Pesticides Threaten Aquatic Species in the Wildest Stream in the West
Travelers on the northern pitch of California find themselves ascending through the Klamath-Siskiyou Bioregion, one of the oldest, largest and wildest ecosystems in the U.S. outside of Alaska. The coastal gateway to this wildland is the Smith River, the only remaining undammed major river in California. The Smith is almost fully protected, a 719 square-mile paradise where salmon and steelhead of monumental size still reign in a state whose fishery flirts with extinction.
Incredibly, for the past half-century local farmers—who grow ninety percent of the U.S. production of Easter lily bulbs—have applied an annual average of 300,000 pounds of highly toxic pesticides on some 1,000 acres of lily fields that drain directly to the Smith River estuary. Estuaries provide critical habitat for salmonids—particularly endangered Coho salmon—and other species.
The non-profit Siskiyou Land Conservancy and its predecessor, the Smith River Project, have for the past dozen years dogged state and federal agencies to reign in lily farmers’ pesticide use, which, in the case of two “bad actor” chemicals, occurs in pounds-per-acre amounts that are higher than anywhere else in pesticide-soaked California. But challenging pesticide use in California, or anywhere in the U.S., is like searching a black hole for a place to sit down.
In the distance we see a bench. In 2011, the California North Coast Regional Water Quality Control Board issued a report revealing that a stream feeding the Smith River estuary’s only remaining large slough was contaminated with pesticide residues. The testing occurred only after a years-long squeaky-wheel campaign by Siskiyou Land Conservancy. While the sampling was tiny, the result has given proponents of clean water ammunition to protect what is arguably the most pristine salmonid stream on the West Coast of the U.S.
Water Quality scientists took just four samples in all, one above and one below pesticide use in two creeks. They got a huge hit. One of the samples revealed that copper levels in Delilah Creek were 28 times higher than that allowed by state law. The findings also “demonstrate evidence of chronic reproductive toxicity,” according to the report.
Copper is easier and cheaper to detect than most of the pesticides (and their breakdown products) used along the Smith River. The Water Board’s findings indicate that other pesticides may be reaching the Smith River estuary. Christopher Pincetich, Ph.D., an expert on the effects of pesticides on aquatic organisms, said of the state’s Smith River testing, “The chronic toxicity result is very significant; I saw almost zero reproduction. That test uses Ceriodaphnia dubia, a freshwater invertebrate, the ‘water flea.’ It is very relevant to use as it is the base of the food-web. If Cerio can not reproduce in your watershed, you can technically extrapolate this to say that salmon habitat is likely impaired as their food source (small aquatic invertebrates) is impacted.”
Public trust agencies are responding with concern. The Smith River—no dams, little sediment, almost entirely protected within the Smith River National Recreation Area, more miles designated “Wild and Scenic” than any other U.S. stream outside of Alaska—is a “seed bank” for wild salmonid stocks. In terms of species recovery, over decades “strays” from the Smith River may be responsible for recolonizing salmon and steelhead streams up and down the California-Oregon coast. That is, if the pesticides don’t get them first.
A 2002 study commissioned by the Smith River Project revealed that in 2000 lily growers applied more pounds per acre of metam sodium and 1,3-Dichloropropene—highly toxic and carcinogenic nematicides—than occurred in any other county in California. By 2008 use of both of these chemicals in Smith River had more than doubled. In addition, use of at least four pesticides along the Smith River estuary exceed the federal government’s established level of concern for endangered aquatic organisms.
Since January 2012, several significant developments promise to bolster protection efforts at the Smith River estuary, including:
- In January, the National Marine Fisheries Service released its long awaited Southern Oregon/Northern California Coast Coho Salmon Recovery Plan, which lists pesticide use on lily bulb farms alongside the Smith River estuary as one of the greatest threats to salmon in the watershed. The Recovery Plan cites the work of Siskiyou Land Conservancy and the Smith River Project, which provided the Plan with original research on pesticide use along the Smith River and its potential impacts on salmonids. Coho salmon are at risk of extinction throughout California, including the Smith River, which is nonetheless held up as one of the few streams in the state that should be able to sustain viable Coho populations well into the future. (In addition to Coho salmon, the tidewater goby, listed as Endangered under the federal Endangered Species Act, is imperiled by Smith River pesticide use. The Smith River estuary provides northernmost habitat of the goby’s entire range. The only place tidewater gobies are found in the Smith River estuary are in Tillas Slough, which is fed by Delilah Creek, where the state Water Board found the copper spike.)
