The Environmental Protection Agency has finalized biological evaluations concluding that three common herbicides can adversely affect endangered species or their habitats.
The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and the National Marine Fisheries Service will use the EPA's findings on glyphosate, atrazine and simazine to determine whether the weedkillers actually jeopardize the existence of any endangered species.
The biological opinions that those agencies issue could result in additional restrictions being placed on the herbicides.
EPA’s biological evaluations, or BEs, found that “all of these chemicals may affect, and are likely to adversely affect, certain listed species or their designated critical habitats,” EPA said in a press release. “These evaluations encompass all registered uses and approved product labels for pesticide products containing these three herbicides.”
The evaluations, released Friday, suggest several new mitigation measures for the herbicides, including buffers to sensitive habitats, use deletions, and restrictions regarding where applications can occur.
EPA also is considering additional measures, and USFWS and NMFS could recommend restrictions tailored to individual species.
The American Farm Bureau Federation and American Soybean Association criticized the EPA’s conclusions, saying the agency failed to use the best scientific and commercial data available as required by law.
For example, the groups say that the BE for glyphosate wrongly assumes that soybean growers use 3.75 pounds of glyphosate per acre for each application; research and USDA survey data show the actual rate is about one pound per acre, according to the groups.
The groups say in a statement issued Saturday that the glyphosate evaluation “also assumes growers reapply chemistry a mere seven days after an initial application. This extraordinarily unrealistic assumption for any producer increases model exposure risks for species.”
Kevin Scott, a South Dakota farmer who is president of ASA, said the EPA “chose to ignore” some “better and credible data” provided by farmers. “These unrealistic findings will only fuel public distrust and risk grower access to glyphosate and other essential tools,” he said.
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In a FAQ released with the biological evaluations, EPA said it "considers the most recent 5 years of usage data to represent current labeled uses."
The agency noted that earlier this year the companies with registrations for atrazine and simazine had voluntarily requested new restrictions on where the chemicals could be used, including a prohibition on their use in Hawaii and Alaska and the U.S. territories.
Atrazine uses were cancelled for roadsides, Conservation Reserve Program acreage, timber and forestry, and miscanthus and other perennial bioenergy crops.
Simazine uses were cancelled for use around shelterbelts and in forestry, except for Christmas tree plantings.
A major environmental group, the Center for Biological Diversity, praised the EPA's biological evaluations.
“The EPA’s finding that the two most-used pesticides in the U.S. harm the great majority of our protected species should trigger dramatic reform of our toothless pesticide-approval system,” said Nathan Donley, the group's environmental health science director.
“This finding vividly exposes just how harmful pesticides can be to Earth’s most vulnerable creatures and must lead to significant on-the-ground protections.”
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