Fed Court: EPA Failed On Spokane River PCB rules

Mar 16, 2015

A federal judge has sided with environmental groups and the Spokane Tribe in a case concerning pollution in the Spokane River. The case involves chemicals called PCB’s that have been linked to cancer and liver dysfunction for years. While the products were banned in manufacturing since the 1970’s, they still remain in the environment.

Spokane and state health officials collaborated on a fish advisory for the river
Credit Spokane Regional Health District

The Center for Environmental Law and Policy says the state and Federal EPA has failed to develop a policy for cleaning up PCB’s from the river. Monday, a federal court agreed with that assessment.

The center’s Rachael Pascal Osborne says in 2011, the Washington Department of Ecology reversed course and abandoned efforts to adopt a PCB cleanup plan, largely because of political opposition by Spokane River polluters, but the judge determined that the EPA abused its discretion in agreeing to allow  the committee process substitute for a cleanup plan.

Pascal-Osborne: “The Spokane River is the most polluted river in the state when it comes to PCB’s, and this an important public health issues, especially for people who eat fish form the river, and this includes immigrant communicates, and of course Spokane tribal members.”

The court decision orders EPA to  come up with a specific plan to complete what is called a Total Maximum Daily Load, or TMDL for PCB’s entering the river, which is a limit on how much can be released. Pascal Osborne is aware that tracking down many of the sources of PCB’s may be difficult, but says many sources are known, including the county’s newest waste water treatment plant.

Pascal-Osborne: “Clearly the city of Spokane is a major contributor, both through its pipes at the plant and the stormwater system, Inland Empire paper is an active discharger of PCB’s and then we have historical discharges at the Kaiser site.”

The ruling calls for EPA to work with the Ecology department to report back to the Court within 120 days with a specific plan to complete a PCB TMDL.

Department of Ecology spokeswoman Brook Beeler says they are making progress on Identifying the sources of PCB’s and will continue to work with the community to reduce their impact on the Spokane River without a PCB water quality improvement plan in place., She says they are reviewing the court’s decision to determine their next steps.