August 26, 2005 (ENS): Endangered salamanders
that live in Texas' capital city might get a break from
pesticide exposure. Conservation groups achieved a settlement
agreement this week that requires the U.S. Environmental
Protection Agency (EPA) to consult with the U.S. Fish
and Wildlife Service on impacts of the pesticide atrazine
on the endangered Barton Springs salamander.
The Barton Springs salamander, Eurycea sosorum, is
found only in Barton Springs, in Austin, Texas.
Scientists with the U. S. Geological Survey (USGS)
have found six pesticides in the Barton Springs aquifer
of concern to human health and to salamanders, since
amphibians are particularly sensitive to contaminants.
Atrazine is the most heavily used herbicide in the United
States, according to the EPA.
Water quality at Barton Springs, a tourist attraction
near downtown Austin, is a critical issue for the capital
city, which relies on the springs for part of its municipal
water supply. Barton Springs is the largest spring fed,
natural bottom swimming hole in the country, and is
utilized by over 340,000 people every year.
The agreement to consult resulted from a lawsuit filed
against the EPA under the Endangered Species Act in
January 2004 by the Center for Biological Diversity
and Save Our Springs Alliance for failure to consider
the effects of EPA registered pesticides on the salamander.
The consultation and an EPA effects determination must
be completed within one year for atrazine and within
25 months for five additional pesticides.
The EPA, which authorizes pesticide use throughout
the United States, is required to consult with the Service
to ensure pesticide use does not jeopardize the existence
of species listed under the Endangered Species Act
But the environmental agency has shown what the conservation
groups call "an ongoing recalcitrance" to
address the impacts of authorized pesticide use on federally
“The science is clear and consultation by the
EPA should result in federal restrictions on the use
of atrazine in particular and other pesticides harmful
to Barton Springs salamanders,” said Jeff Miller,
wildlife advocate with the Center for Biological Diversity.
John Fritschie, attorney for the Save Our Springs Alliance,
said, “Atrazine has been found in Barton Springs
at levels known to be toxic to the salamander's prey
species. We ask that distributors, retailers, and local
governments take initiative in eliminating the use of
atrazine, found in Vigaro and Scotts Weed and Feed,
in the Barton Springs watershed, where recreational
and ecological resources are particularly vulnerable.”
Although scientific studies have linked pesticide use
with developmental, neurological and reproductive effects
on amphibians, the EPA had refused to consult with the
Fish and Wildlife Service regarding the impact of pesticides
on the Barton Springs salamander.
In 2002, the Service requested that the EPA enter into
consultation regarding the impact of atrazine on the
salamander because atrazine has been documented in Barton
Springs at levels that warrant concern for the survival
of the salamander and possibly public health.
The Service also mentioned concerns about other pesticides
- diazinon, prometon, metolachlor, carbaryl, and simazine
- which the USGS found in the Barton Springs watershed
in 2000 and 2001.
Atrazine and carbaryl have been found to impact amphibians,
including salamanders, at very low concentrations. The
USGS scientists found atrazine at levels five to 10
times greater than concentrations shown to cause disruption
of sexual development in frogs.
The conservationists point to studies by Dr. Tyrone
Hayes at the University of California that have strengthened
the case for banning atrazine.
Dr. Hayes demonstrated that atrazine is an endocrine
disruptor that chemically castrates and feminizes male
In humans, atrazine has been linked to increased prostate
cancer and decreased sperm count in men, as well as
higher risk of breast cancer in women.
Dr. Hayes first conducted his studies showing atrazine
is an endocrine disruptor while employed by pharmaceutical
giant Syngenta, maker of atrazine.
"Syngenta subsequently halted his research and
paid for other studies that supposedly contradict his
results," the conservationists said.
In the December 2004 issue of the professional journal
BioScience, Dr. Hayes examined 16 studies on the endocrine
disrupting effects of atrazine. He found that 100 percent
of the seven negative studies were funded by Syngenta
whereas the nine studies that determined atrazine had
measurable harmful effects on various species of wildlife
were funded by governmental agencies or independent
The EPA recently banned the residential use of another
pesticide diazinon - not in direct response to any single
lawsuit, the conservationists said, but because of the
growing nationwide protest against its use from environmentalists
and public health advocates.
Atrazine, however, remains available for both agricultural
and residential use in the United States. Several European
countries, including Switzerland, home of Syngenta,
have banned atrazine.
“It is time for the EPA to acknowledge the overwhelming
science regarding impacts of pesticides on amphibians.
Their consultation process must ensure that the use
of pesticides does not jeopardize the survival of listed
species,” said Brian Litmans, attorney for the
Center for Biological Diversity and Save Our Springs
The EPA has already acknowledged the harmful effects
of atrazine on drinking water. In January 2003, Stephen
Johnson, now the EPA administrator was the agency's
assistant administrator for the Office of Prevention,
Pesticides, and Toxic Substances. He issued an atrazine
“After the most extensive analysis ever conducted
on atrazine, EPA has designed a protective, early alert
system to implement rigorous monitoring and fine-tuned
safeguards to protect drinking water in the communities
where atrazine is used,” said Johnson on January
“For the most vulnerable watersheds, if the testing
shows higher levels of atrazine than we consider acceptable,
use of the product will be prohibited in that area,”
"The Agency is continuing to evaluate the potential
effects of atrazine on amphibians, which continue to
be the subject of additional research and analysis,"
Johson said then.
"EPA intends to submit the issue of atrazine effects
on amphibians for independent scientific peer review
by the FIFRA Scientific Advisory Panel in June, and
the Agency anticipates completion of an amended IRED
[Interim Reregistration Eligibility Decision], including
consideration of effects on amphibians, by Oct. 31,
The Interim Reregistration Eligibility Decision that
the EPA completed on October 31, 2003 was required under
terms of a September 2001 consent decree between the
Natural Resources Defense Council and the agency.
The agency was required to monitor atrazine levels
in watersheds and to consider new studies on potential
amphibian risk and the potential association between
atrazine exposure and the incidence of prostate cancer
or other cancers in humans.
To fulfill the new monitoring requirements for the
EPA and Syngenta identified 40 U.S. indicator watersheds
that the EPA says are "representative of more than
1,100 other indicator watersheds across the nation."
Syngenta is required to monitor "at key sites
within these watersheds over a two-year period to determine
if a level of concern is exceeded," the EPA said.
The two year period is almost complete, and the EPA
has said that if the level is exceeded, "the watershed
will be subject to remedies consistent with EPA’s
total maximum daily load program and the Federal Insecticide,
Fungicide, and Rodenticide Act."
Back at Barton Springs, the conservationists are worried
that atrazine and the five other pesticides of concern
pose a risk not only to the salamanders but also to
the people who swim at the springs.
“Barton Springs is a source of life for people,
salamanders and other wildlife in Austin," said
Fritschie, the attorney who represents the Save Our
Springs Alliance. Headquartered in Austin, the Alliance
seeks to protect the Edwards Aquifer, its springs and
contributing streams, and the natural and cultural heritage
of its Hill Country watersheds, with special emphasis
on the Barton Springs segment of the Edwards Aquifer.
"The Barton Springs salamander is our canary in
the coal mine." Fritschie said. "As goes the
salamander, so goes human health. It is imperative that
atrazine be banned in the Barton Springs watershed and
that other pesticide use is also re-examined."
Copyright Environment News Service (ENS) 2005. All