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EPA to Consult on Pesticide Harm to Endangered Species
A lawsuit by three California environmental groups has prompted the Environmental Protection Agency to begin its first consultations in a decade on the effects pesticides have on endangered salmon and other imperiled species. EPA is seeking comments on the proposed action. Comments may be submitted on or before May 29, 2002, click here for more information.
In a settlement signed April 19, 2002, EPA will consult with two other federal agencies, the National Marine Fisheries Service and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, on specific uses of eighteen chemical poisons in California. They include how the pesticides are used in forestry, on various fruit, nut, nursery and forage crops, highway and utility rights-of-way and irrigation canals.
These 18 pesticides will be analyzed for effects in one or more of these usage sites in the habitat of each of the seven salmon species and 33 forest plants that collectively are named in the settlement.
The environmentalists targeted in their lawsuit some of the most commonly used pesticides registered by the EPA including chlorpyrifos, diazinon, atrazine, Roundup, and 2,4-D. One is diazinon, which for California lettuce crops -- a usage site included in the settlement-- application exceeded 112,000 pounds in 2000 according to the Department of Pesticide Regulation. Government agencies routinely detect diazinon in rivers. The EPA has determined that diazinon exceeds levels of concern for toxicity and risk to endangered species. Another chemical in the settlement is atrazine, the pesticide most commonly found in rain and river water, which EPA acknowledges exceeds its level of concern for chronic toxicity to fish reproduction. Many endangered plants may be at risk from glyphosate (Roundup) in its registered use patterns (4,641,560 pounds recorded use in California in 2000), according to the EPA.
"These species are close to extinction and pesticides continue to pollute their habitat but the EPA hasn't even begun to take action to protect them. How can an endangered species survive if the effect of widely used pesticides isn't taken into account?" said Patty Clary of Californians for Alternatives to Toxics (CATs), the lead plaintiff group. Clary said, "We welcome the EPA's resolve to take these first important steps to protect some of the nation's most highly valued and imperiled wildlife species from the effects of pesticides."
The agreement put on hold a lawsuit filed by CATs, Environmental Protection Information Center and Humboldt Watershed Council which challenged the EPA's failure to consult with NMFS and FWS as required under the Endangered Species Act. Before the settlement can become final, the EPA will post it on its website and ask the public for comment on the proposed settlement. Once comments have been received, the EPA will then decide whether changes need be made to the settlement and it is only if the plaintiff groups agree with any changes that the lawsuit will finally be resolved.
"We're cautiously optimistic that this settlement will result in improved science to protect our water and the endagered species that live in it from the detremental effects of pesticides," said Ken Miller of Humboldt Watershed Council.
Californians for Alternatives to Toxics (CATs) is a clearinghouse for information and action about pesticides. Based in Arcata, CATs has worked since 1982 to inform the public about the toxicity of pesticides and promote alternatives to their use. CATs won 3 groundbreaking lawsuits regarding forest use of herbicides in the last year.
Environmental Protection Information Center (EPIC) is located in the Humboldt County town of Garberville and has been working on forestry reform and endangered species protection for twenty-five years. Its major goal is to protect and restore biodiversity in California's forestlands through litigation, education, habitat mapping and advocacy.
Humboldt Watershed Council (HWC) represents residents and property owners who have been affected by irresponsible forestry practices. The Council has advocated an end to clear cutting herbicide use in forestry since its inception in 1997.
CATs, EPIC, and HWC are represented in the lawsuit and settlement by Brian Gaffney, a public interest attorney based in Oakland who has worked for environmental justice throughout his career.