Spokane River PCB Win & Call to Action

Spokane River wins long-overdue PCB pollution cleanup plan in EPA settlement

30-day public comment period opens:  please write in support

On December 1 in the Federal Register, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) published its settlement with Sierra Club, Center for Environmental Law and Policy, and plaintiff-intervenor, the Spokane Tribe of Indians, committing the agency to prepare a cleanup plan for cancer-causing PCBs that severely pollute the Spokane River.  For the River and life that depends on it, this settlement caps 25 years of advocacy, including 10 years of litigation filed by Sierra Club, the Center for Environmental Law & Policy, and intervenor Spokane Tribe of Indians. Our lawsuit sought to enforce the Clean Water Act mandate for an EPA cleanup plan, necessary because of decades of inaction by the State of Washington.

PCBs are a dangerous chemical that harms aquatic and human life, causing cancer and other diseases. Tiny amounts of the toxin concentrate as it moves up the food chain. The Washington Department of Health’s public health advisory, issued many years ago and still in effect, warns against consumption of PCB-contaminated fish in the Spokane River.

Under the settlement, called a “Consent Decree,” EPA will complete a Total Maximum Daily Load (TMDL) by September 2024. A TMDL is a science-based pollution cleanup plan.  This one will be designed to ensure that the Spokane River meets protective water quality standards issued by Washington state and the Spokane Tribe.

PCB manufacture is banned in the U.S. Most PCBs entering the Spokane River pre-date the ban, with one major exception: Inland Empire Paper Co. (IEP) recycles paper printed with imported inks that contain PCBs. 

The TMDL will require significant reductions in PCB pollution discharged to the Spokane River by the five industrial and municipal treatment plants located in Washington. In addition to IEP, Kaiser Aluminum and the Liberty Lake, Spokane County, and City of Spokane wastewater treatment plants each discharge PCBs to the river. All five discharge pipes are permitted by the Washington Department of Ecology, but these permits contain no limits on PCBs flowing into the Spokane River. The TMDL will change that.

The PCB cleanup plan is especially significant because of heavy use of the Spokane River by the public for recreation and the consumption of fish.

The settlement includes a 30-day public comment period. We will then present the settlement to the federal court for approval. Sierra Club and CELP are represented by Marc Zemel and Richard Smith of Smith & Lowney PLLC, a Seattle law firm specializing in Clean Water Act litigation. The Spokane Tribe of Indians is represented by Ted Knight.

Take Action and help a distressed river!  Deadline is January 3, 2022.

Click here to write your comment:


Consider making the following points:

  1. Most importantly, thank EPA and express your support for preparation of the PCB cleanup plan.  Public uses require a clean river.
  2. Insist that the cleanup plan be based on sound science. 
  3. Ask EPA to use state-of-the-art testing technology to measure PCBs.
  4. As a matter of human health and environmental justice, ask EPA to ensure that the cleanup plan complies with applicable water quality standards.

Contact the Spokane River Team for further questions:

John Osborn john@waterplanet.ws

Kathy Dixon kathleengdixon@gmail.com

John Allison  jdallison@eahjlaw.com

Tom Soeldner  waltsoe@allmail.net

Rachael Osborn. rdpaschal@earthlink.net