(Beyond Pesticides, November 21, 2008) On November 18, the National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS) released a biological opinion that sets forth a plan for protecting Pacific salmon and steelhead from three toxic organophosphate pesticides. The decision comes after almost a decade of legal wrangling between salmon advocates and the federal government.
In the biological opinion, federal wildlife scientists comprehensively reviewed the science regarding the impacts of pesticides on salmon and ultimately concluded that current uses of the insecticides chlorpyrifos, diazinon, and malathion jeopardize the existence of these imperiled fish. The biological opinion prescribes measures necessary to keep these pesticides out of water and to protect salmon populations in Washington, Oregon, California, and Idaho.
The new mitigation measures must be implemented within one year. They include:
* Prohibiting aerial applications of the three pesticides within 1,000 feet of salmon waters
* Prohibiting ground applications of the three pesticides within 500 feet of salmon waters
* Requiring a 20 foot non-crop vegetative buffer around salmon waters and ditches that drain into salmon habitat
* Prohibiting applications of the three pesticides when wind speeds are greater than or equal to 10 mph
“Keeping these pesticides out of the water is a major step toward protecting our salmon stocks and revitalizing the fishing industry, which can generate hundreds of million of dollars in the region,” said Glen Spain of the Pacific Coast Federation of Fishermen’s Associations (PCFFA).
The three pesticides at issue in the biological opinion are known to contaminate rivers and streams throughout California and the Pacific Northwest and poison salmon and steelhead (see background below).
“The federal government has a duty to protect imperiled salmon from these deadly pesticides,” said Joshua Osborne-Klein, an attorney for Earthjustice, the environmental law firm that represented the salmon advocates. “We are very pleased that the government has finally taken these steps to protect salmon, the icon of the Pacific Northwest’s natural heritage.”
In addition to jeopardizing salmon, these pesticides pose serious risks to public heath — especially the health of young children. A number of recent studies have linked prenatal exposure to organophosphate insecticides with behavioral problems including attention deficit/hyperactivity disorder. A 2006 study published in Pediatrics, compared the risks of chlorpyrifos to prenatal cocaine exposure.
“This decision will have a lasting impact that benefits our grandchildren. Their rivers will provide cleaner drinking water, be safer for swimming and more habitable for thriving runs of salmon,” said Aimee Code, the Water Quality Coordinator at the Northwest Coalition for Alternatives to Pesticides (NCAP).
In 2002, PCFFA, NCAP, and other salmon advocates, with legal representation from Earthjustice, obtained a federal court order declaring that the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency had violated the Endangered Species Act by failing to consult with NMFS on the impacts that certain pesticides have on salmon and steelhead in the Pacific Northwest and California. As a result of that lawsuit, EPA began consultations, but NMFS never issued biological opinions or identified the measures needed to protect salmon and steelhead from the pesticides. In 2007, the salmon advocates filed a second lawsuit and entered into a settlement agreement with NMFS that establishes a schedule for issuing the required biological opinions. The biological opinion released This is the first of several decisions that will be released over the next three-and-a-half years and will assess a total of 37 pesticides.
NMFS determined that accepted uses of chlorpyrifos, diazinon and malathion are likely to jeopardize the continued existence of 27 species of endangered or threatened salmon and steelhead. NMFS’s biological opinion of the three pesticides, released Tuesday, stated that current uses were likely reducing the number of salmon returning to spawn (BiOp at 292). These three pesticides are all organophosphates (a class of neurotoxic chemicals). They are used in both agricultural and/or urban insect control. Recent research has found that in combination they can have “synergistic effects” on salmon. In other words, the effect of organophosphate mixtures is greater than the effect of each of the chemicals’ effects when added together. These chemicals are often found together. The recent publicity of the salmon’s plight has put protective efforts in the news, such as Washington’s “Salmon-Safe” certification program and Oregon’s pesticide reduction plan.
Chlorpyrifos contaminates rivers throughout the west at levels harmful to fish or their food sources according to the U.S. Geological Survey. The basins where chlorpyrifos was detected at harmful levels include the Willamette, San Joaquin, Tulare, and the Central Columbia Basin. It is “very highly toxic” to fish (according to U.S. EPA’s toxicity classification system). (BiOp at 269), impairs fish reproduction by reducing egg production in fish. (BiOp at 270), inhibits juvenile coho salmon feeding behavior and swimming speed. (BiOp at 281-822), and harms the survival and reproduction of salmon food sources. (BiOp at 271-72)
Diazinon contaminates rivers throughout the west at levels harmful to fish or their food sources according to the U.S. Geological Survey. The basins where diazinon was detected at harmful levels include the Willamette, San Joaquin, Tulare, the Central Columbia Basin and Puget Sound. It was also detected in King County, Washington streams. It impairs feeding, predator avoidance, spawning, homing and migration capabilities by impeding salmon sense of smell. (BiOp at 275), leads to weakened swimming activity in juvenile trout. (BiOp at 282-83), and is acutely toxic to salmon food sources. (BiOp at 275-76)
Malathion contaminates rivers throughout the west at levels harmful to fish or their food sources according to the U.S. Geological Survey. The basins where malathion was detected at harmful levels include the Willamette, San Joaquin, Tulare, and the Central Columbia Basin. It was also detected in King County, Washington streams.It leads to weakened swimming activity in juvenile trout. (BiOp at 282-83)