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Daily News Archive
From February 12, 2002

New Study Reveals Pesticides Threaten Northwest Salmon

New analysis of government water quality research shows that numerous dangerous pesticides are present in Northwest rivers and streams at levels known to be harmful to salmon. The findings were released today in a report, Poisoned Waters, by the Washington Toxics Coalition and the Northwest Coalition for Alternatives to Pesticides as part of their Clean Water for Salmon Campaign.

The report compiles water quality testing results from the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS), which studied five major river systems in Washington, Idaho, Oregon, and California and provides a first-time analysis of pesticide registration documents at the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). The USGS studies found at least 35 pesticides present in each watershed. Sixteen pesticides were found at levels above criteria set to protect aquatic life, including salmon. The review of EPA's pesticide documents confirmed that pesticide uses approved by EPA are likely to cause harm to salmon in Northwest rivers.

"In every major river system in the Northwest including the Puget Sound basin and the Central Columbia River basin where native salmon and steelhead are threatened and endangered, pesticides poison the waters," said Erika Schreder of the Washington Toxics Coalition.

The full extent of the pesticide pollution may actually be worse because many additional pesticides that are used in the Northwest were not included in the study. Studies have shown that the detected pesticides can kill salmon directly or cause subtle but devastating changes in behavior, immune systems, and hormonal systems that ultimately threaten survival.

The report's analysis of EPA documents shows that approved, legal applications of many pesticides in the region will exceed hazard levels for salmon. These findings lend new credence to claims by citizens groups that the EPA has not met its legal responsibility under the Endangered Species Act to protect salmon from harmful pesticides.

"EPA's own documents portray harmful levels of pesticides in rivers where salmon are endangered is clear evidence of how this agency turns a blind eye to the damaging role of pesticides in the pollution of our waters, " said Erika Schreder of the Washington Toxics Coalition.

The Washington Toxics Coalition, together with environmental and fishing groups, filed a lawsuit last year against the EPA to force the agency to take action to protect salmon from pesticides. Settlement negotiations in that suit broke down late yesterday, and the parties in the suit are moving forward with the lawsuit.

Among those expressing concern at the report's findings was the area's local fishing community. Steve Matthews, a commercial fisherman and retired University of Washington fisheries professor said, "We can't recover our local salmon fisheries if our rivers and streams are a toxic brew of pesticides. Clean water is a critical link in salmon recovery, and we're wasting our money on habitat restoration if the water is still too polluted for salmon to live in."

Poisoned Waters calls on state and local agencies to take immediate action on pesticides including: phasing out use of pesticides that are harmful to salmon; adopting measures to keep pesticides out of water crucial to salmon survival; establishing a reporting system to track pesticide use; and promoting salmon-friendly gardening and farming practices that reduce reliance on pesticides.

The impacts of pesticides on endangered Northwest salmon will be a major focus of the 20th National Pesticide Forum, April 26-28, in Seattle, WA. For more information or a copy of Poisoned Waters, call Washington Toxics Coalition at 206-632-1545 ext.19. You may also download a PDF file of the report.