Center for Biological Diversity

For Immediate Release, March 22, 2022


Hannah Connor, (202) 681-1676,

Lawsuit Filed Against EPA to Protect Endangered Species From Cadmium Pollution

WASHINGTON— The Center for Biological Diversity filed a lawsuit today against the Environmental Protection Agency for failing to assess harms to endangered species before nearly tripling the levels of dangerous cadmium pollution that are allowed in U.S. waters.

Cadmium is a heavy metal that bioaccumulates at all levels of the food chain and is a carcinogen that is toxic to wildlife and people at any level of exposure.

In 2016 the EPA approved a 188% increase in the allowable chronic freshwater exposure to the heavy metal, despite warnings from the National Marine Fisheries Service that it would potentially be harmful to endangered species such as sturgeon, Atlantic salmon and sea turtles.

“When the EPA nearly triples the allowable water pollution from a heavy metal it knows harms endangered fish and sea turtles, it’s announcing that Big Oil and Big Ag are calling all the shots,” said Hannah Connor, a senior attorney at the Center. “The Biden administration needs to correct this terrible decision and make the EPA do its duty to stop the pollution of our rivers, lakes and oceans.”

Cadmium can cause a range of harms, affecting growth, reproduction, immune and endocrine systems, development and behavior. It disrupts the endocrine functions of Atlantic salmon and protected salmonids in the Pacific Northwest, which, in turn, reduces prey species for Southern Resident killer whales, themselves already hovering at the brink of extinction.

Cadmium pollution is widespread in both fresh and marine waters. Fossil fuels, as well as industrial and agricultural activities, are the source of more than 90% of the cadmium found in surface waters. The combustion of fossil fuels like coal contributes approximately 40% of that pollution, while the production and use of phosphate fertilizers contributes approximately 50%.

“The purpose of the Clean Water Act is to ratchet down all water pollution to zero over time, so it’s dumbfounding that the EPA willfully ignored the risks cadmium presents to dozens of endangered species,” said Connor. “We hope this lawsuit will help bring the agency to its senses.”

Under the Clean Water Act, the EPA is required to set water-quality criteria that establish benchmarks for states to follow when they develop water-quality standards.

Since the EPA updated its cadmium criteria in 2016, 18 states have updated water-quality standards for cadmium for approval by the EPA. In every case the states weakened their existing standards based on the EPA’s water-quality criteria, and the EPA then approved those changes.

The Center is represented by Richard Smith and Claire Tonry with Smith & Lowney PLLC, and in-house counsel.

Atlantic salmon/William Hartley/USFWS Image is available for media use.

The Center for Biological Diversity is a national, nonprofit conservation organization with more than 1.7 million members and online activists dedicated to the protection of endangered species and wild places.

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