SAN FRANCISCO— The Center for Biological Diversity reached a settlement today requiring the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to analyze the impacts of five common pesticides on endangered wildlife across the nation. The pesticides up for review — carbaryl, chlorpyrifos, diazinon, malathion and methomyl — have all been found to be toxic to wildlife and may pose a health risk to humans.
“We don’t think these chemicals should even be in use, but at the very least, measures to protect endangered wildlife should have been put in place when these chemicals were first approved,” said Collette Adkins Giese, an attorney at the Center. “We hope the analysis required by this agreement will finally reduce the use of toxic pesticides in the habitats of our country’s most vulnerable wildlife.”
Under the Federal Insecticide, Fungicide, and Rodenticide Act, the EPA is authorized to approve pesticides for commercial use. But the agency routinely fails to follow through on a critical part of that process: consulting with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to ensure the pesticides will not jeopardize endangered species.
The Center previously sued the EPA for failing to consult over the impacts of these and other pesticides on endangered California red-legged frogs; it obtained an injunction in 2006 imposing restrictions on pesticide use until the consultation was completed. To date those consultations have not been completed. In 2013 the Center again sued, seeking completion of consultation. In today’s settlement the Fish and Wildlife Service resolved that litigation by agreeing to complete consultation and produce the required “biological opinions” in less than five years. As part of the agreement the agency will consider the pesticides’ impacts not only on red-legged frogs but on all endangered species across the country. The analysis is likely to lead to permanent restrictions on some of the most harmful uses of these highly toxic pesticides.
“Governmental agencies have a legal and moral duty to ensure that harmful chemicals aren’t sprayed in the same places where vulnerable wild animals are trying to survive,” said Adkins Giese. “Pesticides found in endangered species habitat can also contaminate our drinking water, food, homes and schools, where they pose a disturbing health risk.”
More than a billion pounds of pesticides are used annually in the United States. But for most of the 18,000 different pesticides approved for use by the EPA, governmental agencies have not evaluated impacts on wildlife as required by the Endangered Species Act.
The Endangered Species Act requires the EPA to consult with federal wildlife agencies to ensure that the agency avoids authorizing pesticide uses that jeopardize endangered species. If the Fish and Wildlife Service determines EPA registration of a pesticide is likely to harm protected species, it may specify use restrictions to avoid adverse effects. For particularly harmful pesticides, the EPA or registrant may choose to take the product off the market. Conservation groups, including the Center, have filed a series of lawsuits attempting to force such consultations, which have resulted in restrictions on pesticide use near endangered species habitats.
Earlier this year, the Center and Pesticide Action Network filed a second amended complaint in their ongoing efforts to protect the nation’s most vulnerable wildlife from toxic pesticides. The lawsuit seeks to compel the EPA to evaluate the impacts of dozens of pesticides known to be toxic to more than 100 endangered and threatened species, including Florida panthers, California condors, piping plovers, black-footed ferrets, arroyo toads, Indiana bats and Alabama sturgeon. Documents from the Fish and Wildlife Service and EPA, as well as peer-reviewed scientific studies, indicate that these species are harmed by the pesticides. A federal court in California hears oral argument in that case on Friday.