coho salmon

A coho salmon jumps over a dam on the Issaquah Creek in Washington state in this undated photo.

(Photo: Kevin Schafer/Getty Images)

Tribes to EPA: Ban Fish-Killing Tire Chemical 6PPD

"If EPA truly cares about protecting the environment and the tribe's treaty rights, not just industry's pocketbooks, it will act now," said one tribe's environmental scientist.

Three Western Indigenous tribes on Tuesday petitioned the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency seeking a ban on a toxic chemical used in the manufacture of tires that poses a deadly risk to fish—including species listed as endangered or threatened—when it breaks down.

Acting on behalf of the Yurok Tribe of northern California and the Port Gamble S'Klallam and Puyallup tribes from the Puget Sound region of Washington state, the legal advocacy group Earthjustice filed a petition asking Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) Administrator Michael Regan to invoke Section 21 of the Toxic Substances Control Act (TSCA) "to establish regulations prohibiting the manufacturing, processing, use, and distribution of N-(1,3-Dimethylbutyl)-N'-phenyl-p-phenylenediamine (6PPD) for and in tires."

"Exposure to 6PPD-q can kill a coho salmon within hours, and the chemical... kills up to 100% of coho returning to spawn in urban streams."

Present in most if not all tires, 6PPD has been in use for over half a century. The highly reactive chemical breaks down into 6PPD-quinone (6PPD-q), which, according to Earthjustice, "is the second-most toxic chemical to aquatic species ever evaluated by EPA," behind the chemical warfare agent parathion.

"Exposure to 6PPD-q can kill a coho salmon within hours, and the chemical is responsible for 'urban runoff mortality syndrome,' which kills up to 100% of coho returning to spawn in urban streams," the petition notes. Numerous populations of coho salmon, steelhead trout, and Chinook salmon are listed as endangered or threatened with extinction under the Endangered Species Act.

The petition warns that the chemical byproduct "is present not only in stormwater runoff and urban watersheds at levels that can kill salmon, steelhead trout, and other aquatic organisms, but also in sediments and soils, road and household dust, and the urine of pregnant women, with emerging science pointing to toxicity in mammals and therefore potential risk to human health as well."

"There is no known safe level of 6PPD in tires, and no warning or label requirements will eliminate the unreasonable risk from the use of tires containing 6PPD because the formation and release of 6PPD-q is an intended, inherent, and foreseeable result of using 6PPD in tires," the petition stresses.

Josh Carter, the Port Gamble S'Klallam Tribe's environmental scientist, said in a statement that"to see 6PPD-q kill the salmon that are reared in the Port Gamble S'Klallam Tribe's own streams and from its own hatchery is an unconscionable slap in the face to a people who rely on salmon for their well-being, in addition to being a gross violation of the tribe's rights as enshrined in the 1855 Treaty of Point No Point."

"If EPA truly cares about protecting the environment and the tribe's treaty rights, not just industry's pocketbooks, it will act now," Carter added.

The Puyallup Tribal Council asserted:

Since time immemorial the Puyallup Tribe has fished and protected the water that flows through our homelands. We have witnessed first-hand the devastation to the salmon species we have always relied upon to nourish our people. We have watched as the species have declined to the point of almost certain extinction if nothing is done to protect them.

We have suffered years of reduced fishing, now only seeing hours of fishing where there used to be months of fishing. The discovery that 6PPD is killing the fish in these waters could be exactly what saves salmon for us and all of the country. That is why we have joined this petition to act upon the knowledge we now have, to save and protect our fish and other species impacted by this toxic chemical. We will always act to protect the fish, the water, and our lands.

Elizabeth Forsyth, the senior attorney at Earthjustice's Biodiversity Defense Program, noted that "tire companies have known for years that they need to move beyond 6PPD to find viable alternatives."

"EPA action is urgently needed to spur that change," she continued. "The extreme toxicity of this little-known chemical should be alarming to anyone who cares about our planet's biodiversity and waterways. It is time for the EPA to phase out this highly toxic chemical that is killing salmon."

As the Yurok Tribe prepares to hold its annual Salmon Festival later this month, the famed fair's namesake fish won't be on the menu this year. That's because tribal leaders say the Klamath River's salmon run is forecast to be one of the lowest ever recorded.

"In addition to not catching fish for the festival, we will not harvest any Klamath salmon this year to protect the fish population," Yurok Tribal Chair Joseph James said in a statement.

"During all but one of the last eight years, the tribe's extremely limited subsistence harvests also did not come close to satisfying the needs of the Yurok people," he added. "In many years, the subsistence quotas amounted to less than one fish per member of the tribe."

On a positive note, construction crews are hard at work dismantling four dams on the Klamath River in what the Yurok Tribe is calling "the largest salmon restoration project in world history."

"By the end of 2024, the Klamath will flow free for the first time in more than a century, and salmon will have access to approximately 400 miles of previously blocked salmon-spawning habitat," the tribe said.

The theme of this year's Salmon Festival—the 59th annual gathering—is "Celebrating Dam Removal and the Healing of the Klamath River."

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