- In February, the North Coast Regional Water Quality Control Board invited Siskiyou Land Conservancy to join a Stakeholder Advisory Group to develop a Water Quality Compliance Program for discharges from irrigated lands in the North Coast Region. The significance of the appointment extends beyond the Smith River, in that the Water Quality Compliance Program area includes watersheds as far south as the San Francisco Bay Area.
- Siskiyou Land Conservancy is now working directly with lily farmers in an attempt to achieve voluntary reductions in pesticide use. Lily farmers have long been reluctant to collaborate with conservation organizations, and are only doing so now owing to the findings of the Water Quality Board’s testing and the Coho Recovery Plan’s citing of pesticide use as a threat to protected species.
Lily farming is one of the last viable local industries in Del Norte County, one of the poorest regions of California. Twenty-two percent of Del Norte County’s 30,000 residents live under the poverty level; the timber and fishing industries are all but dead; and the biggest employer is Pelican Bay State Prison, a lock-up so severe that even Amnesty International has condemned it.
Challenging lily farmers draws howls from local business boosters. When NMFS released the Coho Recovery Plan, all five of the county Board of Supervisors condemned the document.
“There’s a bullseye on ag,” Supervisor David Finigan told the Del Norte County Triplicate in a story that appeared on April 2.
Indeed, the Recovery Plan hammers ag throughout the Smith River chapter of the document. “The areas that have been impacted are in the lower Smith River, where the greatest potential to support coho exists. … Agriculture in the lower watershed and around the estuary has been, and continues to be the greatest contributor to loss and degradation of coho salmon habitat. … The production of lily flowers and bulbs requires pesticide use to control nematodes and diseases, which can impact salmonids.”
In the Triplicate article Harry Harms, general manager of Hastings Bulb Growers, Inc., said the Recovery Plan should not have cited a 2002 study conducted for the Smith River Project by the Center for Ethics and Toxics, then led by the renowned toxicologist Dr. Marc Lappé.
“It’s loaded with supposition and these guys are trying to basically use data that connects dots,” said Harms. “They’re saying since we use it, it must be there.”
EcoWatch Daily Newsletter
The U.S. reported more than 55,000 new coronavirus cases on Thursday, in a sign that the outbreak is not letting up as the Fourth of July weekend kicks off.
- The U.S. Isn't in a Second Wave of Coronavirus – The First Wave ... ›
- Navajo Nation Has Highest Covid-19 Infection Rate in the U.S. ... ›
- U.S. Coronavirus Cases Top 2 Million as All 50 States Start ... ›
By Jason Bruck
Human actions have taken a steep toll on whales and dolphins. Some studies estimate that small whale abundance, which includes dolphins, has fallen 87% since 1980 and thousands of whales die from rope entanglement annually. But humans also cause less obvious harm. Researchers have found changes in the stress levels, reproductive health and respiratory health of these animals, but this valuable data is extremely hard to collect.
