Spokane River wins long-overdue PCB-pollution cleanup plan

Federal Judge approves EPA plan to be completed by September 2024

News release

For immediate release

Contacts:

John Allison  jdallison@eahjlaw.com  (509) 951-3952

Marc Zemel marc.zemel@gmail.com  (206) 805-0857

Kathy Dixon kathleengdixon@gmail.com (509) 808-0118

Maggie Franquemont  MFranquemont@celp.org  (206) 829-8299

Ted Knight ted@tcklaw.com (509) 953-1908

Link:  Consent Decree

Spokane – The Spokane River and the hundreds of thousands who live near and along this treasured waterway have won a major victory with a federal judge’s approval of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) agreement to issue a mandated cleanup plan for cancer-causing PCBs polluting the river. The Judge’s ruling culminates a 10-year legal battle waged by Sierra Club and the Center for Environmental Law & Policy. The Spokane Tribe of Indians intervened in support of the federal lawsuit to enforce the federal law requiring an EPA clean-up plan after decades of inaction by the State of Washington.

“We need to get cancer out of the Spokane River,” said Tom Soeldner who volunteers with the Spokane River Team of the Upper Columbia River Group, Sierra Club. “We waited 15 years for Washington’s state government to do its job under the law before filing the lawsuit. After more than a decade in court, this win for the Spokane River means the cleanup plan finally will get done. Now EPA will be responsible for the Spokane River’s PCB cleanup plan.”

PCBs are dangerous to life including human life because they cause cancer and other diseases.  Tiny amounts in water concentrate as they move up the food chain. For many years, Washington’s Department of Health has issued a health advisory on human consumption of PCB-contaminated fish in the Spokane River.

Under the settlement, called a “Consent Decree,” approved today by U.S. District Court Judge Barbara Rothstein, EPA will complete a Total Maximum Daily Load (TMDL) for PCB’s within three years. A TMDL is a science-based approach to clean up polluted water in order to meet  State water-quality standards. A TMDL is a numerical value that represents the highest amount of a pollutant a surface water body can receive and still meet the standards.  For the Spokane River the TMDL will allocate the PCB pollution load to each of five identified PCB dischargers.

“EPA is the safety net when Washington State is unable to do its job cleaning up water pollution,” said John Allison, a Spokane River Team member. “We look forward to working with EPA in restoring and protecting the Spokane River for generations to come.”

PCB manufacture is banned in the U.S.  All PCBs entering the river are from old sources except for one:  Inland Empire Paper Co., which imports newsprint containing PCBs.  The other four government identified PCB dischargers are Kaiser Aluminum, and the Liberty Lake, Spokane County, and City of Spokane wastewater treatment plants. All five entities have discharge pipes that are permitted by the Washington State Department of Ecology (DOE). Currently the State’s pollution permits contain no limits on PCBs flowing into the Spokane River.  The TMDL will change how PCBs are regulated in the Spokane River watershed.
 

“We need clean, flowing water for the return of salmon,” said Kathy Dixon of the Spokane River Team. “Salmon along with our children and the river’s life are compelling reasons to comply with federal law and move forward with a science-based, river-protecting cleanup plan.

“The Spokane River will need ongoing community vigilance with government processes,” continued Dixon. “River advocates will need to ensure that the EPA develops a legally defensible PCB TMDL to meet all applicable water quality standards, including those of the Spokane Tribe of Indians.”

“We are happy to see this court case closed and look forward to a cleaner healthier Spokane River,” said Trish Rolfe, Center for Environmental Law & Policy’s (CELP) Executive Director.

Sierra Club and CELP are represented by Marc Zemel of Smith & Lowney, a Seattle firm specializing in Clean Water Act litigation. The Spokane Tribe of Indians is represented by Ted Knight.