US Forest Service sued by an environmental group for allegedly polluting waterways
Officials are accused of inadvertently dropping large volumes of chemical fire retardant into streams during wildfire campaigns
An environmental group filed a lawsuit against US Forest Service officials on Tuesday. Forest Service Employees for Environmental Ethics (FSEEE) alleges that the Service polluted waterways during their campaigns against wildfires by dropping large amounts of chemical fire retardant into streams.
The main ingredients of the fire retardant are inorganic fertilizers and salts that can be harmful to some fish, frogs, crustaceans, and other aquatic species. The lawsuit alleges that the continued use of this retardant violates the Clean Water Act and requests a judge declare the pollution illegal.
Data released by the Government earlier this year found that aircraft operated or contracted by the Forest Service dropped more than 3.5 million liters of fire retardant directly onto streams and other waterways between 2012 and 2019.
“It’s simply too toxic at the levels used fighting fires,” said Andy Stahl, FSEEE’s Executive Director.
Forest Service officials have tried to avoid polluting streams while fighting wildfires by imposing buffer zones around waterways where drops are restricted. A 2011 government decision stipulates that fire retardant may only be applied in designated ‘avoidance areas’ where human life or public safety is threatened, and retardant could help.
Officials in February proposed continuing the aerials retardant program with minor changes; a final decision is pending. With the proposal was a government study that determined that misapplied retardant landing in avoidance areas was likely to adversely affect dozens of imperiled species, including crawfish, spotted owls and fish, such as shiners and suckers.
Forest Service spokesperson Wade Muehlhof said it was agency practice not to comment on active litigation.
With wildfires becoming more common, the challenges for aerial firefighters are also growing.