to allow dischargers flexibility in meeting difficult standards -- those should be used first before attempting to weaken any standards. 
  5. Local efforts are underway to address the tough job of meeting the PCB standards, including the Spokane River Regional Toxics Task Force and efforts by the State Department of Ecology to develop a strategy to meet the standard.
  6. Cleaning up the River will be challenging, but the community will act to do it.  Setting high standards has been integral to the history of cleaning up our waterways since the Clean Water Act was passed in the 1970s.

Thanks for your action to oppose weakening protections for our River.