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Judge Restricts Use of Pesticides on West Coast

by Gene Johnson, Associated Press
Seattle Post-Intelligencer - January 22, 2004

SEATTLE -- A federal judge on Thursday restricted the use of 38 pesticides near salmon streams in Washington, Oregon and California, a ruling environmentalists hailed as an important step toward the recovery of salmon and steelhead in the West.

Expanding upon two previous rulings, U.S. District Judge John C. Coughenour barred the use of the pesticides - ranging from agricultural sprays to some household weed-killers - within 20 yards of the waters until the Environmental Protection Agency determines whether they are likely to harm protected fish. He also banned aerial spraying of the pesticides, except for public health reasons such as controlling mosquitoes, within 100 yards.

"This ruling gives salmon a much-needed break from the toxic soup of pesticides they've been facing," said Erika Schreder, staff scientist with the Washington Toxics Coalition.

The coalition joined three other fishing and environmental groups in suing the EPA in 2001, saying the agency failed to follow Endangered Species Act requirements to assess the risks that as many as 54 pesticides pose to salmon.

The plaintiffs cited National Marine Fisheries Service studies and other reports that even very low levels of pesticides can have subtle but damaging impacts on salmon.

Coughenour found in 2002 that the EPA had violated the Endangered Species Act, and last summer indicated he would impose the buffer zones after the fall crop-growing season. He applied the restrictions to 38 pesticides, including diazinon, saying the EPA had determined the others posed little risk.

The judge also said that within two months, seven pesticides sold in urban areas must carry warning labels that they may be harmful to salmon.

The pesticide industry group CropLife America, which intervened in the lawsuit on behalf of the EPA, called the buffer zones unnecessary.

"The court's final order is devastating to agriculture and pest control in the Pacific Northwest," the group said in a written statement. "These severe restrictions on agriculture, small-business and consumer use of pest control products hurt farmers, foresters, homeowners and retailers in Washington, Oregon and Northern California.

"While plaintiffs in the case will claim victory, it is important that consumers know the lawsuit, which resulted in the final order, deals with an administrative process for reviewing registrations for pesticides, not their safety."

It was unclear how much practical effect the injunction would have. Washington and Oregon already have some buffer zones, but their width varies. California has voluntary buffer zones ranging from 20 yards to 1 mile.

"The buffers are considered a best management practice for growers, but that doesn't mean the growers use them. We still find pesticides in our streams," said Schreder, who suggested that farmers use different pesticides or nonchemical alternatives.

The EPA will be responsible for enforcing the buffer zones.

An EPA study in December 2002 found the buffers would have "minimal economic impact to growers" because many fields are farther than that from salmon streams. The study determined that California rice growers likely stood to suffer the worst loss - about $3.5 million - because they rely more heavily on aerial spraying and can't treat fields manually because they're flooded.

In all, the study suggested, the buffers would probably trigger crop losses in the three states totalling about $4.8 million.

An EPA spokesman in Seattle referred inquiries to agency headquarters in Washington, D.C., which also was closed for the day.

Gene Johnson, Associated Press
Judge Restricts Use of Pesticides on West Coast
Seattle Post-Intelligencer, January 22, 2004

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