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Environmentalists, Fishermen Sue Over Pesticides, Fish

by Jeff Barnard of the Associated Press
Seattle Times - January 31, 2001

The lawsuit seeks to force EPA action on chemicals used on lawns or farms

Environmentalists and commercial fishermen sued the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency on Tuesday, seeking to force the agency to protect salmon against minute amounts of pesticides commonly found in rivers.

New research has indicated that even tiny doses of pesticides are making it harder for salmon to survive.

The lawsuit filed in U.S. District Court in Seattle seeks to force the EPA to consult with the National Marine Fisheries Service, as required by the Environmental Protection Act, over less-than-lethal effects on salmon of a wide range of pesticides used on everything from lawns to farm fields.

With battles joined over the impacts of dams, logging, grazing, irrigation and fishing on salmon, the lawsuit represents a new front in efforts by salmon advocates to change business as usual in the West.

"EPA has more or less ignored the gathering evidence of long-term and behavioral impacts on salmon at dosages far below what they currently allow," said Glen Spain of the Pacific Coast Federation of Fishermen's Associations.

The group representing commercial salmon fishermen joined with the Northwest Coalition for Alternatives to Pesticides and the Washington Toxics Coalition to bring the lawsuit.

Since 1994, the fisheries service has listed populations of salmon and steelhead stretching from Southern California to the Canadian border and stretching east into Idaho and Montana.

U.S. Geological Survey tests have found levels of pesticides in rivers throughout the West sufficient to cause problems with development, behavior and reproduction in salmon, the lawsuit said.

The EPA has been in negotiations over the issue with the plaintiffs, but the plaintiffs decided to bring the lawsuit to force quicker action, Spain said.

Phil Millam, an EPA spokesman, said that although negotiations could not produce agreement on interim measures to protect salmon against pesticides, there was little dispute over having to consult with the fisheries service.

However, the scope of the work the lawsuit represents is huge, involving hundreds of individual pesticides and potentially untold numbers of combinations of pesticides, he added.

The EPA generally tests the toxicity of pesticides on fish by gradually increasing the concentration in water until a fish dies, then imposing a margin of safety to account for effects that aren't immediately lethal.

Farmers want to do the right thing, but they are reeling from depressed crop prices and regulatory actions pulling some common pesticides from use, said Heather Hansen of Washington Friends of Forests and Farms.

"We want to see more research," she said. However, further restrictions on pesticides could devastate agriculture in the state, she said.

Jeff Barnard of the Associated Press
Environmentalists, Fishermen Sue Over Pesticides, Fish
Seattle Times, January 31, 2001

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