DEP Pushes an Inadequate Water Quality Standard that would Endanger WV Fishing

For Immediate Release
August 26, 2015

Ben Luckett, Staff Attorney, Appalachian Mountain Advocates

DEP Pushes an Inadequate Water Quality Standard that would Endanger WV Fishing

CHARLESTON, WV — The West Virginia Department of Environmental Protection (“DEP”) presented proposed changes to water quality standards at the Water Quality Standards Program quarterly meeting on Tuesday. Despite objections from the public and West Virginia-based conservation groups, DEP has continued to promote a selenium standard that could endanger recreational and commercial fishing throughout West Virginia.

DEP is required under federal law to adopt updated water quality standards every three years. The agency recently proposed weakening the state standard for selenium, a metal that leaches from surface mining waste into waterways in unnaturally high concentrations. DEP has proposed a new standard based on concentrations in fish tissue rather than the water column, mimicking a regulation recently enacted in Kentucky.

In fish, selenium causes infertility, as well as deformities like crooked spines and damaged gills. Selenium builds up in the body over time, so even small amounts in the water can accumulate exponentially in fish and other wildlife further up the food chain.

Many large sport fish, like certain bluegill and catfish, are particularly sensitive to selenium, with negative impacts seen at lower concentrations. But DEP’s proposal is geared toward the average, threatening these important fish with serious decline. Nor does DEP account for other wildlife that depend on healthy fish and clean water.

Fish with high levels of selenium accumulation can also pose a danger to humans if eaten in excess quantities. High-level exposure to selenium can damage the kidneys, liver, and central nervous and circulatory systems. The federal Environmental Protection Agency has warned that people who drink water containing high levels of selenium could experience hair or fingernail losses, numbness in fingers or toes, or problems with their circulation.

“Serious questions also remain as to how DEP could even enforce the proposed standard,” explains Ben Luckett, Staff Attorney for Appalachian Mountain Advocates. The proposal has been touted as regulatory relief by the mining industry.

Luckett recommends DEP instead continue to rely on an easily measurable concentration of selenium in the water column. Such a standard is endorsed by top scientists and the federal government.

DEP is expected seek legislative approval of the proposed rule this winter.


Appalachian Mountain Advocates is a West Virginia nonprofit using the power of the law to protect the economy and environment of our state. Founded in 2001, Appalmad’s team of legal and policy experts represent a wide range of partner groups on issues of energy, water quality, forests, and land use.


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