Researchers work with trained dolphins to learn more about their sensory abilities, seen here testing a dolphin's hearing. Jason Bruck / CC BY-ND
A Lot to Learn From Hormones<p>When sampling the blow, we are looking for hormones in mucus as these can be used to gauge psychological and physiological health. We are specifically interested in <a href="https://dx.doi.org/10.1371%2Fjournal.pone.0114062" target="_blank">hormones like cortisol</a> and <a href="https://doi.org/10.1016/j.ygcen.2018.04.003" target="_blank">progesterone</a>, which indicate stress levels and reproductive ability respectively, but can also help determine overall health.</p><p>Additionally, blow samples can detect <a href="https://dx.doi.org/10.1128%2FmSystems.00119-17" target="_blank">respiratory pathogens</a> in the lungs or nasal passages - blowholes evolved from noses after all.</p><p>This health analysis is especially important in areas with oil spills as the chemicals can cause hormonal problems that harm <a href="https://www.carmmha.org/investigating-how-oil-spills-affect-dolphins-and-whales/" target="_blank">development, metabolism and reproduction</a> in dolphins.</p><p>Hormone samples can provide scientists with valuable data, but collecting them from intelligent and unpredictable animals is challenging.</p>
Cetacean Collaborators<p>To build a drone that can stealthily collect spray from moving dolphins, we needed more data on their eyesight and hearing, and this is data that couldn't be collected in the wild nor simulated in a lab.</p><p>We worked with dolphins at facilities like Dolphin Quest in Bermuda, which provides guests opportunities to learn about dolphins while allowing <a href="https://dolphinquest.com/about-us/our-story/" target="_blank">scientists access to animals for noninvasive research</a>. Here the dolphins can swim away if they choose not to work with us, so we had to design the study like a game; the way a kindergarten teacher entertains a class. If the dolphins aren't interested, we don't get to do the science.</p><p>Over the course of hundreds of sessions, we sought to answer two questions: What can dolphins hear and what can they see around their heads?</p><p>To test dolphin hearing, we set up microphones and cameras to record dolphin behavior as we played drone noise in the air. We analyzed the responses to each noise – such as how many dolphins looked at the speaker – and used these as a proxy for their ability to hear the sounds.</p>
<span style="display:block;position:relative;padding-top:56.25%;" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="5f31daf07a652b8d64a093b993ee4e96"><iframe lazy-loadable="true" src="https://www.youtube.com/embed/UjmQeH3vXHI?rel=0" width="100%" height="auto" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" style="position:absolute;top:0;left:0;width:100%;height:100%;"></iframe></span>
Robodolphin doesn't look like a real dolphin, but it doesn't need to in order to train our drone pilots. C.J. Barton / Oklahoma State University / CC BY-ND<p>To build robodolphin, we worked with dolphins trained to "chuff" or sneeze on command to measure spray characteristics. We used high-speed photography to see the dolphins' breath as it moved through the air. Then we conducted high resolution CT scans of a dolphin head and 3D-printed a replica of a nasal passage.</p><p>Now, we have a complete robodolphin and are tweaking its sprays to be nearly identical to the real thing. This will allow us to determine how close we need to get to collect the samples, and therefore, how quiet our drone needs to be.</p>
The replica dolphin blowhole was designed from a scan of a real blowhole passage, and the spray it produces closely matches the real thing. Alvin Ngo, Mitch Ford and CJ Barton / Oklahoma State University / CC BY-ND
A Bit of Practice, Then Into the Wild<p>In the next few months, we will test flights over robodolphin with existing drones to determine the timing and strategy for collection. From there, we will fabricate a low-noise drone that can fly fast enough and with sufficient maneuverability to capture samples from wild dolphins. Like a video game, we will use the visual field data to develop approach trajectories to stay in the visual blindspots.</p><p>We plan to test our drones on a truck-mounted robodolphin moving down a runway, then using a boat to simulate realistic conditions. The next steps will involve ocean testing with dolphins trained for open ocean swimming. These tests will determine if our devices can catch and hold the hormones as the drone flies back to a researcher's boat.</p><p>Finally, we will deploy the system to collect data on wild dolphins. Our first goal is to test resident dolphins – animals that live on the coasts and deal directly with boat and oil industry noise – which will allow us to learn more about stress resulting from human impacts.</p><p>Those samples are a way off, but if all goes well we will have a specially built drone capable of flying long distances and capturing samples undetected in a few years. The samples collected will allow researchers to do better science with impact on the animals they study.</p>
- Drone Footage Captures Rare Finless Porpoises in Hong Kong ... ›
- Brazil's Amazon River Dolphin Faces Extinction After Fishing ... ›
- 10 Surprising Dolphin 'Superpowers' - EcoWatch ›
Sunscreen pollution is accelerating the demise of coral reefs globally by causing permanent DNA damage to coral. gonzalo martinez / iStock / Getty Images Plus
On July 29, Florida Governor Ron DeSantis signed into law a controversial bill prohibiting local governments from banning certain types of sunscreens.
- Your Guide to Reef Friendly Sunscreens - EcoWatch ›
- Hundreds of Sunscreens Don't Work or Have Unsafe Ingredients ... ›
- FDA Study: Sunscreen Chemicals Seep Into the Bloodstream ... ›
By Kelli McGrane
Oat milk is popping up at coffee shops and grocery stores alike, quickly becoming one of the trendiest plant-based milks.
