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Human Health Criteria and Water Quality Standards


The Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC), Division of Water establishes water quality standards for state freshwater and marine waters that are protective of human and environmental health. Water quality standards are comprised of three elements: 'designated uses', or how the water is used; 'water quality criteria', or numeric and narrative criteria protective of designated uses; and an 'antidegradation policy and implementation policy', or a requirement to evaluate when conditions of high quality waters may be lowered but still meet water quality criteria.

Water quality criteria are developed to protect aquatic life and human health from contaminants that can reach humans through consumption of water and aquatic organisms (e.g. fish, shellfish). Factors in the calculations used to develop human health criteria include body weight, drinking water intake, bioaccumulation, and the amount and type of fish eaten.

In December 2002, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) updated nationally recommended human health criteria, to recommend a national fish consumption rate of 17.5 grams/day instead of the previously recommended 6.5 grams/day value. DEC has identified fish consumption as a high priority issue for the 2011-2013 Triennial Review (PDF). The current focus of the program is to develop an approach to identify and address the many issues related to fish consumption and associated technical and implementation considerations.

Where We Are & Where We're Going

DEC has been examining the latest federal guidance for protecting human health and recent efforts of other states to address fish consumption rates, implementation challenges, and key considerations. There is a need to update the fish consumption rate water quality criteria to better protect Alaskan populations.

Human Health Criteria Technical Workgroup
In an effort to inform the DEC rule making process, a Human Health Criteria (HHC) Technical Workgroup has been established. The purpose of the Workgroup is:

• Provide recommendations to DEC on addressing technical issues associated with revising Alaska’s HHC

• Review the process of establishing HHC and identify issues that may be specific to Alaska

• Assess what data is currently available and applicable to Alaska’s efforts to review Alaska’s HHC

Human Health Criteria Public Workshop

The Alaska Department of Environmental Conversation (DEC) held a public workshop on October 29 and 30, 2015 on potential revisions to human health criteria in state water quality standards. The goal of the workshop was to inform the interested public regarding the role of human health criteria in water quality standards (18 AAC 70), how human health criteria are derived, and how revisions to the criteria may be implemented in Alaska’s regulatory programs and practices.

Human Health Criteria Public Workshop Information

Alaska Human Health Criteria Literature Review

In 2014 DEC commissioned a report titled Literature Review of Fish Consumption Rate Research Conducted in the State of Alaska (DOCX). The report provides an assessment of the sources and types of data currently available on fish consumption rates in Alaska, and will serve as a preliminary step in determining a fish consumption rate reflective of Alaskan residents.

Who is Affected?

  • Consumers and subsistence fishers of fish from Alaskan waters
  • Producers of fish products or fish from Alaskan waters
  • Local and regional governments and agencies
  • Corporations and private interest groups, and
  • Wastewater discharge permittees


Potential Process

1. Research and Review Issue. DEC will research available information and science, consider different options, and evaluate how implementation may affect water quality, water users, and regulated industries. DEC research may include one or more of the following:

  • DEC staff review,
  • State agency coordination,
  • Public workshops,
  • Independent contractor reports,
  • Technical workgroup of recognized experts,
  • Stakeholder advisory group for issues with significant public interest, and
  • Other stakeholder feedback (email list, fax, teleconference, survey).

2. Prepare Water Quality Standards (WQS) revisions. DEC would prepare proposed regulation revisions, based on the research and review of recent science. Recommendations may also include changes to policy or implementation procedures.

3. Public notice of proposed WQS revisions. DEC will hold a public hearing during a minimum of a 45-day public comment period, when revising the WQS.

4. Amend and adopt new WQS. Adoption of WQS revisions would follow the requirements of the Administrative Procedures Act. DEC would address comments and prepare the final regulations, which would into effect 30 days after adoption by the Commissioner and Lieutenant Governor. Adopted WQS are subject to approval by EPA for use under the Clean Water Act.

Draft Rule Making

DEC has not drafted a preliminary draft rule for public review.


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