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New lawsuit seeks to protect fish

By Susan Palmer
Register Guard

Conservation and fishing groups want a temporary ban on six commonly used insecticides.

Conservation and fishing groups, including a Eugene anti-pesticide group, have filed suit, again, against the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, alleging the agency is failing to follow federal law in the way it registers some pesticides.

The lawsuit wants a judge to temporarily ban six commonly used insecticides until the EPA comes up with ways to stop fish from being harmed by their use.

It’s the fourth such lawsuit against a federal agency in an eight-year effort by numerous groups to protect salmon and steelhead, both at risk of extinction, from pesticides and herbicides that wash into the waterways of the Pacific Northwest.

The Eugene-based Northwest Coalition for Alternatives to Pesticides, which was among the groups that filed the original lawsuit in 2002, was joined in the latest lawsuit by the Pacific Coast Federation of Fishermen’s Associations, the Institute for Fisheries Resources and Defenders of Wildlife. The groups are represented by attorneys with EarthJustice in the filing in U.S. District Court in Seattle.

The suit, filed Monday, seeks to force the EPA to put in place measures such as no-spray buffer zones to reduce the levels of pesticides in salmon-bearing streams.

The EPA regulates the pesticide manufacturing industry, approving the language on the product labels of insecticides, herbicides, fungicides and rodenticides that describe how they can legally be applied.

The conservation groups worry that, if applied near waterways, a number of commonly used chemical sprays can wash into the water and harm salmon.

In 2002, a court concluded that the EPA had violated federal law by failing to consult with the National Marine Fisheries Service to ensure that dozens of registered pesticides would not harm salmon.

The conservation groups went back to court in 2006 after the National Marine Fisheries Service wrote new rules that exempted the EPA from consulting with the agency before registering pesticides.

A judge tossed out the new rules, but it took a third lawsuit by the conservation groups before the National Marine Fisheries Service wrote the biological opinions that describe the impacts of the pesticides on ocean-going steelhead and salmon and that proposes the mitigation steps that should be taken to avoid that harm.

So far, the fisheries agency has issued three biological opinions on three classes of pesticides. The agency must review a total of 37 pesticides that the EPA identified as likely to harm fish.

The first two opinions dealt with six different pesticides and concluded that the only way to completely avoid killing the endangered fish would be to cancel the pesticide registrations outright, in effect banning the chemicals.

The agency proposed less drastic alternatives, but, according to the new lawsuit, the EPA has failed to make any of the required changes.

The lawsuit asks a judge to block the EPA’s authorization of the use of six insecticides: the organophosphates diazinon, malathion and chlorpyrifos; and the carbamates carbaryl, carbofuran and methomyl.

The suit wants use of the products stopped until the EPA makes permanent the mitigation measures proposed by the fisheries service. The groups want the judge to set a year deadline for the EPA to make the changes.

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