(Beyond Pesticides, July 6, 2009) Last week, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) proposed to formally evaluate the harmful effects of 74 pesticides on 11 endangered and threatened species in the San Francisco Bay Area over the next five years, and to impose interim restrictions on use of these pesticides in and adjacent to endangered species habitats. The proposal stems from a settlement agreement with the Center for Biological Diversity, which sued EPA in 2007 for violating the Endangered Species Act by registering and allowing the use of toxic pesticides in Bay Area endangered species habitats without determining whether the chemicals jeopardize those species’ existence.
“Tens of millions of pounds of toxic and poisonous chemicals, known to be deadly to endangered species and harmful to human health, including proven carcinogens and endocrine disruptors, are applied in the Bay Area each year, and many of those find their way through runoff or drift into our soil, creeks and rivers, San Francisco Bay, and sensitive wildlife habitats,” said Jeff Miller, conservation advocate with the Center. “The toxic stew of pesticides in the Bay-Delta has played a major role in the collapse of native fish populations, and pesticides are a leading cause of the loss of native amphibians. This agreement is a positive step for protection of some of the Bay Area’s most endangered wildlife from pesticides.”
The 11 San Francisco Bay-area endangered species are the Alameda whipsnake, bay checkerspot butterfly, California clapper rail, California freshwater shrimp, California tiger salamander, delta smelt, salt marsh harvest mouse, San Francisco garter snake, San Joaquin kit fox, tidewater goby, and valley elderberry longhorn beetle. Similar protections were obtained by the Center for the California red-legged frog under a 2006 settlement that prohibited use of 66 pesticides in and adjacent to frog habitats statewide.
EPA is required under the Endangered Species Act to consult with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service on 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 that EPA avoids authorizing pesticide uses that jeopardize the existence of endangered species. EPA has consistently failed to evaluate or adequately regulate pesticides harmful to endangered species.
EPA today published a proposed settlement agreement with the Center and is taking public comment on a stipulated injunction that would establish a series of deadlines for EPA to conduct formal consultations with the Service and make “effects determinations” on 74 pesticides that may affect 11 Bay Area species listed under the Endangered Species Act. The injunction would set aside EPA’s authorization of use for each of the 74 pesticides in, and adjacent to, endangered species habitats within eight Bay Area counties (Alameda, Contra Costa, Marin, Napa, San Mateo, Santa Clara, Solano, and Sonoma) until formal consultation is completed. The consultations should result in cancellation of some pesticide uses and permanent use restrictions for harmful pesticides. EPA will make the determinations beginning October 20, 2009 and ending June 30, 2014.
The settlement includes interim pesticide-use restrictions in habitat for the 11 Bay Area species, in order to reduce the potential exposure of these species to harmful pesticides during the consultation period and Fish and Wildlife Service assessments of pesticide impacts.
Reported pesticide use in the Bay Area is about 10 million pounds annually, but actual pesticide use is estimated to be several times this amount since most home and commercial pesticide use is not reported to the state. Pesticides have been implicated in the recent collapse of Bay-Delta fish populations such as delta smelt, longfin smelt, and chinook salmon. 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.
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 Tyrone Hayes, Ph.D. at the University of California 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 proximity to amphibian habitats.
In 2006, the Center published Poisoning Our Imperiled Wildlife: San Francisco Bay Area Endangered Species at Risk from Pesticides, a report analyzing the 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. In 2004, the Center published Silent Spring Revisited: Pesticide Use and Endangered Species, detailing the decades-long failure of the EPA to regulate pesticides harmful to endangered species. EPA still has no meaningful plan to protect endangered species from pesticides.
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.