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Pesticide Peril to NW Salmon Alleged in Suit

by Hal Bernton
The Seattle Times, January 31, 2001

Environmentalists and a fishermen's group, in a lawsuit filed yesterday in U.S. District Court in Seattle, allege that federal government pesticide regulation falls short of safeguarding threatened and endangered Northwest salmon.

The suit seeks to force the Environmental Protection Agency to conduct a more thorough review of pesticides that might harm salmon, and put new restrictions on pesticide use until that review is complete.

"We are determined to hold the EPA's feet to the fire until the agency does what it takes to protect salmon from pesticides," said Erika Schreder of the Washington Toxics Coalition, a plaintiff in the lawsuit filed under the federal Endangered Species Act.

Pesticides are widely deployed throughout the Northwest by farmers, homeowners, government agencies and other groups to fight bugs, weeds and plant disease.

U.S. Geological Survey studies have detected low levels of pesticides in many of the major river systems of the Northwest, and recent studies by the National Marine Fisheries Service indicate that trace amounts of one commonly used insecticide - diazinon - can affect the salmon's nervous systems in levels as low as one to 10 parts per billion.

Under the Endangered Species Act, the EPA is supposed to consult with the Fisheries Service about pesticides' risks to 24 salmon and steelhead runs, and then determine what - if any - changes might be required. The lawsuit alleges that the EPA has failed to fulfill those legal obligations.

The plaintiffs earlier filed a notice of intent to sue and tried to negotiate a settlement. EPA spokesman Phil Millam said the agency could not reach an agreement on what interim measures were needed to protect salmon. He said the scope of the work the lawsuit represents is huge, involving hundreds of individual and potentially untold numbers of combinations of pesticides.

State Department of Agriculture officials also are working to determine what, if any, additional pesticide restrictions should be imposed at the state level to protect salmon. That review has been under way for several months and could lead to some new pesticide restrictions.

"We're doing a targeted approach to try to determine what pesticides are the problems," said Lee Faulconer, an Agriculture Department official.

But if the plaintiffs succeed in their lawsuit, state efforts to protect salmon from pesticides could end up being supplanted by a federal court order. That's a scenario state officials want to avoid, according to Faulconer.

The new lawsuit will be closely monitored by the state agricultural industry. Industry officials say they want to make sure the best science is used in regulating pesticides, and that they are not hit by broad-brush restrictions that might later prove unnecessary.

Farmers want to do the right thing, but are already reeling from low crop prices and regulations prohibiting some common pesticides, said Heather Hansen of Washington Friends of Forests and Farms.

Fishermen also have been hurt by declining salmon runs, and one Northwest group - the Pacific Coast Federation of Fishermen's Associations Inc. - joined in the lawsuit. The Northwest Coalition for Alternatives to Pesticides, Institute For Fisheries Resources and the Earth Justice Legal Defense Fund also are involved in the lawsuit.

Hal Bernton
Pesticide Peril to NW Salmon Alleged in Suit
The Seattle Times, January 31, 2001

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