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Pesticides Threatening Iconic Oregon Species

Eric Tegethoff

The wide use of pesticides is pushing some species in Oregon and across the country to the brink. A new report from the Endangered Species Coalition highlights ten of the nearly 1,200 species imperiled by these chemicals.

In the Northwest, pesticide runoff hampers the swimming ability of Chinook salmon. It also enters their fatty tissue, poisoning the main source of nutrition for the endangered Southern Resident orcas.

Lori Ann Burd, environmental health director with the Center for Biological Diversity in Oregon, says Trump administration policies are exacerbating the pesticide problem.

"They've changed the risk thresholds for exposure to children based on requests from industry," says Burd. "They've scrapped reports looking at the impacts of pesticides on endangered species. They are rolling back protections from pesticides left and right."

The report also features the Northern spotted owl - birds that are eating rats poisoned with rodenticides, and the streaked horned lark - being killed off by seeds treated with pesticide. Only about 2,000 streaked horned larks remain.

Burd notes some of these pesticides are harmful to humans as well. Chlorpyrifos, a chemical used on crops like alfalfa, cotton and grapes, has been linked to brain damage and other health problems in children.

The Obama administration proposed a federal ban on the chemical in 2015, but the Environmental Protection Agency recently reversed that decision. The Trump administration says science is inconclusive on the chemical's dangers.

In response, Burd says states are taking action - including California, which banned chlorpyrifos in early October.

"One thing that's interesting is because the federal government has been so bad on pesticides in recent years, states and local municipalities have really stepped up," says Burd. "And so people can support those efforts on the local level."

The report notes pesticide use is widespread. According to the most recent data from the EPA, nearly $9 billion worth of pesticides were used in 2012 across the country.

Information provided by Oregon News Service

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