(Beyond Pesticides, May 30, 2007) The Center for Biological Diversity today filed a lawsuit against the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) for violating the Endangered Species Act (ESA). EPA has registered and allowed the use of 60 toxic pesticides in habitats for nearly a dozen San Francisco Bay Area endangered species without determining whether the chemicals jeopardize their existence.
“Ending the use of known poisons in habitat for our most endangered wildlife is an appropriate 100th birthday tribute to Rachel Carson, who alerted us to the hazards of exposure to toxic chemicals almost half a century ago,” said Jeff Miller, conservation advocate with the Center. “Unfortunately the EPA has not learned from her legacy and still has no plan to adequately assess impacts while registering and approving pesticide uses that pose a clear and present danger both to imperiled species and human health.”
At least 61 million pounds of pesticide active ingredients were applied in Bay Area counties from 1999 through 2005 ”” over 8.5 million pounds annually. Actual pesticide use may have been several times this amount since most home and commercial pesticide use is not reported to the state. Under the Bush administration, EPA has consistently failed to consult with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service on endangered species impacts when registering and authorizing use of toxic pesticides.
Studies by the Fish and Wildlife Service, EPA, U.S. Geological Survey and California Department of Pesticide Regulation show that at least 60 pesticides of concern are used or accumulate in or adjacent to (upstream or upwind) habitat for 11 Bay Area endangered species: Bay and Delta aquatic habitat for the critically endangered delta smelt (Hypomesus transpacificus) and the tidewater goby (Eucyclogobius newberryi); tidal marshland habitat for the California clapper rail (Rallus longirostris obsoletus) and salt marsh harvest mouse (Reithrodontomys raviventris); freshwater and wetlands habitat for the California tiger salamander (Ambystoma californiense), San Francisco garter snake (Thamnophis sirtalis tetrataenia) and California freshwater shrimp (Syncaris pacifica); and terrestrial habitat for the San Joaquin kit fox (Vulpes macrotis mutica), Alameda whipsnake (Masticophis lateralis euryxanthus), valley elderberry longhorn beetle (Desmocerus californicus dimorphus) and bay checkerspot butterfly (Euphydryas editha bayensis). According to the Service, pesticide use may threaten an additional 19 of the 51 Bay Area animal species listed under ESA.
EPA is required under ESA to consult with the Fish and Wildlife Service over registration, re-registration and approved uses of pesticides that may endanger listed species or adversely affect their designated critical habitat. The consultation is designed to ensure EPA avoids authorizing pesticide uses that jeopardize the existence of endangered species. The Center is seeking pesticide-use restrictions in habitat for the 11 Bay Area species until EPA and the Fish and Wildlife Service assessments of pesticide impacts have been completed. The consultations should result in some permanent use restrictions for harmful pesticides.
Similar protections were obtained by the Center for the California red-legged frog under a settlement signed by EPA and the pesticide industry last October. The use of 66 pesticides is now prohibited in and adjacent to core frog habitats statewide for three years, until EPA completes consultations.
“The registrations of contaminants known to be deadly to endangered species and harmful to human health, such as atrazine, should be cancelled,” said Mr. Miller. “Given the proximity of agricultural pesticide spraying to some Bay Area residential areas, surveys that have detected accumulation of pesticides in local creeks and San Francisco Bay, and what we know about movement of pesticides through drift and runoff, we should be wondering if we are next when we see endangered species poisoned by these chemicals.”
In 2006 the Center published “Poisoning Our Imperiled Wildlife: San Francisco Bay Area Endangered Species at Risk from Pesticides,” a report analyzing EPA’s dismal record in protecting endangered species and the agency’s ongoing refusal to reform pesticide registration and use in accordance with scientific findings. Despite mounting evidence of harm to endangered species and human health, the Bush administration keeps dodging use restrictions for dangerous pesticides and has tried to exclude wildlife agency oversight of the pesticide-registration process.
In 2004 the Center published “Silent Spring Revisited: Pesticide Use and Endangered Species,” detailing the decades-long failure of EPA to regulate pesticides harmful to endangered species despite numerous lawsuits, three of which have been filed by the Center. EPA still has no meaningful plan to protect endangered species from pesticides.
San Joaquin kit foxes continue to be killed in the East Bay and Central Valley from poisoning by rodenticides such as brodifacoum, chlorophacinone and bromadiolone. Pesticides have also been implicated in the recent collapse of Bay-Delta fish populations. Toxic pulses of pesticides have been documented in Bay Area streams and the Delta during critical stages in fish development, and many local water bodies are listed as “impaired” for not meeting water-quality standards due to high concentrations of extremely toxic pesticides such as chlorpyrifos and diazinon. An estimated one million pounds each of chlorpyrifos and diazinon were used in the Bay Area from 1999 to 2003.
Numerous studies have definitively linked pesticides with significant developmental, neurological and reproductive damage to amphibians. Pesticide contamination can cause deformities, abnormal immune system functions, diseases, injury and death of frogs and salamanders. Studies by Dr. Tyrone Hayes, Ph.D., (who will be speaking at Beyond Pesticides’ National Pesticide Forum — www.beyondpesticides.org/forum – June 1-3, in Chicago) at the University of California, Berkeley have strengthened the case for banning atrazine, a potent chemical that is the most common contaminant of ground, surface and drinking water nationwide. Dr. Hayes demonstrated that atrazine is an endocrine disruptor that “assaults male sexual development,” interfering with reproduction by chemically castrating and feminizing male frogs. Atrazine has also been linked to increased prostate cancer, decreased sperm count and high risk of breast cancer in humans. Thousands of pounds of atrazine are used each year in the Bay Area in close proximity to habitat for the red-legged frog and tiger salamander.
The Bush administration has attempted to undercut ESA protections by changing how pesticide impacts on wildlife are evaluated and making it easier for pesticide manufacturers to ignore the effects of their products on endangered plants and animals. EPA proposed new regulations in 2004 that would have removed input from expert wildlife agencies in determining whether pesticides threaten endangered species, but a federal court overturned these new rules in 2006.
The lawsuit, report on pesticide impacts to Bay Area species, maps of pesticide use, and information about the listed species are on the Center’s pesticides web page.