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Groups Sue EPA to Protect Endangered Florida Wildlife from Toxic Pesticide
(from October 29, 2002)

Three environmental groups filed suit yesterday against the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) over the use of a highly toxic pesticide that is killing federally protected species in Florida. The lawsuit, which was filed in federal district court by Defenders of Wildlife, American Bird Conservancy, and Florida Wildlife Federation, charges EPA with violations of the Endangered Species Act (ESA) and Migratory Bird Treaty Act (MBTA) by its registration of the pesticide fenthion. Fenthion has been documented to cause severe ecological impacts and is exceptionally toxic to birds.

"Fenthion is one of the most dangerous bird-killing pesticides in use in this country," said Dr. Patti Bright, Director of American Bird Conservancy's Pesticides and Birds Campaign. "It is not necessary to bear the extreme ecological costs of fenthion when there are equally effective pesticides available for mosquito control that won't kill birds, don't wreak environmental havoc, and are in use to combat mosquitoes in 49 other states and even most of Florida," Dr. Bright added.

Fenthion has long been known for its extreme toxicity to birds, not only when ingested but also when inhaled or even absorbed through the skin. In fact, the pesticide was once specifically formulated and marketed for the purpose of killing birds, as the active ingredient in "Rid-a-Bird" perches. Landing on a fenthion-smeared perch for a few seconds was enough to kill starlings and other target species, but also led to the deaths of non-target species, such as Bald Eagles, Peregrine Falcons, and American Kestrels, that fed on the poisoned carcasses.

"It's really quite unbelievable," said Rennie Anderson, Staff Attorney with Defenders of Wildlife, of EPA's continued registration of fenthion. "EPA has known for some time, and has even acknowledged in its own documents, that fenthion poisons birds and other wildlife and has been linked to multiple bird kill incidents. Yet, despite warnings from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) regarding the risks to wildlife, EPA still allows fenthion to be sprayed without fulfilling even its basic obligation under the ESA to consult with the Service concerning these impacts."

"More than thirty federally listed species live in the Everglades region, and many others depend on this ecosystem for important habitat needs, including millions of migratory birds that travel through the state every year," said Nancy Anne Payton, Florida Wildlife Federation's Southwest Florida Field Representative. "This lawsuit aims to protect these species from the needless and deadly spraying of fenthion."

Past experience with fenthion used for mosquito control has demonstrated that almost any aerial application of the pesticide, even when spraying is fully consistent with EPA labeling requirements, will result in indiscriminate killing of non-target wildlife. Birds, butterflies, and aquatic species are especially vulnerable to fenthion.

Between 1998 and 1999, at least twelve separate fenthion-related bird kills occurred in Collier County, Florida, one of the few remaining counties that still sprays fenthion. These incidents, which were reported to EPA, resulted in the death of at least 16 species of birds that are protected under the MBTA, including one - a piping plover - that is also listed under the ESA. Other affected species included dunlins, sandpipers, sanderlings, little blue herons, and black skimmers. Given the difficulty of finding dead birds, it is likely that these documented incidents represent only the tip of the iceberg of deaths actually occurring.

Based on extensive evidence of harmful impacts, including documented bird kills in the counties where fenthion is currently used, the FWS in June advised EPA that fenthion poses "unreasonable adverse effects" to the environment, particularly to species protected under the ESA and MBTA, and recommended to EPA "that fenthion not be reregistered and existing registrations should be canceled for all uses immediately."

The continued registration of fenthion is absurd. As FWS has stated to EPA, "Fenthion is unnecessary for adult mosquito control because other equally efficacious products are available." In fact, the only human disease vector mosquito targeted by fenthion spraying in Collier County Florida, Culex nigripalpus, has already developed resistance to the pesticide. In other words, fenthion is highly effective at killing birds and other non-target species, but it is neither necessary nor effective for controlling mosquitoes.

For more information, contact Gavin Shire, American Bird Conservancy, at (202) 452-1535, Rennie Anderson, Defenders of Wildlife, at (202) 682-9400, or Nancy Payton, Florida Wildlife Federation, at (941) 643-4111.

Source: American Bird Conservancy.