Oregon adopts toughest standards for water pollution

The Eugene Oregon RegisterGuard wrote an editorial about on Oregon adopting the nation’s most stringent standards for toxic water pollution.

It did so mostly because in 2004 the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency warned the state that its water standards failed to adequately protect those who depend most on fish from the state’s waters — Northwest Indian tribes.

Fish are barometers of rivers’ health. They’re near the top of the food chain, so mercury and other toxins accumulate in their flesh. Humans are even higher on the food chain. Toxins that are concentrated in fish are concentrated once more in the humans that eat them.

Oregon’s previous water standard was based on estimates that people eat 17.5 grams of fish per day — about two servings a month. That standard vastly underestimated the amount of fish consumed by Northwest tribes. The Umatilla, Warm Springs, Nez Perce and Yakama tribes estimate that their citizens consume 175 grams per person daily. The Umatilla Tribes estimate that their citizens consume more than 300 grams per day.

Under pressure from the EPA and Oregon’s Environmental Quality Commission, the DEQ proposed standards based on a fish consumption rate of 175 grams a day, 10 times the estimated national average.
The tighter standard, which will take effect as early as this fall, will protect Oregon’s tribal members. It will also enhance the long-term health of an estimated 100,000 Oregonians, including 20,000 children, who eat significant amounts of fish.

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