Federal Government Announces Plan to Protect Salmon from Pesticides

For Immediate Release

Earthjustice
Contact: 

Joshua Osborne-Klein, Earthjustice, (206) 343-7340, ext. 28
Glen Spain, PCFFA, (541) 689-2000
Aimee Code, NW Coalition for Alternatives to Pesticides, (541) 344-5044, ext. 27

Federal Government Announces Plan to Protect Salmon from Pesticides

SEATTLE - Today, the National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS) released a biological opinion
that sets forth a plan for protecting Pacific salmon and steelhead from
three toxic organophosphate pesticides. The decision comes after almost
a decade of legal wrangling between salmon advocates and the federal
government. 

In the biological opinion, federal wildlife scientists
comprehensively reviewed the science regarding the impacts of
pesticides on salmon and ultimately concluded that current uses of the
insecticides chlorpyrifos, diazinon, and malathion jeopardize the
existence of these imperiled fish. The biological opinion prescribes
measures necessary to keep these pesticides out of water and to protect
salmon populations in Washington, Oregon, California, and Idaho.

The new mitigation measures must be implemented within one year. They include:

  • Prohibiting aerial applications of the three pesticides within 1,000 feet of salmon waters
  • Prohibiting ground applications of the three pesticides within 500 feet of salmon waters
  • Requiring a 20 foot non-crop vegetative buffer around salmon waters and ditches that drain into salmon habitat
  • Prohibiting applications of the three pesticides when wind speeds are greater than or equal to 10 mph

"Keeping these pesticides out of the water is a major step toward
protecting our salmon stocks and revitalizing the fishing industry,
which can generate hundreds of million of dollars in the region," said
Glen Spain of the Pacific Coast Federation of Fishermen's Associations
(PCFFA).

The three pesticides at issue in the biological opinion are known to
contaminate rivers and streams throughout California and the Pacific
Northwest and poison salmon and steelhead (see background below).

"The federal government has a duty to protect imperiled salmon from
these deadly pesticides," said Joshua Osborne-Klein, an attorney for
Earthjustice, the environmental law firm that represented the salmon
advocates. "We are very pleased that the government has finally taken
these steps to protect salmon, the icon of the Pacific Northwest's
natural heritage."

In addition to jeopardizing salmon, these pesticides pose serious
risks to public heath - especially the health of young children. A
number of recent studies have linked prenatal exposure to
organophosphate insecticides with behavioral problems including
attention deficit/hyperactivity disorder. A 2006 study published in
Pediatrics, compared the risks of chlorpyrifos to prenatal cocaine
exposure.

"This decision will have a lasting impact that benefits our
grandchildren. Their rivers will provide cleaner drinking water, be
safer for swimming and more habitable for thriving runs of salmon,"
said Aimee Code, the Water Quality Coordinator at the Northwest
Coalition for Alternatives to Pesticides.

Legal Background

In 2002, Pacific Coast Federation of Fishermen's Associations
(PCFFA), the Northwest Coalition for Alternatives to Pesticides, and
other salmon advocates, with legal representation from Earthjustice,
obtained a federal court order declaring that the U.S. Environmental
Protection Agency had violated the Endangered Species Act 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. The biological opinion released today is the first of several
decisions that will be released over the next three-and-a-half years
and will assess a total of 37 pesticides.

Scientific Background

The National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS) determined that
accepted uses of chlorpyrifos, diazinon and malathion are likely to
jeopardize the continued existence of 27 species of endangered or
threatened salmon and steelhead. NMFS's biological opinion of the three
pesticides, released today, stated that current uses were likely
reducing the number of salmon returning to spawn (BiOp at 292). These
three pesticides are all organophosphates (a class of neurotoxic
chemicals). They are used in both agricultural and/or urban insect
control. Recent research has found that in combination they can have
"synergistic effects" on salmon. In other words, the effect of
organophosphate mixtures is greater than the effect of each of the
chemicals' effects when added together. These chemicals are often found
together.  

Chlorpyrifos

  • Contaminates rivers throughout the west at levels harmful to fish
    or their food sources according to the U.S. Geological Survey. The
    basins where chlorpyrifos was detected at harmful levels include the
    Willamette, San Joaquin, Tulare, and the Central Columbia Basin.
  • Is "very highly toxic" to fish (according to U.S. EPA's toxicity classification system). (BiOp at 269)
  • Impairs fish reproduction by reducing egg production in fish. (BiOp at 270)
  • Inhibits juvenile coho salmon feeding behavior and swimming speed. (BiOp at 281-822)
  • Harms the survival and reproduction of salmon food sources. (BiOp at 271-72)

Diazinon

  • Contaminates rivers throughout the west at levels harmful to fish
    or their food sources according to the U.S. Geological Survey. The
    basins where diazinon was detected at harmful levels include the
    Willamette, San Joaquin, Tulare, the Central Columbia Basin and Puget
    Sound. It was also detected in King County, Washington streams.
  • Impairs feeding, predator avoidance, spawning, homing and
    migration capabilities by impeding salmon sense of smell. (BiOp at 275)
  • Leads to weakened swimming activity in juvenile trout. (BiOp at 282-83)
  • Is acutely toxic to salmon food sources. (BiOp at 275-76)

Malathion

  • Contaminates rivers throughout the west at levels harmful to fish
    or their food sources according to the U.S. Geological Survey. The
    basins where malathion was detected at harmful levels include the
    Willamette, San Joaquin, Tulare, and the Central Columbia Basin. It was
    also detected in King County, Washington streams.
  • Leads to weakened swimming activity in juvenile trout. (BiOp at 282-83)

Read the biological opinion (PDF)

 

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