SAN FRANCISCO— The federal district court here will hear arguments Friday in the most comprehensive legal action ever brought under the Endangered Species Act to protect endangered animals from pesticides. The Center for Biological Diversity and Pesticide Action Network North America are challenging the Environmental Protection Agency’s systemic failure to assess the impacts of dozens of pesticides known to be harmful to more than 100 endangered species.
“For decades, the EPA has turned a blind eye to the disastrous effects pesticides have on America’s rarest species,” said Collette Adkins Giese, an attorney and biologist at the Center. “With more than a billion pounds of pesticides applied each year in this country — the highest pesticide usage rate in the world — the harms to America’s endangered wildlife are enormous.”
The lawsuit seeks protection from dangerous pesticides for 119 endangered and threatened species throughout the United States, including Florida panthers, California condors, piping plovers, black-footed ferrets, arroyo toads, Indiana bats and Alabama sturgeon. Documents from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and EPA, as well as peer-reviewed scientific studies, show that these species may be hurt by the dozens of pesticides at issue.
Despite the well-documented risks of pesticides to hundreds of imperiled species, for decades the EPA has “registered” pesticides for use in the United States without conducting legally required consultations with expert federal wildlife agencies to determine whether the pesticides will harm protected wildlife. This failure prevents the Fish and Wildlife Service and National Marine Fisheries Service from fully evaluating pesticide risks and from restricting pesticide uses known to be harmful to protected species.
After the initial filing of this lawsuit in 2011, the EPA and the two federal wildlife agencies requested that the National Academy of Sciences’ National Research Council examine the agencies’ joint responsibilities under the Endangered Species Act and provide recommendations regarding how best to complete the consultation process under the Act. The Academy report identified deficiencies for all the agencies involved in pesticide consultations, but singled out the EPA’s approach for its numerous analytical shortcomings, concluding it “does not estimate risk,” “is ad hoc,” and “has unpredictable performance outcomes.”
An example of the EPA’s failure to protect people and the environment is its continued 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 even at extremely low concentrations, has been banned by the European Union. Recent research links atrazine to cancer, birth defects and endocrine disruption in humans, as well as significant harm to wildlife.
Friday’s hearing in San Francisco before Magistrate Judge Joseph C. Spero will be at 9:30 a.m. at 450 Golden Gate Avenue, Courtroom G – 15th floor. The hearing addresses a second round of motions filed by the EPA and pesticide industry groups to dismiss the lawsuit. The hearing is open to the public. Center attorneys will be available after the hearing to discuss the case.
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 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 colony collapse disorder, the recent mass disappearance of bees that are agriculturally important pollinators. There has been widespread opposition to the EPA’s approvals without adequate review of a new generation of nerve-agent insecticides called “neonicotinoids,” which have been linked to die-offs of honeybees.
A series of lawsuits by the Center and other conservation groups has 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. Last week the Center entered a nationwide settlement with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service requiring the agency to analyze impacts on endangered species across the country from five dangerous pesticides — carbaryl, chlorpyrifos, diazinon, malathion and methomyl — that have been found to be toxic to wildlife and may pose a health risk to humans. The analysis is likely to lead to permanent restrictions on some of the most harmful uses of these highly toxic pesticides.