Center for Biological Diversity

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


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

Environmental Protection Agency Threatened with Lawsuit
For Failing to Protect 11
Bay Area Endangered Species from Pesticides

San Francisco, Calif . The Center for Biological Diversity today filed notice of intent to sue the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) for violations of the Endangered Species Act, in order to protect 11 San Francisco Bay Area endangered and threatened species and their habitats that are jeopardized by pesticides.

Based solely on reported use, more than 61 million pounds of pesticide active ingredients were applied in Bay Area counties from 1999 through 2005, more than 8 million pounds annually. Actual use may be several times this amount since most home and commercial pesticide use is not reported to the state. Under the Bush administration, the EPA has failed to consult with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) or adequately consider endangered species impacts when registering and authorizing use of at least 60 toxic pesticides that may harm vulnerable Bay Area wildlife species.

“The EPA has failed to comply with even the basic requirements of the Endangered Species Act in registering and approving uses of pesticides known to poison Bay Area endangered species,” said Jeff Miller, Bay Area Wildlands Coordinator with the Center. “Given the known significant effects on wildlife and the EPA’s own acknowledgments regarding pesticide use exceeding levels of concern for endangered species, pesticide restrictions to protect our most endangered species are long overdue.”

Pesticides of concern have been documented in Bay and Delta aquatic habitat for the Delta Smelt and Tidewater Goby; tidal marshland habitat for the California Clapper Rail and Salt Marsh Harvest Mouse; freshwater and wetlands habitat for the California Tiger Salamander, San Francisco Garter Snake and California Freshwater Shrimp; and terrestrial habitat for the San Joaquin Kit Fox, Alameda Whipsnake, Valley Elderberry Longhorn Beetle and Bay Checkerspot Butterfly. Pesticides may adversely affect an additional 19 of the 51 Bay Area animal species listed under the Endangered Species Act.

The EPA is required under the Endangered Species Act to consult with the FWS over registration, re-registration and approved uses of pesticides that may endanger listed species or adversely modify their designated critical habitat. With the lawsuit, the Center hopes to force interim pesticide use restrictions for the 11 species similar to those it recently obtained to protect the California Red-legged Frog, until assessments of pesticide impacts have been completed. A settlement signed by the EPA and the pesticide industry last October prohibits use of 66 pesticides in and adjacent to core Red-legged Frog habitats throughout California for three years, until the EPA completes consultations.

“Interim pesticide restrictions similar to those in effect for the Red-legged Frog would be reasonable and effective protection until formal consultations with the Fish and Wildlife Service are completed for these eleven species,” said Miller. “Permanent use restrictions will be needed for contaminants harmful to endangered species and human health, such as atrazine. Based on the proximity of agricultural operations to residential areas, studies that have detected accumulation of pesticides in Bay Area creeks and San Francisco Bay, and what we know about pesticide drift and runoff, there is a clear risk both to endangered wildlife and human health.”

Data from the FWS, EPA, U.S. Geological Survey and California Department of Pesticide Regulation show the use, presence or accumulation of 60 pesticides of concern in or adjacent to (upstream or upwind) habitat for the 11 Bay Area endangered species. The EPA has not consulted with the FWS to ensure the chemicals are not contributing to the decline of listed species . Despite mounting evidence of harm to endangered species, the EPA keeps dodging use restrictions for dangerous pesticides and has tried to exclude wildlife agency oversight of the pesticide registration process.

In March 2006 the Center released a comprehensive 53-page report, Poisoning Our Imperiled Wildlife : San Francisco Bay Area Endangered Species at Risk from Pesticides . The report analyzes the EPA’s dismal record in protecting endangered species and the agency’s ongoing refusal to reform pesticide registration and use in accordance with scientific findings. Today’s 37-page notice of intent to sue the EPA includes information from scientific reports and studies documenting the impacts of pesticides on endangered wildlife, Bay Area pesticide use statistics, mapping of Bay Area pesticide use in relation to endangered species habitat, and information on contamination of waterways and Bay sediments.

Pesticides move into local creeks, wetlands and the Bay through runoff, threatening 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. Pesticides also have been implicated in the recent collapse of Bay-Delta fish populations. Since 2002 scientists have documented catastrophic declines of Delta Smelt, Longfin Smelt, Threadfin Shad and Striped Bass in the Delta, and numbers of White Sturgeon and Green Sturgeon in the Bay and Sacramento River have fallen to alarmingly low levels. The declines are thought to be due to combined effects of Delta water management and exports, pollution from toxic chemicals and impacts of introduced species on the Delta food web.

Pesticide impacts on endangered birds, fish, mammals, reptiles and insects have been well documented. Numerous studies have definitively linked pesticide use with significant developmental, neurological and reproductive effects on amphibians. Pesticide contamination can cause deformities, abnormal immune system functions, diseases, injury and death of amphibians. Recent studies by Dr. Tyrone Hayes at the University of California have strengthened the case for banning atrazine, the most common contaminant of ground, surface and drinking water. Dr. Hayes demonstrated that atrazine is an endocrine disruptor that interferes with reproduction by chemically castrating and feminizing male amphibians. Hayes discussed atrazine’s “assault on male sexual development” which results in gonad deformities such as multiple testes and hermaphroditism in males. Atrazine has also been linked to increased prostate cancer and decreased sperm count in men and high risk of breast cancer in women.  

The Bush administration has attempted to undercut the Endangered Species Act by changing how pesticide impacts on wildlife are evaluated, and by making it easier for pesticide manufacturers to ignore the effects of their products on endangered plants and animals. The EPA proposed new regulations in January 2004 that would remove input from expert wildlife agencies in determining whether pesticides threaten endangered species, but in August 2006 a federal court overturned these new rules. A federal bill introduced by former Rep. Richard Pombo that also would have eliminated oversight of pesticides passed the House in September 2005 but was not approved by the last Congress. The Pombo bill would have repealed Endangered Species Act habitat protections and given the EPA a five-year pass from requirements to consult with FWS scientists over how pesticides could affect imperiled species.

The notice of lawsuit, report on pesticide impacts to Bay Area species, maps of pesticide use, and information about the listed species are on the Center’s pesticide Web page.

The Center for Biological Diversity is a non-profit conservation organization with more than 32,000 members dedicated to the protection of imperiled species and habitat.


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