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EPA FINALIZES LIMITS ON TOXICS IN CALIFORNIA WATERWAYS
Release Date: 4/28/2000
Contact Information: Dave Schmidt, U.S. EPA, (415) 744-1578
RESTORES TOXICS LIMITS OVERTURNED BY 1994 COURT DECISION
SAN FRANCISCO--The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency today finalized a regulation, known as the California Toxics Rule, to reinstate water quality criteria for toxic pollutants in the state's rivers, streams, lakes, enclosed bays and estuaries.
Specific, numerical criteria are the basis for limits on toxic pollutants specified in hundreds of discharge permits issued by California's regional water quality control boards. With these specific criteria in place, the regional boards can more easily issue permits with strict limits on toxic pollutants discharged by industries and municipalities, as well as polluted runoff. The reinstated criteria will enable the regional boards to process a backlog of permit renewals and continue to issue new permits.
"This rule is good news for California's waterways," said Felicia Marcus, EPA's regional administrator for the Pacific Southwest. "Like most other states, many of California's inland waterways are polluted by toxic substances and controlling them is crucial to protecting public health and the aquatic environment." Marcus also noted that, "For the past several years, California has been the only state in the nation without water quality criteria for some of the most dangerous toxics. This measure will fill the gap until the state completes its own rulemaking."
The rule restores specific numerical criteria designed to protect human health and aquatic life from 64 priority toxic pollutants, including mercury, dioxin, selenium, PCBs, and dissolved metals. The rule will remain in place until the state adopts new water quality control plans that contain state water quality objectives for these pollutants. The state adopted a set of plans in 1991, but a 1994 state court decision invalidated them.
Since then, the state has been working toward adopting new water quality plans, but the process will take more time. In cooperation with the state, EPA in 1997 proposed the rule to provide interim criteria until California can adopt its own. The state has prepared an implementation plan to put the rule's toxics limits into new and renewed permits starting as soon as the CTR is published in the Federal Register -- which is expected within a week or two.
Minor changes were made to this final version, such as postponing the aquatic life criteria for mercury and acute selenium, to allow more time for EPA to work with the federal fish and wildlife agencies to address their concerns. Over the last several years, EPA has been working with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and the National Marine Fisheries Service to ensure that the rule would prevent any adverse effects on threatened or endangered species, while protecting public health. With these changes, EPA and these agencies have agreed that the final rule will not harm any protected species.
In adopting criteria, for example regarding dioxin limits and human consumption of fish, the state is free to choose stricter toxics limits than those contained in the rule. The rule's fish consumption numbers, used to set limits on human consumption of potentially contaminated fish, are based on EPA's national recommendation for states.
The rule is part of a long-established water quality program under the federal Clean Water Act. Under this law, the states and EPA issue permits to dischargers. These site-specific permits include limits on pollutants that must take into account receiving waterways listed as "impaired" (polluted) by the state and EPA, and which pollutants are causing the problem. California currently has 509 listed waterways, including streams, lakes, bays, and portions of rivers. These waterways are the focus of growing state, local, and EPA efforts to limit total pollution in their watersheds, through the total maximum daily load (TMDL) program, also under the Clean Water Act.
The final preamble and rule will be published in the Federal Register in the next two weeks. Meanwhile, a Fact Sheet on the rule has been posted on EPA's regional website, www.epa.gov/region09/water/ctr .
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