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Water | Environment

Judge Upholds Pesticide Limits in West Coast Salmon Streams

A court Monday upheld the federal government's restriction on three pesticides to protect salmon like this Tule chinook.

A court Monday upheld the federal government's restriction on three pesticides to protect salmon like this Tule chinook.

Amelia Templeton/OPB

A judge ruled Monday the federal government followed sound science when it called for stricter regulation of three common farming pesticides to keep them out of West Coast salmon streams.

The ruling came in a Maryland U.S. District Court, which rejected a challenge by Dow Chemicals to the biological opinion adopted in 2008 by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration National Marine Fisheries Service. The case underscores that recent science suggests that even in low concentrations, the chemicals may damage salmon and steelhead’s sense of smell.

A Closer Look

Click here for a quick read on what Oregon State University’s National Pesticide Information Center says about the three pesticides being regulated by the federal government to protect endangered salmon and steelhead.

The pesticides in question are regulated by the environmental protection agency. Malathion is available at garden stores, but the other two — chlorpyrifos and diazinon — are restricted to farm use only. Federal fish biologists want stricter regulations. They’ve proposed buffers of 500 feet to 1,000 feet around streams and canals to protect 27 species of salmon and steelhead in the West that are listed under the Endangered Species Act.

Earthjustice intervened in the case to defend the biological opinion. It represented the Northwest Center for Alternatives to Pesticides, Pacific Coast Federation of Fishermen’s Associations, and Defenders of Wildlife. Many of these groups launched the original 2001 campaign to ban the three pesticides.

Aimee Code is with the Eugene, Ore.-based Northwest Center for Alternatives to Pesticides. She says a high concentration of the pesticides can kill salmon, and that a low concentration can wreck their sense of smell.

“Salmon use their sense of smell to find their way home, to find their mate, to detect if there’s a predator.”

The Washington Department of Agriculture opposes the stricter regulations. The agency agrees the chemical can harm salmon. But it says it’s taken thousands of water samples and concluded the pesticides aren’t reaching harmful levels for fish.

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