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Pesticides Reduction in the Bay Area
Palo Alto Online, May 19, 2010

Court issues injunction against pesticide use
Federal ruling forces Environmental Protection Agency to evaluate 75 pesticides

By Sue Dremann

A federal injunction affecting eight Bay Area counties will temporarily halt the use of 75 pesticides in and adjacent to endangered and threatened wildlife species habitat, according to a report released Tuesday.

U.S. District Court Judge Joseph C. Spero signed the injunction, an agreement between the nonprofit Center for Biological Diversity and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), on May 17.

The injunction prevents use of the chemicals while the EPA formally evaluates the pesticides' potentially harmful effects on Bay Area endangered species over the next five years. The affected counties are Alameda, Contra Costa, Marin, Napa, San Mateo, Santa Clara, Solano and Sonoma.

The injunction, which was filed in U.S. District Court in San Francisco, was sought by the Center for Biological Diversity and stems from a lawsuit in 2007 against the EPA for violating the Endangered Species Act.

The injunction prohibits the pesticides in areas such as near the Palo Alto Baylands, where the California clapper rail and salt marsh harvest mouse live, and at Stanford University in areas adjacent to habitat of the California tiger salamander and San Francisco garter snake.

The pesticides are used in many agricultural and backyard settings, such as to spray vineyards and orchards. Some are found on garden store shelves.

The chemicals include strychnine, Warfarin (which is used to kill rats) and pyrethrins, a commonly used product to kill aphids and other plant pests, fleas and ticks. Many are highly toxic to fish, birds and beneficial insects.

In San Mateo County, the pesticides cannot be used near habitats of the tidewater goby, clapper rail, salt marsh harvest mouse, San Francisco garter snake and bay checkerspot butterfly.

Eleven endangered species are protected under the order: the Alameda whipsnake, bay checkerspot butterfly, California clapper rail, California freshwater shrimp, California tiger salamander, delta smelt, salt marsh harvest mouse, San Francisco garter snake, San Joaquin kit fox, tidewater goby and valley elderberry longhorn beetle.

Similar protections were obtained by the Center for Biological Diversity in a 2006 settlement prohibiting use of 66 pesticides in and adjacent to California red-legged frog habitats statewide.

"These pesticide-use restrictions will protect some of the Bay Area's most vulnerable wildlife from inappropriate use of toxic pesticides," said Jeff Miller, conservation advocate with the Center for Biological Diversity.

The EPA is required under the Endangered Species Act to consult with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service over registration and approved uses of pesticides that may harm listed species or their critical habitats.

The Center for Biological Diversity charged that despite an obligation to avoid authorizing pesticide uses that jeopardize endangered species, the agency has consistently failed to evaluate or adequately regulate pesticides harmful to endangered species without lawsuits and court-ordered timelines.

The EPA must determine the effects of the pesticides on the species and set aside the pesticides' use until the determinations and consultation are completed. The study could result in cancellation of some pesticide use and permanent restrictions for harmful pesticides, Miller said. The EPA began studying the effects in October 2008 and must complete it by September 30, 2014.

Yesterday's injunction also orders that information regarding the restrictions must be disseminated to pesticide retailers and users.

The EPA must develop a bilingual (English and Spanish) brochure describing the settlement, the counties to which the injunction applies and tips for reducing runoff of pesticides, along with a reference to the EPA's website for information about where buffer zones apply for which pesticides and species.

The EPA will create a notification for stores regarding the urban pesticides, such as a shelf tag with written and graphic information about potential adverse effects of pesticide use on endangered species in the Bay Area and Delta region. The information must be distributed annually to retail stores selling the pesticide in the greater Bay Area region, according to a Center for Biological Diversity press release.

Bay Area pesticide use is significant, the Center noted. Reported pesticide use in the Bay Area is about 10 million pounds annually, but actual pesticide use is estimated to be several times that amount since most home and commercial pesticide use is not reported to the state, Miller said.

A 2006 report by the Center, "Poisoning Our Imperiled Wildlife San Francisco Bay Area Endangered Species at Risk from Pesticides," stated that reported pesticide use in Santa Clara County from 1999 to 2003 averaged nearly 825,000 pounds of active ingredients per year. San Mateo County averaged 250,000 pounds of pesticides in the same time period.

In 2003, more than 978,000 pounds of pesticides were reported applied in Santa Clara County over 150,730 acres. San Mateo County reported more than 273,000 pounds over 29,000 acres.

Pesticide pollution has played a role in the recent collapse of Bay-Delta fish populations such as delta smelt, longfin smelt, and chinook salmon, Miller said.

Toxic plumes of pesticides have been documented in Bay Area streams and the Delta during critical stages in fish development, and many local water bodies are listed as "impaired" for not meeting water-quality standards due to high concentrations of toxic pesticides such as chlorpyrifos and diazinon, he said.

The 2006 Center for Biological Diversity report can be found at www.biologicaldiversity.org/publications/papers/bayareapesticidesreport.pdf.

© 2010 Palo Alto Online

Photo © Paul S. Hamilton