Eating fish is good for you, nutritionists keep telling us, but that advice comes with a big caveat: It’s good for you as long as the fish you’re eating doesn’t contain excessively high levels of mercury or other pollutants. The Food and Drug Administration and other agencies advise limited consumption for children and pregnant women, and recommend that they avoid some types of fish like shark and swordfish altogether.
EPA’s goal in theory is to have “fishable and swimmable” standards for all water bodies, but sometimes those uses are more theoretical than not; not every lake and river is used for recreation or for fishing.
In Oregon, though, officials are proposing much stricter standards—the strictest in the country—because thousands of people living along the Columbia River consume far more fish than the national average. Native Americans along the river in particular tend to eat more fish, and the Confederated Tribes of the Umatilla Indian Reservation was a leader in bringing about the new standards. The state’s current water-quality standards are based on the average person eating 17.5 grams of fish per day, and the new version assumes 10 times that amount: 175 grams, or just over 6 ounces, per day. In addition to mercury, pollutants that would face tighter controls are flame retardants, PCBs, dioxins, plasticizers, and pesticides.
The proposed standards are facing opposition from industry groups that say the cost of compliance will be prohibitively high. Public comments on the new standards will be accepted through February 18, and the state Environmental Quality Commission could approve the final standard as early as June.