For Immediate Release, December 16, 2020


Ashley Bruner, (928) 666-0731,

Lawsuit Launched Against EPA to Protect Endangered Aquatic Species From Cadmium Pollution

Aims to Undo 2016 Decision That Weakened Safeguards

WASHINGTON— The Center for Biological Diversity filed a formal notice today of its intent to sue 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.

The heavy metal, which bioaccumulates at all levels of the food chain, is toxic to plants and animals, including people at very low levels.

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.

“Cadmium is extremely toxic, so it makes no sense to weaken the safeguards against it,” said Ashley Bruner, an attorney at the Center for Biological Diversity. “This was a poisonous mistake that needs to be corrected right away by President-elect Biden. It’ll help prevent the extinction of endangered species like sea turtles, sturgeon and freshwater mussels.”

Elevated levels of cadmium have been identified in all three of those aquatic animals. Cadmium can cause a range of harms, affecting growth, reproduction, immune and endocrine systems, development and behavior. It’s also highly toxic to fish: It disrupts the endocrine functions of Atlantic salmon and those of protected salmonids in the Pacific Northwest, which, in turn, reduces prey species for protected Southern Resident killer whales.

“The EPA’s habit of ignoring the risks that toxic pollution in our environment pose to endangered species is helping to drive some seriously imperiled animals closer to extinction,” said Bruner. “The agency has left us with no choice but to launch this lawsuit to protect vulnerable wildlife from this dangerous heavy metal.”

Cadmium pollution is widespread in both fresh and marine waters. Human activities are the source of more than 90% of the total cadmium found in surface waters. The combustion of fossil fuels like coal contributes approximately 40% of the pollution, while between 33% and 56% of the pollution is released by phosphate fertilizers.

The EPA is required to set water-quality criteria under the Clean Water Act, which set benchmarks for states to follow when they develop water-quality standards.

Since the EPA updated its cadmium criteria in 2016, 18 states, territories and tribes have both started to develop and proposed, updated water-quality standards for cadmium for approval by the EPA. In every case the states used the EPA’s water-quality criteria, and the EPA approved them without changes.

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.