Environmental Protection

Florida panther

Biological Diversity, PAN Sue EPA to Protect Species from Pesticides

The Center for Biological Diversity and Pesticide Action Network claim that the agency has failed to properly protect more than 200 endangered and threatened species from harmful pesticides.

The Center for Biological Diversity and Pesticide Action Network North America has filed legal action (pdf) under the Endangered Species Act to protect 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 Heather Pilatic, Ph.D., co-director 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.

“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.”

According to a press release from the groups, "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."

As an example, the groups describe EPA's failure to protect people and the environment by allowing the re-registration of atrazine, a widespread pollutant of groundwater and drinking water. 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.

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, the press release stated. In 2006, EPA agreed to restrict 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. This newer litigation seeks nationwide compliance for hundreds of pesticides on hundreds of species.

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