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Washington State Misleads Public on Pesticides in Salmon Streams
(Beyond Pesticides, December 1, 2004)
Environmentalists heavily criticize a recent press release issued by the Washington State Department of Agriculture (WSDA) that reported the first year results of a three year study on pesticide residues found in two watersheds critical for endangered salmon.

The WSDA press release, issued November 22, came under attack by Washington Toxics Coalition, a statewide environmental pesticide and toxics organization, after the state refused to clarify its statement that, “No pesticide residue was found in 96 percent of the agricultural and urban stream samples.”

Erika Schrader, the director of Washington Toxics’ Clean Water for Salmon Campaign, is watching the state’s study of pesticide residues closely given the organization’s recently-won lawsuit against the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) for not adequately protecting salmon from pesticides, as required by law under the Endangered Species Act (ESA). (See Daily News story.) Schrader told the Seattle Post-Intelligencer that the WSDA statement is “misleading” by giving the impression that no pesticides were found in the watersheds when in fact pesticide concentrations were detected in 100 percent of the samples taken from the streams.

According to the Post-Intelligencer, Bridget Moran, the manager of the state Agriculture Department’s Endangered Species Program, explained that 155 samples were collected and individually tested for 144 specific pesticides totaling roughly 22,000 tests. Pesticides were detected 862 times, which is how the state came up with the 96 percent rate for finding no pesticide residues.

“’Every sample we took, we found pesticides,’” Moran told the Post-Intelligencer. “We’re just trying to put out the entire picture of all the data we looked at,'” she said.

“This is not the way most scientists would present that data,” says Philip Dickey, a staff scientist with Washington Toxics. The way the state is presenting the first year results of the study in its press release is simply not accurate, says Dickey.

The environmental group is taking issue with the press release that characterizes the results of the report, but not with the report itself.

Not surprisingly, the state’s press release reported that 2,4-D (2,4-dichlorophenoxyacetic acid), a heavily politicized chemical currently under review by the EPA and listed as one of the most common herbicides used in lawns and gardens, golf courses, ball fields, parks, and commercial agriculture, was the one chemical found most often. (See Beyond Pesticides recent comments on 2,4-D. To get involved email Beyond Pesticides.)

The study also showed that five pesticides exceeded EPA drinking water guidelines and three exceeded chronic standards, reported the Post-Intelligencer.

Once the three-year baseline study is completed, the results will be used by state agencies to assess the need for monitoring and protection measures. The study is now midway through the second year of project.

For more information about the study results, visit the WSDA Website.

TAKE ACTION: The way data is portrayed to the public and policy makers can have a deciding effect on the way environmental and health protections from pesticide exposure are pursued. If you would like to comment on the state’s portrayal of the study results, contact the WSDA Director, Valoria H. Loveland, at Tel. (360) 902-1887 and Bridget Moran at Tel. (360) 902-1936, by mail at Washington State Department of Agriculture, P.O. Box 42560, Olympia, WA 98504-2506, or email at: poffice@agr.wa.gov.