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Protecting Bay Area Species From Toxic Pesticides
San Francisco Chronicle, July 1, 2009

EPA ready to settle Bay Area pesticide suit
By Jane Kay

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency announced Wednesday a proposed settlement of a lawsuit that could result in scrutiny of how dozens of dangerous pesticides affect threatened and endangered species living around San Francisco Bay.

If the EPA decides to settle the suit filed by the Center for Biological Diversity, it would require reviewing the health effects of 74 pesticides on 11 imperiled species by June 2014.

The pesticides can endanger wildlife by direct contact or by destroying the animals' habitat or food supply.

Some of the problem pesticides, the suit said, are malathion, an insecticide suspected of harming the delta smelt and the California tiger salamander, and sodium nitrate, a hazard to the San Joaquin kit fox, the Alameda whipsnake and San Francisco garter snake.

Other species that would receive review under the proposed settlement are the salt marsh harvest mouse, California clapper rail and California freshwater shrimp. Insects are the bay checkerspot butterfly and the valley elderberry longhorn beetle. A fish is the tidewater goby.

Scientists say methyl bromide, an agricultural fumigant used on strawberries and tomatoes, can poison small mammals and reptiles. Permethrin, a common insecticide used in homes and croplands, can run into waterways and hurt crustaceans and insects at the base of the aquatic food chain, they say. Chlorpyrifos, an insecticide banned in households but available to apple and grape growers, threatens a broad range of species.

The environmental group filed the lawsuit in 2007 in U.S. District Court in San Francisco, where the group has offices.

The suit alleges that the EPA failed to comply with the Endangered Species Act. The act requires federal agencies to ensure that their decisions don't hurt imperiled species by consulting with scientists at government wildlife agencies such as U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.

Yet, according to the suit, the EPA hadn't sought review of the pesticides that it registers, and some of the pesticides already registered by the EPA did, indeed, damage 11 species of mammals, birds, reptiles, fish and insects in the Bay Area.

The EPA made the announcement Wednesday through publication in the Federal Register. The EPA's public affairs office in San Francisco referred comments on the matter to the headquarters in Washington, where no one was available for comment.

The EPA is accepting comments on the proposed settlement agreement for 15 days, and then will make a decision whether to agree. To become final, the settlement must be signed by a judge in the court where the suit was filed.

Environmental groups are expected to favor the agreement while chemical manufacturers are expected to oppose it.

The Bush administration had eliminated the section of the Endangered Species Act that requires that federal government agencies consult with wildlife scientists on pertinent decisions. But the Obama administration reinstated the rule.

© 2009 Hearst Communications Inc.

Photo © Paul S. Hamilton