For Immediate Release

Organization Profile: 

Brett Hartl, (202) 817-8121,

EPA Approves Dangerous Water Quality Standard for Cadmium

Endangered Salmon, Sturgeon, Sea Turtles, Corals, Freshwater Animals Will Continue to Be Harmed After EPA Ignores Comments From Experts

WASHINGTON - The Environmental Protection Agency today finalized a new, nationwide water-quality criterion for cadmium that is nearly 40 percent higher than the standard the National Marine Fisheries Service concluded would be safe for endangered salmon in Idaho. Used in the manufacturing of batteries, plastics and electronics, cadmium is toxic to people and wildlife and regulated under the Clean Water Act. But despite the recommendation from the Fisheries Service that the EPA consult with it, as required by the Endangered Species Act, the EPA refused. 

“It is beyond disappointing that the EPA continues to turn a blind eye to our nation’s most endangered species,” said Brett Hartl, endangered species policy director at the Center for Biological Diversity. “Freshwater animals like sturgeon, crayfish and mussels are some of the fastest-declining species in the United States in large part because toxic metals like cadmium continue to be poorly regulated by the EPA.”

The new acute water quality criteria of 1.8 micrograms/liter is nearly 40 percent higher than the standard of 1.3 micrograms/liter, which the National Marine Fisheries Service concluded would be safe for endangered salmon in Idaho.  Although naturally occurring in extremely low levels, cadmium is a known human carcinogen and is acutely toxic. Chronic exposure to cadmium causes negative impacts on reproduction, immune and endocrine system response, and development for aquatic species. 

Despite the Endangered Species Act requirement that the EPA consult with the expert wildlife agencies on any action they take that could harm endangered species, the EPA failed to do so. As a result, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service did not even submit comments to EPA on the proposed cadmium standard, leaving the fate of more than 200 species of endangered fish and mussels completely unaccounted for in EPA’s decision-making. The National Marine Fisheries Service provided detailed comments noting that the impacts from cadmium on sea turtles and corals had not been assessed leaving these animals vulnerable. The Fisheries Service also noted that EPA’s 30-year-old protocols for assessing ecological impacts was completely out of date.

“The EPA needs to stop its head-in-the-sand approach to toxic pollutants, and instead start listening to the best scientific experts about the real-world impacts of these harmful chemicals on endangered species,” said Hartl. “If EPA had set a standard that protected the most sensitive endangered species, it would have also set a standard that fully protects our own health and well-being.” 


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