The country has learned a lot since Rachel Carson’s 1962 book Silent Spring alerted us to the hazards of poisonous chemicals. But pesticide use still poses major threats to imperiled wildlife and human health; in fact, since Carson’s book was published, annual pesticide use has continuously increased in both pounds applied and numbers of registered active ingredients. The Environmental Protection Agency has registered for use more than 18,000 pesticides, and more than 2 billion pounds of pesticides are sold annually in the United States. Pesticides are pervasive in fish and wildlife habitat throughout the country and threaten the survival and recovery of hundreds of federally listed species, such as the polar bear, mountain yellow-legged frog, coho salmon, delta smelt and loggerhead sea turtle.
The Center’s Pesticides Reduction campaign aims to secure programmatic changes in the pesticide registration process and to stop toxic pesticides from contaminating fish and wildlife habitats. The EPA has never adequately evaluated or regulated pesticides that are harmful to endangered species throughout the nation as well as human health. Through a series of strategic legal challenges, we’re forcing the agency to adhere to federal environmental law when registering pesticides for use.
Formal consultation with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and the National Marine Fisheries Service under the Endangered Species Act is the most effective means for protecting endangered species from known harmful pesticides. These federal wildlife agencies can evaluate the threats pesticide contaminants pose to the survival of imperiled species, and the consultation process often results in constraints on — or the prohibition of — using harmful pesticides. Consultation also benefits humans by forcing a thorough assessment of pesticide impacts on public health. Unfortunately, the EPA hasn’t voluntarily completed a single consultation since 1993.
The Center has filed a series of lawsuits to force consultations on pesticide impacts. In January 2011, the Center and allies filed the most comprehensive legal action ever brought under the Endangered Species Act to protect imperiled 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. Later that year, we joined more than 130 groups in 35 states in writing a letter to the Environmental Protection Agency asking it to use all the tools at its disposal to protect public health and imperiled wildlife from harmful pesticides. In 2009, we halted herbicide spraying on 1.5 million acres of land in New Mexico; filed a notice of intent to sue over pesticide poisoning of polar bears; and reached a settlement agreement with the EPA to formally evaluate the harmful effects of 74 pesticides on 11 endangered and threatened species in the San Francisco Bay Area, while implementing interim restrictions on the use of these chemicals. In 2006, the EPA agreed to interim restrictions on applying 66 pesticides throughout California and began analyzing their effects on the threatened California red-legged frog — which, in 2011, we defended in court from more than 60 harmful pesticides. In 2003, we forced consultation concerning six pesticides threatening the Barton Springs salamander in Texas.
We've also ramped up our campaign against deadly rat poisons, in 2012 calling on the California Department of Pesticides Regulation to end the use of “super-toxic,” second-generation anticoagulant rodenticides in the state.
And we've increasingly taken on pesticides that are endocrine disruptors, chemicals that interfere with natural hormone functions. Studies by Dr. Tyrone Hayes at the University of California have strengthened the case for banning atrazine, a potent chemical that’s the most common contaminant of ground, surface and drinking water nationwide. Dr. Hayes demonstrated that atrazine is an endocrine disruptor that “assaults male sexual development,” interfering with reproduction by chemically castrating and feminizing male frogs. Atrazine contamination has contributed to the declines of several other endangered California amphibians, Chesapeake Bay sea turtles, Texas salamanders, Alabama mussels and sturgeons in Midwest waters. Atrazine has also been linked to increased prostate cancer, decreased sperm count and a high risk of breast cancer in humans. After Center litigation, in 2010 another toxic endocrine disruptor — endosulfan — was slated for a nationwide ban by the EPA.
We also provide analysis and education regarding pesticide threats to humans, endangered species, and other wildlife. Our 2004 report Silent Spring Revisited: Pesticide Use and Endangered Species details the EPA’s failure to regulate pesticides harmful to endangered species, while our 2006 report explains the risk pesticides pose to endangered species in the San Francisco Bay Area.