EPA requires new Alaska water quality standards for health of fish loving Alaskans

A whole salmon and king crab are laid out on cutting boards in what will be an Alaskan feast

Written by Maggie Rabb

June 7, 2024

Response to a 2015 SEACC petition acknowledges Alaskans’ high fish consumption rates and disproportionate health impacts

Great news for people who love fish — we got a response from the EPA about a petition we filed way back in 2015 saying they’re requiring Alaska to update its water quality standards within the next six to 12 months (or the EPA will do it for them). Alaska has long been relying on an absurdly unrealistic fish consumption rate to determine water quality standards, putting Alaskans at risk for harmful levels of exposure to toxic pollutants. 

Alaska has been using the EPA’s 1992 default fish consumption rate for the general population — 6.5 grams per day — when you and I know without a doubt that Alaskans eat far more seafood than that. The State of Alaska knows it too; they acknowledged it  before SEACC submitted our petition in 2015, but we still don’t have updated criteria.

The health of Alaskans should be a top priority for the State and no Alaskan should be put at such risk for simply living their Alaska way of life. We know our coastal and Indigenous communities are at the highest risk for overexposure and devastating health effects and that’s not acceptable.  

As we told the EPA in our 2015 petition, because Alaskans eat more fish than the general population, ‘we deserve and require more stringent water quality criteria, because higher fish consumption rate increases exposure to any contaminants that may be present in those fish.’

We’re pleased the EPA is putting pressure on Alaska DEC to use sound science and accurate data to update its water quality standards. We all deserve safe, healthy seafood from clean, healthy waters. These new water quality standards can’t come soon enough.

In 2015, we proposed 175 grams per day as an interim rate for Alaskans who may rely on subsistence or traditional foods. Since then, there’s a ton more data on Alaskans’ consumption rates, in no small part thanks to Tribes conducting surveys, recognizing their citizens’ health and safety were on the line.

The EPA has essentially said there’s no excuse for the State of Alaska to continue putting Alaskans at risk by using such inaccurate data. They’ve committed to working with the state of Alaska to ensure the human health criteria are “protective of applicable designated uses, based on sound scientific rationale, and responsive to the needs of Alaska’s residents.” 

As good as this news feels, we know we’ll feel even better when the water quality standards are updated and we can feel confident in the safety of our seafood.

Protecting our waters and people

SEACC’s work to protect Alaska’s waters is also about protecting the people who rely on it. You can support that work by making a donation today.

Read more in the Alaska Beacon or on Alaska Public Media. We’re grateful for statewide coverage of this important issue. 

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