the film
Commentaries and editorials

EPA Must Do More to Save Northwest Salmon

Guest Opinion by Norma Grier and Erika Schreder
Seattle Times - August 22, 2000

The pesticide industry is scared, and for good reason. The most recent indication comes from a recent opinion piece authored by Heather Hansen of the pesticide industry trade association known as the Washington Friends of Farms and Forests. The commentary was yet another futile attempt to ignore the ever-increasing evidence that pesticides harm salmon.

But industry can't ignore the evidence any longer. We know that more and more individuals, schools, farmers, and government agencies are halting their use of pesticides in order to protect salmon and human health. And we know that the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) is now being forced by Endangered Species Act requirements to examine how to restrict pesticide use to protect salmon.

These developments can lead in only one direction: less profit for the pesticide industry, safer communities for all of us and a fighting chance for salmon. That's why the industry has gone on the attack, in a failing effort to defend products that are hazardous to both people and fish.

Fortunately for the health of people and salmon runs, EPA has clear obligations under the law to make sure that pesticides aren't harming endangered species. The proposed lawsuit to be brought by the Northwest Coalition for Alternatives to Pesticides and the Washington Toxics Coalition will force the EPA to move forward and fulfill those obligations.

The National Marine Fisheries Service began listing salmon runs under the Endangered Species Act over nine years ago. During those nine years, one federal agency has notably shirked its duty to protect salmon: the EPA. With evidence mounting that pesticides - under EPA's purview - are a serious factor in salmon decline, EPA must make up for lost time and take swift action to restrict all pesticide uses that harm salmon.

In the near decade of EPA inaction, the science has accumulated showing that salmon survival is threatened by exposure to even low levels of pesticides. Researchers at the National Marine Fisheries Service will publish a striking new study next month that shows that the levels of pesticides currently found in Northwest streams have devastating consequences for salmon. The commonly used pesticide diazinon interferes with the alert system that protects juvenile chinook salmon from predators by blocking their sense of smell. Other research shows that when salmon are exposed to pesticides, the results include reduced ability to swim, lower reproductive abilities and destruction of salmon's food and habitat.

The EPA has a pivotal responsibility when it comes to pesticides and salmon. The Endangered Species Act requires that federal agencies ensure that their actions do not threaten listed species. Because EPA is the federal agency charged with pesticide regulation, that means that EPA has a legal obligation to protect listed species from pesticides.

Clearly, when it comes to salmon, EPA has fallen down on the job. To date, EPA has failed to take even the first step, which is to ask the National Marine Fisheries Service to examine whether pesticides are threatening salmon survival, and has not taken action to get pesticides out of salmon streams.

In fact, EPA requires only the most basic of tests for the effects of pesticides on fish. Problems like injuring salmon's sense of smell will never be found in the tests that EPA currently requires before pesticides are put on the market. Today, the challenge of salmon recovery calls each of us, including EPA, to a higher standard. To play its part in bringing salmon back, and to comply with its legal obligations, EPA must make more than a token effort to keep pesticides from hurting fish.

EPA, the salmon can't wait any longer. To comply with the Endangered Species Act, you must:

Pesticides are obviously not the only reason that salmon runs in our region are in rapid decline. But with the multiple obstacles that salmon face to complete their life cycle, it is unconscionable to let pesticides get in their way. Safer alternatives are available, and EPA must accept responsibility now for getting toxic pesticides out of our streams and away from salmon. The law is clear: EPA can no longer put industry profits ahead of salmon survival. We expect nothing less than strong and swift action to protect salmon from pesticides.

Erika Schreder is staff scientist with Washington Toxics Coalition in Seattle. The Toxics Coalition is a nonprofit organization dedicated to protecting public health by preventing pollution.
Norma Grier is the executive director of the Northwest Coalition for Alternatives to Pesticides in Eugene, Ore., a nonprofit organization that works to protect people and the environment.
EPA Must Do More to Save Northwest Salmon
Seattle Times Company, August 22, 2000

See what you can learn

learn more on topics covered in the film
see the video
read the script
learn the songs
discussion forum
salmon animation