GRANTS PASS, Ore. — The final agreement has been filed in a decade-long battle to get the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency to set buffer zones to keep some harmful agricultural pesticides out of salmon streams in Oregon, California and Washington.
The agreement filed Wednesday in federal court in Seattle calls for the EPA to set pesticide-free areas that will stand until it imposes permanent ones in the next few years. The terms of the settlement had been published in June, and the final deal goes into effect once a judge signs it.
The case stems from a 2004 injunction imposing the anti-spraying zones, which expired on the assumption the EPA would create its own restrictions after federal biologists determined five broad-spectrum pesticides jeopardized the survival of endangered salmon. It’s unclear why the federal agency didn’t move on the rules despite the threat to the fish.
“Ninety-nine-point-nine percent of the time the agency follows what is in the biological opinion, but in this rare instance, decided it wouldn’t,” said Earthjustice attorney Steve Mashuda, who represents salmon advocates who brought the case.
He said the agreement sets clear and immediate protections for salmon.
EPA spokeswoman Jennifer C. Colaizzi said in an email that the agency would not comment until after the court approves the settlement.
The chemicals are broad-spectrum insecticides — carbaryl, chlorpyrifos, diazinon, malathion and methomyl. The buffer zones generally prohibit farmers from spraying them on the ground within 60 feet of a salmon stream and aerial spraying within 300 feet. The buffers will not be included on pesticide labels until permanent restrictions are adopted by the EPA, but the agreement calls on the federal agency to take steps to inform pesticide users.
The chemicals can kill insects that fish eat, and vegetation in the water fish use to hide. Even at very low levels, the chemicals can interfere with a fish’s sense of smell, which it uses to avoid predators and navigate on migrations to the ocean and back again.
Buffers are in place for several other pesticides.