Group Sues EPA for Omitting Polar Bear from Pesticide Impact Review

The Center for Biological Diversity filed suit on Dec. 3 in Seattle against the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency for failing to consider impacts to the polar bear and its Arctic habitat from toxic contamination caused by pesticide use in the United States. EPA did not respond to the Center's notification of intent to sue for these failures, sent in June of this year.

Pesticides approved by EPA for use in the United States are known to be transported long distances via various atmospheric, oceanic, and biotic pathways to the Arctic. Such pesticides are biomagnified with each step higher in the food web, reaching some of their greatest concentrations in polar bears, the apex predators of the Arctic.

Pesticides and related contaminants have been linked to suppressed immune function, endocrine disruption, shrinkage of reproductive organs, hermaphroditism, and increased cub mortality in polar bears. Human subsistence hunters in the Arctic, who share the top spot on the food web with the polar bear, also face increased risks from exposure to these contaminants.

"The pesticide crisis is a silent killer that threatens not only the polar bear but the entire Arctic ecosystem and its communities," said Rebecca Noblin, a staff attorney with the Center for Biological Diversity in Anchorage. "The benefits of protecting the polar bear from pesticide poisoning will reverberate throughout the entire Arctic ecosystem, with positive impacts for Arctic people, who share the top of the food pyramid with polar bears."

All pesticides in the United States must be registered by the EPA before they can be lawfully used. Courts have held that the agency must examine the impacts of any pesticide it approves on federally protected endangered species. The polar bear was formally listed as a threatened species under the Endangered Species Act on May 15, 2008, following a petition and litigation by the Center for Biological Diversity, but the EPA has yet to examine the impacts of any approved pesticide on the species.

"The United States has lagged far behind the international community in taking action to protect the species and people of the Arctic from pesticides and other contaminants," said Noblin. "But the listing of the polar bear under the Endangered Species Act gives the EPA both the opportunity and the obligation to meaningfully address the poisoning of the Arctic."

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