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Pesticides Approved Illegally, Judge Says

Ecology: EPA failed to consult Fisheries Service about the effect of chemicals on threatened and endangered salmon.

July 04, 2002|From Associated Press

GRANTS PASS, Ore. — A federal judge ruled Wednesday that the government violated the Endangered Species Act by not setting guidelines for pesticides that could harm threatened and endangered salmon.

Judge John Coughenour said the Environmental Protection Agency had failed to consult the National Marine Fisheries Service, beginning in 1989, over the potential harm to fish from 55 commonly used pesticides.

The Fisheries Service oversees salmon recovery, and "such consultation is mandatory," the judge wrote.

The ruling could force the EPA to eventually withdraw approval of some pesticides or require stricter rules for their use near water. It follows a lawsuit by anti-pesticide and commercial fishing groups.

EPA spokesman Mark MacIntyre said the agency had not reviewed the ruling and could not comment on it.

Fisheries Service scientists have found that levels of pesticide between 1 part per billion and 1 part per 10 billion, commonly found in salmon streams around the West, can harm the nervous systems of salmon--particularly their sense of smell. Small amounts of pesticides can also affect reproduction.

"There are very few restrictions on using pesticides near water," said Erika Schreder of the Washington Toxics Coalition, one of the plaintiffs. "It is no surprise we see pesticides in our water practically whenever we look for them."

The pesticides at issue are applied to everything from farm fields to suburban lawns.

Glen Spain of the Pacific Coast Federation of Fishermen's Assns., another plaintiff, said the ruling could help restore wild salmon that, before starting a precipitous decline in the 1980s, supported a $1.25-billion fishing industry and 60,000 jobs.

But Heather Hansen of Washington Friends of Farms and Forests, which intervened in the suit on the side of the EPA, said it is too early to say what the ruling might mean for farmers and homeowners.

"The whole point of doing consultation is to look at all the data you have, figure out if there is a problem, what the problem is, and what to do about it," she said. "We don't know yet how any of those steps in the consultation process for each product will come out."

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