The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) will soon move to restrict use of three deadly pesticides after the manufacturers refused to do so voluntarily. EPA earlier asked the makers of the pesticides diazinon, malathion, and chlorpyrifos, to voluntarily adopt necessary measures to protect Pacific salmon and steelhead. EPA made the request for voluntary restrictions 18 months after the National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS) concluded that use of these three organophosphate pesticides would jeopardize the continued existence of 27 species of Pacific salmon and steelhead and destroy or adversely modify the critical habitat for 25 of those species.
Higher concentrations of these pesticides can directly kill salmon and their prey. Even at very low levels, the chemicals have been found by federal biologists to interfere with salmon reproduction, growth, and sense of smell, making it harder for them to find food, avoid predators and return to native waters to spawn.
The EPA action stems from a lawsuit originally filed by conservation groups represented by Earthjustice in 2001.
"We are encouraged that EPA is finally getting serious about implementing these protections and hope the government moves quickly to ensure that pesticides are removed from Northwest salmon waters," said Earthjustice attorney Steve Mashuda.
In response to an Earthjustice lawsuit the fishery experts at NMFS evaluated these pesticides and determined that no-spray buffer zones next to streams and vegetated strips to catch pesticide-laden runoff from fields are needed to protect salmon. NMFS required that these and other measures be implemented within one year. NMFS handed off implementation of the pesticide restrictions to EPA, the agency charged with regulating pesticides 18 months ago.
Although EPA proposed to enforce only some of the protective measures, conservation groups and fishermen cautiously welcomed EPA's announcement as a necessary step in the right direction.
"If EPA can fill the gaps in its proposed protections, we stand on the brink of keeping three extremely dangerous pesticides out of our rivers and streams," said Aimee Code Water Quality Coordinator at the Northwest Coalition for Alternatives to Pesticides. "If the government holds strong, it could create a legacy of clean water."
"We need EPA to take a strong stand to get our fish and fish-dependent economies back on track," said Glen Spain of the Pacific Coast Federation of Fishermen's Associations.
Several months before EPA's announcement, the chemical industry asked EPA to further delay implementation of any protective measures. The industry asked EPA to establish new rules that would grant the industry special rights, including advance notice of any proposed changes and veto power over EPA's decisions if "any potentially affected registrant cannot reach agreement with EPA" to implement the restrictions voluntarily. Conservationists and fishermen are hoping that EPA will reject the industry's efforts to further delay this already-overdue process.
The first Pacific salmon and steelhead populations were listed as threatened under the Endangered Species Act in 1989.
EPA has also told NMFS that it is going ahead with implementing restrictions on the next set of pesticides found to harm salmon: carbaryl, carbofuran, and methomyl.