EPA Approves in Part Washington State's Human Health Criteria Water Quality Standards

Published Nov 16, 2016
Water Quality

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency updated the limits for toxic pollutants in Washington’s surface waters, including the human health criteria containing the fish consumption rate. Specifically, EPA’s final rule incorporates Washington’s 175 grams per day fish consumption rate and a one-in-one million cancer risk level, meaning if you eat 175 grams of fish a day from Washington waters for 70 years, you would have a one-in-1 million chance of developing cancer beyond your current risk. The initial 2015 draft rule used the same fish portion with a 1-in-one hundred thousand cancer risk rate.

According to the Department of Ecology, the new rule updates standards for 97 chemicals. Previously, the federal rule that Washington relied on covered 85 chemicals. It sets 88 marine and 73 freshwater standards that are equally or more protective than the current federal standards, and sets new standards for pollutants not currently regulated. Current standards for PCBs are maintained, no changes were made for mercury, and arsenic limits are aligned with the federal drinking water standard. Furthermore, the rule clarifies language on how combined sewer-stormwater treatment plants can implement the new standards. It incorporates revisions to its variance and compliance schedule provisions, giving the state and affected industries and municipalities needed flexibility and time to implement new standards while making reasonable progress in improving water quality.

EPA’s rule and Washington’s approved water quality standards will take effect 30 days after publication of the rule in the Federal Register. The rule was signed on November 15 and is expected to be published in the Federal Register in one to two weeks. The following documents are available here and on the EPA website:

Fact Sheet: Revision of Federal Human Health Criteria Applicable to Washington (PDF),

Federal Register Notice (Pre-Publication):Revision of Certain Federal Water Quality Criteria Applicable to Washington (PDF)

Supporting Documents in Docket Folder (includes EPA’s Response to Comments, and EPA’s Final Economic Analysis)

EPA’s Partial Approval/Partial Disapproval of Washington’s Human Health Water Quality Criteria and Implementation Tools (PDF),

Table of Human Health Criteria Effective for Clean Water Act Purposes in Washington (PDF)