Tuesday, July 28, 2015

EPA draft on selenium water pollution limits causing complications in West Virginia

The Environmental Protection Agency on Monday "issued a draft recommendation for new selenium water pollution limits, complicating an ongoing debate over a coal industry-based proposal for a state-level change," Ken Ward reports for the Charleston Gazette-Mail. "EPA’s criteria, once finalized, will not be mandatory for states. But under the federal Clean Water Act, state water quality standards must be approved by EPA before they can be implemented. And if states choose not to adopt the federal guidelines, they must have a good scientific explanation."

Citizen groups say the EPA recommendation is better than the West Virginia Department of Environmental Protection proposal "but still needlessly complicates the ability of government agencies or environmental organizations to enforce selenium limits," Ward writes. "The new EPA recommendation contains at least slightly more stringent standards than the state proposal for both the amount of selenium legally allowed in rivers, streams and lakes and for the amount of selenium in fish tissue that is considered a water quality violation."

"Over the last decade, selenium discharges from mountaintop removal have been increasingly linked with water-quality problems, and scientists are concerned about developmental damage and reproductive problems in fish populations downstream from large-scale surface mining operations," ward writes " Citizen groups’ lawsuits have forced mining companies to begin reducing selenium pollution and pressing the DEP to include selenium limits in mining company discharge permits."

"Responding to calls for help from the coal industry, West Virginia lawmakers have passed legislation aimed at pressing the DEP to adopt more favorable selenium standards," Ward writes. "Currently, the DEP’s water quality rules contain a long-term selenium standard of 5 parts per billion in water and a short-term standard of 20 parts per billion in water. Agency officials have proposed to retain those standards but also add a new portion of their rule that would substitute limits on selenium in fish tissue for the water-based limits. Selenium in whole-body fish tissue would be limited to 8.3 parts per million and in fish eggs or ovaries to 20 parts per million."

"The draft EPA recommendation published on Monday also includes new language to base selenium limits on fish tissue," Ward writes. "But EPA recommends a whole-body fish tissue limit of 8 parts per million and an egg/ovary limit of 15.8 parts per million. The EPA draft includes a water-based limit of 3.1 parts per billion for streams and 1.2 parts per billion for standing water, such as lakes." (Read more)

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