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County's Wastewater Treatment Permit Challenged

A vaguely worded state permit for Spokane County's new $173-million dollar wastewater treatment plant has been sent back for a do-over. A judge in Thurston County found that a permit issued in 2011 by the Ecology Department lacks any limits on discharges of polychlorinated biphenyls - PCBs for short - into the Spokane River.

The state Pollution Control Hearing Board held last year that the county facility was adding PCBs to river water, and that the state permit for the discharges was vague and unenforceable on PCB limits.

The Sierra Club and the Center for Environmental Law and Policy in Spokane filed suit, based on those findings, arguing that the permit must be precisely worded to meet requirements of water quality laws. The county, however, said that tests on water discharged from the new plant show PCB levels at only about one part per trillion - a level that's hard to measure.

Environmentalists call the Spokane River the most contaminated in the state for PCBs, and warn that fish exposed to the chemical are a public health hazard. PCBs were once commonly used in petroleum products and other industrial applications, but their use now is restricted by federal law.

County and state officials have not yet decided if they'll appeal the judge's finding.

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