The U.S. Supreme Court has turned aside an effort by the pesticide industry to overturn lower court rulings putting in place no-spray buffer zones near western salmon streams and consumer warnings on certain toxic pesticides. As a result of this action, no-spray buffers to keep the most toxic pesticides out of salmon streams will stay in place, and consumers will be warned that some pesticides pose a hazard to salmon.
CropLife America, a pesticide-industry trade group, had petitioned the Supreme Court to review the injunction imposing the buffers and consumer warnings. The court’s refusal to hear the case means that the buffers and consumer warnings will stay in place until the Environmental Protection Agency establishes permanent, pesticide-specific measures to protect salmon.
“Salmon can swim easier now that the pesticide industry has run out of avenues to eliminate the buffers designed to protect salmon from toxic pesticides,” said Patti Goldman, the Earthjustice attorney who argued the case for Pacific Coast Federation of Fishermen’s Associations, Washington Toxics Coalition, and Northwest Coalition for Alternatives to Pesticides.
Government data have shown that pesticides wind up in salmon-bearing waters in urban as well as rural areas at harmful levels. The federal Environmental Protection Agency, which is charged with regulating pesticides, had taken no steps before the initial lawsuit to ensure that the pesticide uses it authorized would avoid harming or even leading to the extinction of imperiled salmon.
“The pesticide industry has fought so hard to ensure that salmon and other endangered species are not protected from pesticides that it has gone all the way to the Supreme Court,” said Erika Schreder, staff scientist with the Washington Toxics Coalition. “Now that the court has rebuffed the industry, it will have to face the fact that we urgently need to get pesticides out of salmon streams.”
The U.S. District Court in Seattle originally issued the January 2004 injunction that put in place no-spray zones of 100 yards for aerial applications and 20 yards for ground applications of more than 30 pesticides. The district court’s injunction also required in-store warnings to inform consumers that seven urban-use pesticides may harm salmon. The injunction followed Judge Coughenour’s 2002 decision that found EPA out of compliance with the Endangered Species Act for failing to protect salmon from harmful pesticides. The judge ordered EPA to consult with NOAA Fisheries to establish permanent restrictions needed to protect salmon from 54 pesticides, with EPA to initiate consultations over a two-and-a-half year timeline.
“Consumer warning signs for seven pesticides must be posted in stores from southern California to northern Washington. “Because of these signs, people can make the right choice for salmon survival,” said Aimee Code, water quality coordinator for the Northwest Coalition for Alternatives to Pesticides. “For years the federal government has ignored the harmful effects of lawn and garden chemicals. These signs are a promising first step.”
“There is no ‘right’ to pollute rivers, kill fish, and destroy public resources our people depend on for their livelihoods,” said Glen Spain of Pacific Coast Federation of Fishermen’s Associations, a commercial fishing industry group. “Most of these chemicals are not supposed to be used near water to begin with, but they are nevertheless showing up in our rivers where they can kill valuable fisheries. Reasonable buffer zones to keep these poisons out of our rivers only make sense.”
University and government scientists have found that, even at low levels, pesticides can impair swimming ability, growth, development, behavior, and reproduction, as well as cause abnormal sexual development.