Pesticides Hurt Endangered Salmon, Says Fisheries Agency

By Tiffany Stecker

Three commonly used pesticides are responsible for endangering dozens of vulnerable marine species, a recently released federal report finds.

The National Marine Fisheries Service sent the report, or “biological opinion,” to the Environmental Protection Agency after backtracking on a request to delay it by two years. The legal organization Earthjustice released the report Jan. 9.

The EPA, the agency that licenses and regulates pesticide use, must now put protective measures in place within one year, Patti Goldman, an attorney for Earthjustice in Seattle who represented the Northwest Center for Alternatives to Pesticides in the litigation, told Bloomberg Environment.

Justice Department attorneys representing the fisheries agency withdrew the motion for a delay after sending the final biological opinion two days before a court-ordered Dec. 31, 2017, deadline. The agency told the court in November that it would need until 2019 to complete an evaluation of the pesticides’ effects on threatened and endangered salmon due to the complexity of the task.

Yet the agency was able to complete the biological opinion without needing those two extra years, making the November request moot. The Northwest Center for Alternatives to Pesticides, which has pushed the federal government to release the report, applauded the move.

“The federal government had to take a step back. They really didn’t have a case here,” Sharon Selvaggio, water and wildlife program director with the center, told Bloomberg Environment.

The 3,400-page opinion, a step in the process of establishing protection to rare species under the Endangered Species Act, found that three common pesticides—chlorpyrifos, malathion, and diazinon—are likely to jeopardize the survival and recovery of 38 threatened or endangered salmon and orca whales and negatively affect 37 critical habitats.

Chlorpyrifos, the most common of the three pesticides, was developed by Dow Agrosciences, which merged with Dupont last summer to become DowDupont Inc.

CropLife America, the trade association representing the agricultural pesticide industry, said in a statement that the organization is reviewing the biological opinion. CropLife has argued in court in favor of the two-year extension.

The document “has the potential to create exaggerated and unfounded concerns regarding threatened and endangered species and have a negative impact on farmers, as well as public health protection,” CropLife spokeswoman Genevieve O’Sullivan said in the statement.

38 Rare Marine Species at Risk

Specifically, the report finds that chlorpyrifos and malathion are likely to jeopardize the continued existence of 38 of the 77 species listed under the act and adversely affect 37 of the 50 designated critical habitats. Diazinon, a less-used pesticide, affects 25 of the 77 listed species and negatively modifies 18 of the 50 designated critical habitats.

There is some flexibility in how the EPA can impose protections, Goldman said. “What isn’t flexible is allowing these pesticides to be used in a way that can wipe out endangered salmon and orca whales.”

The three pesticides kill bugs by overstimulating their nervous systems. Millions of pounds of the three are sprayed in fields each year, and their common chemistry—dating back to the 1950s and 1960s—has detrimental effects for human health and the environment.

The EPA denied a petition last year to restrict agricultural uses of chlorpyrifos, which has been linked to neurodevelopmental delays, rejecting a proposal from the Obama administration to do so.

The case is Northwest Ctr. for Alternatives to Pesticides v. NMFS,, W.D. Wash., No. 07-cv-01791, 12/29/17.