Loomis: EPA wants you eating higher levels of toxic chemicals and carcinogens

The “P” in EPA stands for Protection, but the federal Environmental Protection Agency is failing to protect our water and our health.

The “P” in EPA stands for Protection, but the federal Environmental Protection Agency is failing to protect our water and our health. Instead, EPA plans to allow more known toxic cancer-causing chemicals to enter our water supply.

EPA decided to roll back our existing Human Health Criteria without consulting the tribes or the state. Only after an outcry from the Washington Democratic congressional delegation did EPA agree to a single hearing Sept. 25 in Seattle.

Treaty tribes are co-managers of the natural resources of this state. EPA’s process violates the federal government’s trust responsibility to the tribes. A public hearing is an inadequate forum for government-to-government consultation.

The hearing seemed more like a formality and public venting of frustration than anything else.

“We’re here to listen,” EPA Deputy Assistant Administrator Lee Forsgren told a packed hearing room of a few hundred tribal members, representatives from environmental groups and citizens opposed to the rollback, along with a handful of industry representatives who support the move. Many doubted the sincerity of Forsgren, a political appointee who joined EPA in 2017 after serving as an industry lobbyist and is now in charge of protecting water quality. Nearly 200 people spoke out against EPA’s proposed rule with only four in support.

If approved, the changes mean that every bite of seafood we consume will contain higher levels of toxic chemicals and carcinogens. EPA plans to roll back the protections against these carcinogens to the equivalent of decades-old standards — or worse — based on incorrect science.

Oil producers, pulp and paper manufacturers, and a few other industrial polluters oppose water quality protections in our state because they say it increases their cost of doing business or is simply not possible. They ignore the economic value of clean water, the cost to public health, and tribes’ treaty-reserved rights to harvest fish that are safe to eat.

“This is scary for me because of the amount of fish my people eat. Exercising those treaty rights should not put our communities at a disproportionate risk of cancer,” Patrick DePoe, a Makah Tribal Council member, said. “When did it become OK to value industry over human life?”

“If you see this little 2-year-old girl in here and you think it’s OK for that child to eat so many cancer-causing chemicals, this is wrong,” Suquamish tribal member Lydia Sigo testified. “Any parent knows this is wrong.”

“Our river is the second most toxic river in Washington state,” said Nancy Shippentower, a Puyallup tribal member. “You as the EPA need to do something about this mess, not only for our children and grandchildren, but for humanity.”

EPA’s move is also bad for salmon and orcas. Puget Sound salmon have higher concentrations of contaminants, such as PCBs, than salmon from other parts of the Northwest. Studies show that some juvenile salmon accumulate significant amounts of toxic contaminants before they even migrate out of Northwest rivers.

PCBs become more concentrated as they move up the food chain. Orcas are at the top of the food chain, so they accumulate more of these harmful chemicals than other animals, which can lead to reproductive disorders, compromised immune systems and cancer. Nursing orca mothers transfer PCBs to their offspring, affecting their growth rates, future fertility and ultimately their survival.

We agree with Maia Bellon, the director of the state Department of Ecology, who testified that, “Our lakes and salmon deserve better, our children and future generations deserve better. It is time EPA steps aside and lets us protect our waters the Washington way.”

You can help protect your health and our natural resources from EPA’s misguided move.

It’s shaping up to be a long fight, but we will do everything in our power to stop industry and EPA from compromising our health, economies and natural resources.

You can show support by contacting your federal legislators at usa.gov/elected-officials.

Lorraine Loomis is the chairwoman of the Northwest Indian Fisheries Commission. As a statement from the NWIFC chair, the column represents the interests and concerns of 20 treaty Indian tribes in Western Washington. Loomis can be reached at 360-438-1180.