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West Coast Salmon: Pesticides Put Protected Species In Jeopardy

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-- A draft federal evaluation has found that three more common pesticides used on home lawns and agricultural crops jeopardize the survival of West Coast salmon.

The evaluation from NOAA Fisheries Service is the latest one resulting from lawsuits filed by conservation groups and salmon fishermen demanding the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency enforce restrictions on pesticides around salmon streams.

This one looked at the pre-emergent herbicides oryzalin, pendimenthalin and trifluralin. They are used to control weeds in lawns, on road shoulders, in orchards, vineyards, and farm fields growing soybeans, cotton, corn, Christmas trees and other crops. Heaviest use is in California. The herbicides are ingredients in more than 100 commercial products made by dozens of manufacturers.

NOAA Fisheries informed the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency that they are likely to jeopardize half the 26 salmon populations on the West Coast protected by the Endangered Species Act, and suggested restrictions like no-spray buffers to keep them out of salmon streams.

Trifluralin is the most toxic of the three, and deforms fish backbones even at low concentrations. It is used on soybeans, cotton, lawns and road shoulders.

Oryzalin is the least toxic, and is harmful to aquatic plants that make up salmon habitat. It is used on shrubs, lawns and golf courses.

Pendimenthalin is toxic to aquatic plants and insects that salmon eat. It is used on soybeans, cotton, corn and peanuts.

Heather Hansen of Washington Friends of Farms and Forests, which represents commodity growers, said the proposed restrictions were less dramatic than those suggested for other pesticides. However, they were still unnecessary, because the levels found in salmon streams have never reached more than a fraction of the levels considered safe, she said. Any alternative herbicides will cost more, she added.

Aimee Code of the Northwest Center for Alternatives to Pesticides said one delay after another has blocked imposition of restrictions since EPA started putting them forward in 2008.

The agency has 11 more pesticides to evaluate from the original list of 37, and should be done by the end of June 2013, said Therese Conant, deputy director of NOAA Fisheries for the Endangered Species Act division. The most dangerous chemicals were evaluated first. The chemicals remaining pose a lesser risk.

The public has until April 30 to comment on the draft evaluation, which is called a biological opinion. It should become final by the end of May.

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