By Sen. Doug Whitsett (Distr. 28)
The Oregon Department of Environmental Quality is in the process of adopting the most restrictive water quality standards in the nation. The proposed human health criterion standards relate to the highest concentration of a pollutant in water that is alleged to not pose a significant human health risk. The numeric standards being proposed for Oregon are an order of magnitude tougher than any of the other 49 states. Compliance with the new Human Health Toxics standards will be virtually impossible because in many situations the selected numeric standards exceed the normal background concentration of the regulated pollutant. These new rules have the potential to profoundly affect the fiscal soundness of businesses, agriculture and forestry in the state. They may be expected to have an extreme negative effect on Oregon’s future job growth and economic recovery.
These new requirements for water quality standards rules are based upon the amount of fish that DEQ assumes to be consumed by certain tribal entities in Oregon. However, closer evaluation of the scientific protocol used to delineate the proposed standards reveals an apparent lack of empirical scientific data collection, as well as a lack of reproducibility of the data sets.
Responding to legislative queries during a recent hearing in the Capitol ODEQ director Peterson wrote that “we are not aware of any studies that quantify the fish consumption for all Oregonians”, that DEQ is not aware of any reports that document the harm to human beings related to toxins consumed through a fish oriented diet, and that we have “identified five studies that are scientifically sound and relevant to Oregon”
All five of the cited reports are chocked full of disclaimer language such as “highly skewed distribution of consumption values” and “individuals are oversampled to ensure their representation”. The latter study sampled a small population, excluded adults who did not eat fish and appears to purposely over represented those who ate the most fish.
One report was “highly influenced by the consumption of just a few individuals”. One report stated “the fish and shellfish they consumed may not be found in Oregon waters”. That report stated that some of the fish consumed were canned tuna and that the shell fish used in the study were purchased at a grocery store without even determining the country of origin of the product. One of the “scientifically sound” reports was nothing more than a literature review.
These are the studies being cited as validation for the new DEQ standards that are based on fish consumption rates ten times greater than current EPA national values. These are the reports that are being used to force Oregon’s businesses, agriculture and forestry to comply with the most restrictive water quality standards in the United States. One of the “sound scientific” reports was nothing more than a literature review.
Moreover, the proposed rules appear to assume that the levels of the toxics found in fish are the result of the fish acquiring those levels of toxics exclusively from their contact with fresh water in Oregon. Salmon, steelhead, ocean bottom fish, many shellfish and crabs, and a variety of other fish species spend the preponderance of their life cycle in the ocean. Strict implementation of the proposed rules on Oregon fresh water bodies would have little if any effect on the toxics concentration found in these species.
To summarize, the new rules are based on the amount of fish assumed to be eaten by certain small populations of Oregonians. The assumed average rate of fish consumption in Oregon has been recently revised from about 5 pounds per year to about 140 pounds per year. That 28 fold increase is based on little more than speculation. The rules appear to ignore the influence of ocean water on species that spend most of their lifecycles in that environment.
In my opinion, the scientific relevance of these studies is at best pathetic and at worst criminally negligent.
Please remember that if we do not stand up for rural Oregon no one will.