Toxic-Free Fish Campaign: Washington State

Water Quality Standards: A Powerful Tool to Protect Our Health

Here are the nuts and bolts of how Washington State can use its power to adopt accurate, protective water quality standards to reduce pollution.

  • Under the Clean Water Act, the state issues pollution discharge permits (i.e., National Pollution Discharge Elimination System permits) designed to comply with water quality standards. States base the amount of toxic pollution they allow in rivers, in part, on the amount of fish people eat.
  • Washington currently assumes that people only eat the equivalent of 6.5 grams of fish per day—less than a crackerful of fish. By contrast, Oregon recently adopted a fish consumption rate of 175 grams per day.
  • Simply put, if a state has weak water quality standards for toxic pollution, the permits allow more toxic pollution, including PCBs and mercury, to enter a river.

For decades, pollution dischargers in Washington have benefited from some of the nation’s least protective toxic pollution standards. In turn, industry and municipalities are up in arms over the prospect of having to ratchet down pollution as the result of accurate, protective toxic limits.