- Is Oat Milk Gluten-Free? - EcoWatch ›
- What Nutritionists Think About Starbucks' Three New Plant-Based ... ›
- 6 Alternatives to Milk: Which Is the Healthiest? - EcoWatch ›
"Emissions from pyrotechnic displays are composed of numerous organic compounds as well as metals," a new study reports. Nodar Chernishev / EyeEm / Getty Images
Fireworks have taken a lot of heat recently. In South Dakota, fire experts have said President Trump's plan to hold a fireworks show is dangerous and public health experts have criticized the lack of plans to enforce mask wearing or social distancing. Now, a new study shows that shooting off fireworks at home may expose you and your family to dangerous levels of lead, copper and other toxins.
- No Social Distancing or Mask Requirement at Trump's Mt ... ›
- Trump's Fireworks Show at Mt. Rushmore Is a Dangerous Idea, Fire ... ›
By Ashutosh Pandey
Billions worth of valuable metals such as gold, silver and copper were dumped or burned last year as electronic waste produced globally jumped to a record 53.6 million tons (Mt), or 7.3 kilogram per person, a UN report showed on Thursday.
Environmental and Health Hazard<p>Experts say e-waste, which is now the world's fastest-growing domestic waste stream, poses serious environmental and health risks.</p><p>Simply throwing away electronic items without ensuring they get properly recycled leads to the loss of key materials such as iron, copper and gold, which can otherwise be recovered and used as primary raw materials to make new equipment, thereby reducing greenhouse gas emissions from extraction and refinement of raw materials.</p><p>Refrigerants found in electronic equipment such as fridge and air conditioners also contribute to global warming. A total of 98 Mt of CO2-equivalents, or about 0.3% of global energy-related emissions, were released into the atmosphere in 2019 from discarded refrigerators and ACs that were not recycled properly, the report said.</p><p>E-waste contains several toxic additives or hazardous substances, such as mercury and brominated flame retardants (BFR), and simply burning it or throwing it away could lead to serious health issues. Several studies have linked unregulated recycling of e-waste to adverse birth outcomes like stillbirth and premature birth, damages to the human brain or nervous system and in some cases hearing loss and heart troubles.</p><p>"Informal and improper e-waste recycling is a major emerging hazard silently affecting our health and that of future generations. One in four children are dying from avoidable environmental exposures," said Maria Neira, director of the Environment, Climate Change and Health Department at the World Health Organization. "One in four children could be saved, if we take action to protect their health and ensure a safe environment."</p>
Europe Leads the Way<p>While most of the e-waste was generated in Asia (24.9 Mt) in 2019, Europe led the charts on a per person basis with 16.2 kg per capita, the report said.</p><p>But the continent also recorded the <a href="https://www.dw.com/en/the-eu-declares-war-on-e-waste/a-51108790" target="_blank">highest documented formal e-waste collection and recycling</a> rate at 42.5%, still below its target of 65%. Europe was well ahead of the others on this front. Asia ranked second with 11.7%.</p><p>The authors said while more that 70% of the world's population was covered by some form of e-waste policy or laws, not much was being done toward implementation and enforcement of the regulations to encourage the take-up of a collection and recycling infrastructure due to lack of investment and political motivation.</p><p>"You have to think about new economic systems," said Kühr.</p><p>One approach could be that consumers no longer buy the products, but only the service they offer. The device would remain the property of the maker, who would then have an interest in offering his customers the best service and the necessary equipment. The maker would also be interested in designing his products in such a way that they are easier to repair and easier to recycle, Kühr said.</p>
- Dangerous Chemicals From E-Waste Found in Black Plastics From ... ›
- Electronic Waste Study Finds $65 Billion in Raw Materials ... ›
- Electronic Waste: New EU Rules Target Throwaway Culture ... ›
- COVID-19 Masks Are Polluting Beaches and Oceans - EcoWatch ›
- Plastic Packaging Use Increases During the Coronavirus - EcoWatch ›
- Coronavirus Worsens Thailand's Plastic Waste Crisis - EcoWatch ›
- Coronavirus Plastic Waste Polluting the Environment - EcoWatch ›