PANNA: U.S. Government Sued For Bird Deaths


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U.S. Government Sued For Bird Deaths
February 1, 2002

On January 28, 2002, the U.S. environmental groups American Bird Conservancy, Defenders of Wildlife and the Biodiversity Legal Foundation filed a notice of intent to sue the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) over the organophosphate pesticide fenthion. Currently being used to kill adult mosquitoes in the U.S. state of Florida, the pesticide is highly toxic to birds and is putting thousands of birds that winter or breed in the state at risk.

In one instance where fenthion was sprayed for mosquito control, an estimated 25,000 birds of 37 species were killed. In Florida, the pesticide has caused the death of the Piping Plover, a bird on the endangered species list.
Called a “Sixty Day Letter,” the notice of intent issued by the three environmental groups is required under U.S. law for cases involving endangered species and gives the EPA 60 days to remedy the situation before litigation can begin. The letter also outlines violations of the Migratory Bird Treaty Act (MBTA), a law that makes killing any migratory bird without a permit a criminal offense even if the death was unintentional.

The EPA is currently considering the re-registration of fenthion, a move opposed by many U.S. environmental groups. “There is no good reason for the registration of fenthion to continue,” said Gerald Winegrad, Vice President for Policy at American Bird Conservancy.

“Florida’s unique habitat and geographical situation make it home to a vast number of nesting and migrating birds that are being threatened by the repeated use of hundreds of thousands of acres, year-round with this hazardous chemical. Less toxic alternatives are used by all other states, and the desire to protect Florida residents from mosquitoes can be balanced with better stewardship of the state’s wildlife,” he added.

Fenthion is very highly toxic to birds and can cause death if absorbed through their skin or inhaled even in small amounts. Often applied by helicopter, the pesticide remains in the air for long periods and can cause increased exposure to birds at deadly levels. Areas distant from the original application site are contaminated as the pesticide spray drifts in the wind. If it rains soon after the application of fenthion, the risk of contact rises significantly as birds forage in contaminated, wet foliage and bathe in or drink from puddles of toxic water.

Fenthion is moderately toxic to fish and highly to very highly toxic to other aquatic species, especially invertebrates such as mussels and shrimp. These aquatic organisms are put at risk through run-off into streams, lakes and estuaries. Fenthion has been shown to bioaccumulate at significant levels in fish, and has been found in the fat tissues of mammals. Despite widespread use in other areas of Florida, fenthion is not used in the Everglades because of wildlife concerns.

A cholinesterase inhibitor or nerve toxin, fenthion is considered one of Pesticide Action Network’s “Bad Actor” pesticides, a list of the “most toxic” pesticides in use. According to the EPA, fenthion can cause “nausea, dizziness, confusion, and at very high exposures (e.g. accidents or major spills), respiratory paralysis and death” in humans.

The American Bird Conservancy has launched a public action campaign to put pressure on the EPA, the Florida Governor and the pesticide’s manufacturer, Bayer, to get fenthion banned in the United States.

For more information and/or to send a letter requesting that the EPA cancel fenthion use, see

Sources: American Bird Conservancy news release January 29, 2002;

Contact: American Bird Conservancy, 1834 Jefferson Place NW, Washington, DC 20036; phone (202) 452-1535; fax (202) 452-1534; email [email protected]; Web site,

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