Fish Consumption Prompts Stricter Standards on Spokane River

By Steve Jackson

The Spokane Tribe has adopted strict new water quality standards that look to be impossible for upstream polluters to meet. The new tribal standards seek to limit chemicals in the Spokane River that include PCB’s, which have been linked to cancer.

The concern was prompted by efforts to protect a population that eats a high level of fish in its daily diet. To put it into perspective, the levels of PCB’s meet Washington state standards when the Spokane river flows into the state from Idaho, but PCB’s enter the waterway in large amounts where the river flows through Spokane. 

Brian Crossley is the water and fish programs manager for the tribe. He says "when it flows through Spokane and we take water samples below Spokane, we’ve increased two-fold the PCBs levels, just by going through Spokane." "And we getting it from wastewater dischargers but also sources like running off streets,” says Crossley.

PCB’s were used in a number of products, as a lubricant, but were banned in the 1970’s., but sources remain all over the environment. One source that has come under fire from the environmental community is the new wastewater treatment plant operated by Spokane County. Crossley says that plant is using state of the art filtration that has reduced the PCB output a great deal, but would not reduce it to the level the new tribal standards call for of 1.3 parts per quadrillion.

Crossley says does not know if the tribe has any immediate plans to use the new standards to challenge the city and county of Spokane’s releases of pollution into the river, but the tribe should not be blamed if someone chooses to take that action.

Crossley: "There’s still the issue of meeting the state standards, so people could look at this and say were going down this PCB reduction road because of the tribe, but that’s not the case, we’ve got to meet state standards by the law, and a suit could be filed at any time by and Environmental group saying well why aren’t you meeting the state’s PCB standard?”

Given the current technology, the new standards would be impossible to attain, since current testing equipment can’t detect PCBs at the minute amounts in the new tribal standards.

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