(Beyond Pesticides, April 30, 2009) On April 20, the National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS) released a Biological Opinion (BiOp) finding that three additional pesticides, carbaryl, carbofuran, and methomyl, harm salmon and steelhead protected under the Endangered Species Act (ESA). The BiOp prescribes measures necessary to keep these pesticides out of salmon waters in Washington, Oregon, California, and Idaho. It is the second such plan issued in the last six months under a court settlement with fishermen and conservationists, filed by the non-profit law firm Earthjustice. The previous BiOp identified three organophosphate insecticides: chlorpyrifos, diazinon, and malathion.
“These pesticides are designed to kill insects on agricultural crops, but when they get into the water system, they also kill aquatic insects that salmon feed on.” said Angela Somma, who heads the NMFS endangered species division.
Under the terms of settlement, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) must implement measures within a year-long timeframe to prevent further exposure of the pesticides to the water that cultivate these species. The measures recommended by NMFS include: a ban on application of the three pesticides in windy conditions and buffer zones near water resources and require that land applications must be at least 50-600 feet from the water resource and aerial spraying requires a 600-1,000 foot buffer zone.
Many of the mitigation measures required in the new BiOp mirror those NMFS mandated in a previous BiOp for three organophosphate pesticides. However, in that prior decision, as well as in a draft of the new decision, NMFS required 20-foot non-crop vegetative buffers to be left along all waterways impacting salmon. NMFS deleted that requirement from the final decision.
“We’re excited by the progress that this decision represents,” said Aimee Code, the Water Quality Coordinator for the Northwest Coalition for Alternatives to Pesticides (NCAP). “But we’re concerned that NMFS backslid on an essential element needed to protect salmon. The science indicates that healthy vegetation next to rivers and streams filters out pollutants.”
NMFS has now determined that current uses of all six of the pesticides it has reviewed so far are jeopardizing the existence of west coast salmon and steelhead. EPA — the federal agency charged with regulating pesticide use — had earlier determined that many salmon runs were not at risk from these six pesticides. NMFS’s review found serious flaws with EPA’s analytical methods and conclusions, and determined that EPA underestimated the risk that the pesticides pose to salmon.
“The findings are an example of why it’s so important for the fish and wildlife scientists at NMFS to provide an independent check on other agencies’ findings about endangered species,” said Earthjustice’s Joshua Osborne-Klein. But in the final days of the Bush administration, the federal government significantly weakened the protections provided by the consultation process between EPA and NMFS that produced today’s decision. “The Bush administration’s warped interpretation of the law removed the voices of scientific experts responsible for protecting salmon,” continued Mr. Osborne-Klein. Those last-minute regulations are currently being reconsidered by the Obama administration.
The three pesticides reviewed in the BiOp include:
Carbaryl, also known by the trade name Sevin, is an NMC insecticide which was first registered in 1959 for use on cotton. EPA estimated over 1.4 million pounds (lbs) of carbaryl are applied each year on agricultural crops and over 200,000 lbs are applied annually for turf, landscape, and horticultural uses in the U.S. (EPA 2008).
Carbofuran is a NMC systemic pesticide first registered in the U.S. in 1969. The BE for carbofuran indicates it is registered as a restricted use broad spectrum insecticide, nematicide, and miticide for use on a wide variety of agricultural and non-agricultural crops (EPA 2004). Carbofuran is classified as a restricted use pesticide and is formulated into flowable, wettable powder, and granular forms. Several regulatory documents concerning carbofuran were issued after EPA’s BE of the analysis of risk of carbofuran to threatened and endangered salmonids (EPA 2004).
Methomyl was first registered for use in the U.S. in 1968. Methomyl is currently registered for use on a wide variety of sites including field, vegetable, and orchard crops; turf (sod farms only); livestock quarters; commercial premises; and refuse containers (EPA 2007). All methomyl products, except the 1% bait formulations, are classified as restricted use pesticides (EPA 2007). EPA’s BE of the analysis of risks of methomyl to threatened and endangered salmonids indicated there were 10 end-use products registered under Section 3 of FIFRA (EPA 2003). Methomyl was previously registered as a molluscicide to control snails and slugs and as a fungicide for control of blights, rots, mildews and other fungal diseases. Those uses, as well as uses on ornamentals and in greenhouses, have been cancelled (EPA 2003).
The area in concern includes salmon waters throughout Washington, Oregon, California and Idaho. Numerous jobs and industries in this region depend largely on the salmon population. Request to the EPA for these regulations stem from a recent biological opinion made by the NMFS. However, a demand for a minimum 20 foot non-crop land strip between the water and agricultural crop in the previous opinion was dropped. There is evidence that the 20 foot non-crop vegetative strip would aid in filtering pollutants before they reach the water.
In 2002, the Pacific Coast Federation of Fishermen’s Associations, NCAP, and other salmon advocates, with legal representation from Earthjustice, obtained a federal court order declaring that EPA had violated ESA 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. Thirty-one more pesticides will undergo review by the National Marine Fisheries Service over the next three years. The next opinion, reviewing 12 pesticides, is due on June 30, 2010.