The Washington State Department of Ecology held a workshop this week to discuss ways that dischargers that release chemicals called PCBs into the river can meet legal limits of those chemicals, even though current technology is not quite ready to do that.
The so called “variances” would loosen the current standard of 7 parts per quadrillion for the chemicals that have been linked to cancer in humans by allowing the dischargers more time to meet those standards, in some cases as long as 20 years.
Colleen Keltz is a spokeswoman for the Department of Ecology.
“You know that is the question, how much better will technology get? We think it will keep improving, and we’ll keep reducing it because this is an issue all across the country. People are investing time and research into how do we get rid of PCBs and we’re also looking at how do we not put them into the system,” Keltz said.
Critics of the proposal to allow the variances include the Upper Columbia River Group of the Sierra Club.
Spokesman Tom Soeldner says the state has delayed for years efforts to get serious about the cleanup of the river. He says the variances would allow an even longer time to go by without serious efforts to limit PCBs. Rather than allow for a loosening of the standard over a 20 year period, he says, Ecology could try to speed up the process, issuing limits that gradually become more stringent over shorter time frames.
“The dischargers should have targets with a much shorter time frame because the variances were looking to at least ten to fifteen years. On top of that, they ask for additional variances. This could on for 30 to 35 years. They can still, according to the law, issue permits with numeric limits, and the numeric limits don’t have to be as low as the legal limits. Ao they could issue for five years at numeric limits of 300,” he said.
While the state limit for PCB discharges is currently 7 parts per quadrillion, the Trump administration is pushing the EPA to loosen the standard to 170 parts per quadrillion in its efforts to change the Clean Water Act.