The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) in September announced new rules on the use of three organophosphate pesticides — chlorpyrifos (Lorsban), diazinon and malathion — to protect endangered salmon and steelhead in Western states.

Among the new rules is a 100- to 1000-foot buffer zone for applications near irrigation ditches, canals and tributaries that might lead to waterways where endangered salmon species are known to exist. The size of the buffer zone depends on the rate of application, the droplet size, and the size and type of the body of water.

These new requirements are likely to appear on product labels and County Bulletins by spring 2010. EPA plans to include a buffer zone calculator in the County Bulletins. Growers in the Sacramento Valley are affected and requirements could eventually include growers along the San Joaquin River if endangered salmon runs are restored as expected under a recent federal agreement.

Other anticipated changes to product labels include a ban on applications if wind speeds exceed 10 mph, if the soil is saturated and/or if rain is predicted within 48 hours of the application. New requirements to report incidents of fish kills are also included.

Under the Endangered Species Act, any federal agency must determine if its actions, for example a pesticide registration, could impact endangered species. If the agency determines there is the potential to impact one or more endangered species, then it must consult with federal fish and wildlife agencies. The agency then does its own assessment and if it agrees that there will be an impact, suggests mitigation measures.

Lawsuits brought by environmental interests in 2001 claimed that EPA, in its risk assessments for these and other pesticides, did not consult with those agencies. EPA had not, although it assessed the risk of pesticides to endangered species in the course of registration. In settling the suit, EPA agreed to review 55 compounds for potential impacts to endangered salmon species. For 37 of the compounds, many of them commonly used in almonds, EPA made a "may affect" finding and has started consultations with the National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS).

The three OPs are the first compounds to complete the consultation process. In the resulting biological opinion by NMFS, it recommended buffer zones of 500 feet for ground and 1000 feet for aerial applications and mandatory vegetative buffer strips. However, EPA determined that buffer zones of 100 to 1000 feet, depending on various conditions, would meet the same levels of protection.

"This decision sets an important precedent for how pesticides are reviewed by EPA and the Services and is just the tip of the iceberg," says ABC's Gabriele Ludwig. "Endangered Species will be a driver in pesticide registration and registration review decisions."

For example, EPA recently entered into a settlement on a lawsuit for 11 endangered species (insects, fish, birds, plants, mammals) in the San Francisco Bay Delta region and 74 pesticides.

For more information, log onto the EPA Web site at http://www.epa.gov/pesticides/.