DEQ may tighten Oregon's water pollution standards
Tribes say new rules need to lower health risks in fish
AP and staff reports
Oregon environmental regulators are proposing what may be the toughest water pollution standards in the nation.
The new rules recommended by the state Department of Environmental Quality on Jan. 6 would dramatically tighten human health criteria for several pollutants, including mercury, flame retardants, PCBs, dioxins, plasticizers and pesticides, The Oregonian reported.
Tribes have pushed for decades for stricter pollution rules, driven by concerns about tribal members and others who eat large amounts of fish.
Oregon's current water quality standard is built on an assumption that people eat 6.5 grams of fish a day, about a cracker's worth. The proposed standard boosts that to 175 grams a day, just shy of an 8-ounce meal.
The proposal could lower the health risks for those who eat a lot of local fish -- an estimated 100,000 Oregonians, including 20,000 children, according to a committee set up to consider the health effects of the new standard.
But the proposal raises questions about the cost of tougher regulations in a down economy.
"There are potentially a lot of manufacturing jobs being put at risk," said John Ledger, an Associated Oregon Industries vice president.
The proposal also leaves in question how agriculture will be regulated under the new standards, and which agency will be in charge of agricultural water quality management, said Jennifer Shmikler, regulatory affairs specialist for the Oregon Farm Bureau.
"There is a lack of clarity in how this is going to play out once the rules are enacted and what role DEQ will be playing," Shmikler said.
Currently agricultural water quality in Oregon is regulated by the Oregon Department of Agriculture under the state Agriculture Water Quality Management Act. The act provides flexibility so landowners in individual watersheds can identify water quality issues and develop localized approaches to addressing the issues.
"I think (DEQ) is expanding their flexibility and providing themselves more opportunities to participate and to advise on farming practices, which we believe is inconsistent with the (Senate bill) 1010 statutory language," Shmikler said.