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Protecting Rivers Only Makes Sense

by Glen Spain, Guest comment
Capital Press, September 12, 2008

In response to the recent guest column by Jay Vroom of CropLife America (Capital Press, Aug. 22), we are glad Mr. Vroom believes, as we do, that efforts to prevent the exposure of threatened and endangered salmon runs to pesticides and other chemicals should be based on the best available science.

He should therefore welcome the National Marine Fisheries Service's recent draft biological opinion on the impacts of the chemicals chloripyrifos, diazinon and malathion on salmon, because that review is in fact based on the best available science. On that basis NMFS concluded that these three pesticides are causing problems in our rivers for endangered and threatened salmon and should be kept out of our rivers.

This is only common sense. Fortunately, there are easy and inexpensive ways to do so, including readily available alternatives to these chemicals that are less toxic to fish. The agencies also owe it to the farming community to provide the best possible guidance to them so they can effectively do what they want to do anyway - keep useful but toxic chemicals out of our public water supplies and out of our food chain.

While Mr. Vroom dismisses "NMFS science" and praises EPA's science, he should realize that not only are the agencies using essentially the same science, but that EPA has already made its own independent decision - based on the same science he touts, including dozens of studies going back decades - that these very chemicals may harm endangered salmon. When that threshold was reached, more formal consultations with NMFS were simply the next step. Working out clear ways to minimize or prevent these problems will soon follow.

And the impacts of these three chemicals affecting endangered salmon runs are not speculative, as some have claimed. They are very real - as well as pervasive.

In several studies the U.S. Geological Service has found concentrations of these and many other commonly used pesticides in numerous salmon-bearing public water ways at levels that exceed EPA's own aquatic life standards.

A small part of these many studies can be found at

Right now, the farming community is faced with a bewildering tangle of injunctions, mandatory buffers and pesticide use labels that are so confusing and vague as to be nearly useless in keeping these chemicals out of our waterways. CropLife should welcome the upcoming NMFS biological opinions as a way to bring some order to the current chaos.

The end result of these consultations will be much clearer guidelines for farmers on how to keep these chemicals out of our rivers. This is only fair. Right now the burden of liability rests far too much on the shoulders of farmers. It should rightfully rest with the manufacturers and government agencies that should be giving farmers the clearest possible guidance on how to use these chemicals safely and effectively, as well as how to keep them from harming the nation's valuable salmon runs.

Farmers and fishermen both provide high-quality food for public consumption. The only real difference is that fishermen harvest from our oceans, while farmers harvest from the land. It just makes no sense to continue practices that allow one harvester sector to pollute the resources used by another - especially when all these problems are easily preventable.

There are many factors depressing salmon production. Every effort is being made to control those impacts that we can control in order to restore our valuable salmon runs, which in recent decades have seriously declined. There is just no point in adding preventable water pollution from farm chemicals to that long list - especially when cheaper, as well as less toxic, alternatives to these suspect chemicals already exist. Preventing these readily preventable problems is all these EPA-NMFS consultations seek to do.

Glen Spain is the Northwest regional director of the Pacific Coast Federation of Fishermen's Associations, the West Coast's largest trade association of commercial fishing families. PCFFA is a co-plaintiff in the various lawsuits requiring EPA to consult with NMFS to prevent impacts of EPA-registered pesticides on endangered and threatened salmon.
Protecting Rivers Only Makes Sense
Capital Press, September 12, 2008

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