Landmark Lawsuit Filed to Protect Hundreds of Rare Species From Pesticides

Contacts:
Jeff Miller, Center for Biological Diversity, (510) 499-9185
Heather Pilatic, Pesticide Action Network, (415) 694-8596

 

Thursday, January 20, 2011

Landmark Lawsuit Filed to Protect Hundreds of Rare Species From Pesticides

Suit Targets EPA’s Failure to Safeguard Species Around the Country in Its Oversight of More Than 300 Pesticides

SAN FRANCISCO The Center for Biological Diversity and Pesticide Action Network North America today filed the most comprehensive legal action ever brought under the Endangered Species Act to protect imperiled species from pesticides, suing the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency for its failure to consult with federal wildlife agencies regarding the impacts of hundreds of pesticides known to be harmful to more than 200 endangered and threatened species.

“For decades, the EPA has turned a blind eye to the disastrous effects pesticides can have on some of America’s rarest species,” said Jeff Miller, a conservation advocate with the Center. “This lawsuit is intended to force the EPA to follow the law and ensure that harmful chemicals are not sprayed in endangered species habitats.”

“Endangered species and biological diversity are strong indicators for the health of the natural-resource base on which we all depend. To the extent that we fail to protect that base we erode the possibility of prosperity for future generations,” said Dr. Heather Pilatic, codirector of PAN. “This suit thus presents a real opportunity for American agriculture: By enforcing the law and counting the real costs of pesticide use, we strengthen the case for supporting a transition toward more sustainable pest-control practices like crop rotations and beneficial insect release.”

The lawsuit seeks protection for 214 endangered and threatened species throughout the United States, including the Florida panther, California condor, piping plover, black-footed ferret, arroyo toad, Indiana bat, bonytail chub and Alabama sturgeon. Documents from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and EPA, as well as peer-reviewed scientific studies, indicate these species are harmed by the pesticides at issue. More than a billion pounds of pesticides are used annually in the United States, and the EPA has registered more than 18,000 different pesticides for use. Extensive scientific studies show widespread and pervasive pesticide contamination in groundwater, drinking water and wildlife habitats throughout the country.

Many EPA-approved pesticides are also linked to cancer and other severe health effects in humans. Some pesticides can act as endocrine disruptors, interfering with natural hormones, damaging reproductive function and offspring, and causing developmental, neurological and immune problems in wildlife and humans. Endocrine-disrupting pesticides cause sexual deformities such as intersex fish (with male and female parts) that cannot reproduce. Scientists believe that pesticides may also play a role in the recent colony collapse disorder, the disappearance of bees that are agriculturally important pollinators.

“The EPA authorizes pesticide uses that result in millions of pounds of toxins, including carcinogens and endocrine disruptors, entering our waterways each year, polluting our soil and poisoning our drinking water,” said Miller. “Common-sense restrictions on pesticide use that protect endangered species can also safeguard human health.”

View an interactive map of the species involved in the lawsuit, find out more about the Center’s Pesticides Reduction campaign, and read Pesticide Action Network information on the environmental impacts of persistent poisons.

Background

Pesticides are a significant threat to endangered species and biological diversity. We are now experiencing the worst wave of extinction of plants and animals since the loss of the dinosaurs 65 millions years ago, with species going extinct at 1,000 to 10,000 times the natural rate. The diversity of life that sustains ecological systems and human cultures around the world is collapsing. Beyond its intrinsic value, biodiversity, or ecosystem diversity and integrity, is necessary to human survival: It provides life support, including a livable climate, breathable air and drinkable water. Plant and animal diversity are building blocks for medicine and food-crop diversity, and pollinating insects and bats allow agriculture to support our populations and prevent food collapse from crop diseases.

Through pesticide drift and runoff, pesticides can travel far from the areas where they are applied and into sensitive wildlife habitats. Some contaminated waterways are regularly subjected to toxic pulses of combinations of pesticides deadly to fish and other life. Some of the pesticides in the lawsuit contribute to the loss of native fish populations, are a leading cause of the decline in native amphibians, and can result in significant bird kills. The Fish and Wildlife Service estimates that72 million birds are killed by pesticides in the United States each year.

The EPA is required by the Endangered Species Act to consult with the Fish and Wildlife Service and National Marine Fisheries Service regarding pesticides that may jeopardize listed species or harm their critical habitat. Formal consultations are intended to ensure that the EPA avoids pesticide uses that harm endangered species. After consultation, the federal wildlife agency issues a biological opinion that may specify reasonable and prudent restrictions and alternatives to avoid harm to species. Yet for decades the EPA has consistently failed to engage in required consultations to properly evaluate whether pesticides it registers are harmful to imperiled species. In 2004 the Center published Silent Spring Revisited: Pesticide Use and Endangered Species, detailing the EPA’s dismal record in protecting endangered species from pesticides.

An example of the EPA failure to protect people and the environment is the re-registration of the dangerous herbicide atrazine, a widespread pollutant of groundwater and drinking water in this country. Atrazine, which causes reproductive problems and chemically castrates male frogs at extremely low concentrations, has been banned in the European Union.Recent research links atrazine to cancer, birth defects and endocrine disruption in humans, as well as significant harm to wildlife.

A series of lawsuits by the Center and other conservation groups have forced the EPA to consult on the impacts of scores of pesticides on some endangered species, primarily in California, and resulted in temporary restrictions on pesticide use in sensitive habitats. In 2006 the EPA agreed to restrictions on 66 pesticides throughout California and began analyzing their effects on the threatened California red-legged frog. A 2010 settlement agreement requires evaluation of the effects of 75 pesticides on 11 San Francisco Bay Area endangered species. For all of these court-ordered evaluations, the EPA has concurred that nearly every pesticide at issue is “likely to adversely affect” the at-risk species identified by the Center. Today’s litigation is the first on this scale, as it seeks nationwide compliance for hundreds of pesticides on hundreds of species.

Pesticide Action Network campaigns and action network linking local and international consumer, labor, health, environmental and agriculture groups have resulted in bans on some of the most deadly pesticides and protections from toxic exposure for communities and farmworkers.

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The Center for Biological Diversity is a national, nonprofit conservation organization with more than 315,000 members and online activists dedicated to the protection of endangered species and wild places.

Pesticide Action Network North America is a nonprofit organization with more than 50,000 members and online activists and more than 100 organizational partners working to reduce the use of hazardous pesticides and replace them with ecologically sound, socially just alternatives that protect people and the environment.