Pesticide Danger to Salmon Real, Coalition Saysby Lisa Stiffler
Pesticides at levels that could harm salmon taint Northwest waterways, and government agencies are doing little to address the problem, according to a study released yesterday by environmental groups.
The Washington Toxics Coalition says 16 pesticides were detected at concentrations that can damage aquatic life in major watersheds in Washington, Oregon, Idaho and California. The samples were collected by the U.S. Geological Survey over the last decade.
U.S. Environmental Protection Agency records indicate that 36 different pesticides applied at legal levels can hurt salmon, the report said.
"Pesticides are poisoning our rivers," said Erika Schreder, a staff scientist at the Toxics Coalition.
But few of the waterways tested had highly elevated pesticide levels, countered Heather Hansen, executive director of Olympia's Washington Friends of Farms and Forests, which represents pesticide applicators and farmers. She said the actual levels would likely only cause problems for small aquatic insects.
In recent years, there has been mounting evidence that pesticides at non-lethal levels can hurt salmon. The chemicals can damage their sense of smell, which is needed to detect predators, find their home stream for spawning and sniff out food.
The coalition, along with three other groups, sued the EPA in U.S. District Court in Seattle in January 2001 alleging that the agency failed to protect endangered salmon. The groups are demanding that the EPA figure out what pesticides are harming fish, and at what levels. Until then, they want immediate steps taken to reduce pesticide exposure.
Settlement negotiations in the case ended unsuccessfully Monday. The environmental groups now will ask for a court order to force the EPA to take action.
EPA officials say they are working on the pesticide issue. The EPA is part of a task force of state and federal agencies working to test all 755 pesticides registered for use in the state and scoring them for how hazardous they are to salmon.
The task force is trying to determine how big the threat is, said Cindy Moore, an EPA representative on the task force. "There is a lot of speculation going on both sides. We need the data and the proof either way."
Pesticides Disrupt How Salmon Smell by Lisa Stiffler, Seattle Post-Intelligencer, 8/1/00
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