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Lawsuit Challenges EPA's Failure to Obey Court Order to Protect Endangered Wildlife From Toxic Pesticide

December 21, 2021
Center for Food Safety

WASHINGTON— Conservation groups filed a lawsuit against the Environmental Protection Agency today for failing, over the past four years, to comply with a court order requiring it to protect endangered species from the toxic insecticide cyantraniliprole.

"EPA's unconscionable delay in addressing cyantraniliprole's harms — in the face of a direct court order — is as irresponsible as it is unlawful," said George Kimbrell, legal director at Center for Food Safety.

The D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals ruled in 2017 that when approving cyantraniliprole the EPA violated the Endangered Species Act by failing to consider the pesticide's potential harm to protected plants and animals. The court ordered the EPA to consult with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and National Marine Fisheries Service to assess those harms.

However, documents obtained through the Freedom of Information Act show that four and a half years after the court order, the EPA has failed to take even the most rudimentary steps to begin assessing harms from cyantraniliprole.

"It's outrageous that the EPA is thumbing its nose at a federal court order even as cyantraniliprole wreaks havoc on our most endangered wildlife," said Jonathan Evans, environmental health legal director at the Center for Biological Diversity. "The EPA has acknowledged that this pesticide is incredibly toxic to bees and other invertebrates, but the agency is so accustomed to putting the profits of the pesticide industry ahead of its duty to protect human health and our environment that for years it simply ignored a direct court order."

The EPA authorized widespread uses of cyantraniliprole in both agricultural and urban areas without measures to protect endangered species, even though the agency found that the pesticide is "highly or very highly toxic" to hundreds of endangered species.

The EPA's own ecological risk assessment found that cyantraniliprole is "slightly to moderately toxic to freshwater fish; slightly toxic to estuarine/marine fish; slightly to very highly toxic to freshwater invertebrates; moderately to highly toxic to estuarine/marine invertebrates, highly toxic to benthic invertebrates; highly to very highly toxic to terrestrial insects."

In addition to being a highly toxic systemic insecticide, cyantraniliprole remains in the environment for years after use. The EPA's risk assessment found the pesticide has a half-life of 1,327 days in the soil, meaning half of the pesticide remains in the soil for over three and a half years after it is applied. The use of cyantraniliprole has exponentially increased over the past four years, according to research by the U.S. Geological Survey.

When forced to analyze the harm to endangered species, the EPA has found the widespread from pesticides. Last month the agency determined that the endocrine-disrupting pesticide atrazine and cancer-linked pesticide glyphosate are each likely to harm more than 1,000 of the nation's most endangered plants and animals.

An investigation earlier this year by The Intercept revealed a revolving door between decisionmakers at the EPA's pesticide office and the pesticide industry that for decades has stymied meaningful protections and allowed dangerous pesticides to be approved and stay on the market even when the EPA's own scientists and abundant research indicates that they should not.

The United States allows the use of 85 pesticides that have been banned or are being phased out in the European Union, China or Brazil, according to a peer-reviewed study published by the academic journal Environmental Health.


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