Center for Biological Diversity

Protecting endangered species and wild places through
science, policy, education, and environmental law.

Imperiled Species, Bay Water Quality and Human Health Jeopardized by EPA Failure to Adequately Regulate Toxic Pesticides


Contact: Jeff Miller, Center for Biological Diversity, (510) 499-9185

San Francisco, Calif. – The Center for Biological Diversity today released a comprehensive 53-page report detailing the risk toxic pesticides pose to endangered species in the San Francisco Bay Area and the failure of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to regulate pesticides harmful to imperiled species. The report, Poisoning Our Imperiled Wildlife: San Francisco Bay Area Endangered Species at Risk from Pesticides, documents that at least 30 of the 51 federally endangered or threatened animal species that occur in the Bay Area may be adversely affected by the more than 8 million pounds of pesticides used in the region each year.

The report also analyzes the EPA’s dismal record in protecting endangered species from pesticides and the agency’s ongoing refusal to reform pesticide registration and use in accordance with scientific findings. There are troubling deficiencies in the EPA’s assessments of pesticide risks and the pesticide regulation process, allowing widespread use of pesticides known or suspected to be harmful to imperiled Bay Area species such as the Delta smelt, coho salmon, steelhead trout, California red-legged frog, California tiger salamander, San Joaquin kit fox, western snowy plover and peregrine falcon.

“Pesticides detected in Bay Area wildlife habitats are also finding their way into our drinking water supply, food, homes, gardens, schools and workplaces – toxic chemicals that harm steelhead trout or red-legged frogs also pose a significant and unnecessary risk to human health,” said Jeff Miller, Bay Area Wildlands Coordinator with the Center for Biological Diversity. “Despite mounting evidence of harm to endangered species, the EPA keeps dodging restrictions on use of dangerous pesticides and has tried to exclude wildlife agency oversight of the pesticide registration process,” added Miller.

The report details recent pesticide use by county in the nine Bay Area counties and provides case studies of particularly toxic pesticides such as atrazine, carbaryl, chlorpyrifos and diazinon. The EPA has registered over 900 pesticides for agricultural, commercial and home uses in California. Based on reported uses alone, over 43 million pounds of pesticide active ingredients were applied in the Bay Area from 1999 to 2003 – and actual use may have been several times this amount.

“If our society can put a man on the moon, we should be able to prevent our most imperiled wildlife and our children, who are particularly susceptible to pesticides, from exposure to toxic poisons,” said Peter Galvin, Conservation Director with the Center.

Pesticides find their way in local creeks, wetlands and San Francisco Bay through runoff, threatening the survival and recovery of numerous endangered species. Toxic pulses of diazinon and chlorpyrifos 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” or not meeting water quality standards due to high concentrations of pesticides such as chlordane, chlorpyrifos, DDT, diazinon and dieldrin.

The EPA authorizes pesticide use throughout the United States and is required to consult with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) to ensure such use does not jeopardize the existence of species listed under the Endangered Species Act (ESA). The EPA has consistently failed to adequately address the impacts of authorized pesticide use on federally listed species. Formal consultation is intended to provide the EPA with accurate information regarding imperiled species, and is an effective way to constrain the use of harmful pesticides to protect listed species. Over the past decade, the EPA has refused to enter into consultation on pesticides when requested to do so by the USFWS and failed to complete a single pesticide consultation that has not been the result of litigation brought by environmental organizations.

Pesticides have been shown to harm listed native fish such as salmon and smelt and have been linked to declines of amphibians such as the threatened California red-legged frog. A U.S. District Court ruled in September 2005 that the EPA violated the ESA by registering pesticides for use without considering impacts on the red-legged frog. In January, the Center filed a motion asking the court to protect red-legged frogs from 66 of the most toxic and persistent pesticides authorized for use in California. The motion seeks interim prohibitions on use of these pesticides in and adjacent to core frog habitats, and consumer hazard warnings where they are sold. Numerous studies have definitively linked pesticides with developmental, neurological and reproductive effects on amphibians. Pesticides can cause deformities, abnormal immune system functions, disease, injury, and death of amphibians.

Recent studies by Dr. Tyrone Hayes at the University of California have strengthened the case for banning atrazine, a common contaminant of ground, surface and drinking water. Atrazine is a heavily used herbicide so dangerous to humans and wildlife that it was recently banned by the European Union. Dr. Hayes demonstrated that atrazine is an endocrine disruptor, interfering with reproduction by chemically castrating and feminizing male amphibians. Atrazine has also been linked to increased prostate cancer and decreased sperm count in men and high risk of breast cancer in women. Conservationists sued the EPA in 2003 for failing to consult on the impacts of atrazine on several listed species, but despite overwhelming evidence of significant human and wildlife health concerns, the EPA’s revised registration of atrazine in November 2003 imposed no new restrictions on its use.

The Bush administration is attempting to further subvert the public interest through new regulations in the EPA pesticide registration process, circumventing USFWS assessments of pesticide impacts on endangered species. Regulations adopted in July 2005 leave the EPA with sole responsibility for assessing pesticide effects on endangered species and allow the agrochemical industry to control all research on the impacts of its products. These regulations, which explicitly adopt the EPA’s long-standing refusal to comply with federal law, are being challenged by conservation groups. The chemical industry has also pressed for a legislative exemption allowing the EPA to continue to delay consultations and protections for endangered species. A Congressional rider to this effect was defeated in 2005, but Congressman Richard Pombo’s anti-endangered species bill which passed the U.S. House of Representatives in 2005 would suspend for five years the requirement that new pesticides not directly kill, harm or jeopardize the survival or recovery of threatened and endangered species.

The Center for Biological Diversity is a science-based environmental advocacy organization with over 18,000 members dedicated to protecting endangered species and wild places through science, policy, education, citizen activism and environmental law.

Poisoning Our Imperiled Wildlife and background information on pesticides can be found at:


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