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Pesticide protections for Pacific salmon head to court


An East Coast court case could have big impacts on West Coast fish, and farmers too. Chemical manufacturers are suing the federal government to get a rule restricting pesticide use wiped off the books.

In 2008 the National Marine Fisheries Service ruled a certain class of pesticides is a mortal threat to salmon and steelhead populations. Organophosphates are common on farms, and used to be widely used in gardens before regulators phased them out.

Steve Mashuda, a Seattle-based attorney for EarthJustice, said the pesticides have pretty much the same effects on fish as they do on bugs.

“Think of spasms and seizures It really just overloads the nervous system and once your nervous system shuts down, all of your organs do as well and that’s what causes death,” Mashuda said.

The Fisheries Service recommended carving out a 500-foot buffer zone next to salmon streams where the chemicals could not be sprayed. The manufacturers claim the agency’s rule was unfair and based on old data. They also say use of the chemicals has already decreased enough to keep the fish safe.

Environmental advocates say the toxins can still spike in waterways and threaten wildlife. They also point out research linking organophosphates to neurological and other health problems in humans.  The sides will be in a Virginia appeals court this week.

Gabriel Spitzer is a former KNKX reporter, producer and host who covered science and health and worked on the show Sound Effect.