Environmentalists Sue Forest Service for Flame Retardants Dropped on Fires

October 20, 2022 by Tom Ramstack
Environmentalists Sue Forest Service for Flame Retardants Dropped on Fires
Corpsmembers on the Fortuna 1 Type 2 hand crew hike along the fire line as they work to protect homes from the Zogg Fire near Igo, Ca. (California Conservation Corps photo)

MISSOULA, Mont. — An environmental group is suing the U.S. Forest Service for the flame retardant it drops on western wildfires, saying the chemical pollutes waterways and violates the Clean Water Act. 

The Forest Service dropped more than 761,000 gallons of fire retardant on at least 459 occasions onto streams and other waterways between 2012 and 2019, according to the lawsuit filed in federal court in Montana.

Its active ingredient is ammonium phosphate, more commonly known as fertilizer. It is mixed with water and salts and dropped from aircraft where it covers vegetation with a chemical coating that inhibits burning.

“What this aerial flame retardant does is get in the streams and creeks and kills fish,” Andy Stahl, executive director of Forest Service Employees for Environmental Ethics, told The Well News. “Ammonia is very toxic to fish.”

The group’s lawsuit seeks an injunction against the Forest Service from spraying chemical retardants on wildfires.

“Retardant use is increasing, suggesting that more retardant will be discharged to navigable waters in the future,” the lawsuit says.

The injunction should continue until the Forest Service can prove the retardants are effective and the Environmental Protection Agency grants the agency a Clean Water Act permit, the lawsuit says.

More traditional firefighting techniques can be equally effective in stopping wildfires, Stahl said.

“Water is nice,” he said. “Water doesn’t kill fish. We also know that water puts out fires.”

Although the Forest Service says the damage from U.S. wildfires is not increasing, some environmentalists say fires that ravaged western states in recent years are a sign of the times because of global warming.

“Multiple studies have found that climate change has already led to an increase in wildfire season length, wildfire frequency and burned area,” the EPA said in a report on climate change indicators in August.

A report from the environmental advocacy group Center for Climate and Energy Solutions says, “Climate change enhances the drying of organic matter in forests (the material that burns and spreads wildfire), and has doubled the number of large fires between 1984 and 2015 in the western United States.”

Regardless of whether climate change can be blamed for wildfires, the Forest Service Employees for Environmental Ethics lawsuit reveals what appears to be unequal administration of the Clean Water Act by the EPA. 

Most aircraft that spray chemicals, such as herbicides and pesticides, require National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System permits given out by the EPA only after the persons receiving them can prove they will not harm the environment.

The Forest Service has no permits for the flame retardant. Instead, it claimed authorization from a 2011 letter from the EPA granting permission for the spraying.

The lawsuit filed in U.S. District Court in Montana says the EPA lacks authority to grant waivers from Clean Water Act regulations.

“An EPA opinion cannot amend the Clean Water Act,” the lawsuit says.

The 1972 Clean Water Act is the primary U.S. law governing water pollution. Its objective is to restore and maintain the chemical, physical and biological integrity of the nation’s waters. 

It covers all waters with a “significant nexus” to “navigable waters,” including the streams and creeks mentioned in the Forest Service Employees for Environmental Ethics lawsuit.

The Forest Service has not commented on the lawsuit.

The lawsuit is filed as Forest Service Employees for Environmental Ethics v. U.S. Forest Service, case number 9:22-cv-00168, in the U.S. District Court for the District of Montana.

Tom can be reached at [email protected] and @TomRamstack

A+
a-
  • flame retardant
  • Forest Service
  • Forest Service Employees for Environmental Ethics
  • lawsuit
  • wildfires
  • In The News

    Health

    Voting

    Litigation

    April 15, 2024
    by Dan McCue
    Attorneys General, State Legislature Seek Stay of EPA Methane Rule

    WASHINGTON — Attorneys general from 24 states and one state legislature have asked a federal appeals court to stay a... Read More

    WASHINGTON — Attorneys general from 24 states and one state legislature have asked a federal appeals court to stay a new methane emissions rule rolled out by the Environmental Protection Agency. Unveiled in December and finalized on March 8, the rule aims to sharply reduce methane... Read More

    March 28, 2024
    by Tom Ramstack
    Disney World Settles with Florida After Its Opposition to 'Don’t Say Gay' Law

    ORLANDO — The company that runs Walt Disney World reached a settlement Wednesday with appointees of Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis... Read More

    ORLANDO — The company that runs Walt Disney World reached a settlement Wednesday with appointees of Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis who were exerting controversial regulatory control over the huge tourism complex. The settlement resolves some of the disputes that arose after Disney officials publicly denounced the... Read More

    March 14, 2024
    by Tom Ramstack
    Jewish Group Sues UN Relief Agency Saying It Supports Hamas Terrorism

    WILMINGTON, Del. — A Jewish advocacy group sued a United Nations relief agency Wednesday in Delaware for allegedly helping Hamas... Read More

    WILMINGTON, Del. — A Jewish advocacy group sued a United Nations relief agency Wednesday in Delaware for allegedly helping Hamas in its war with Israel and the murders of Israelis and Americans. The National Jewish Advocacy Center says U.N. relief workers who were supposed to be... Read More

    New York AG Says She’ll Seize Trump’s Property if He Can’t Pay $454M Civil Fraud Debt

    NEW YORK (AP) — Donald Trump could be at risk of losing some of his prized properties if he can’t... Read More

    NEW YORK (AP) — Donald Trump could be at risk of losing some of his prized properties if he can’t pay his staggering New York civil fraud penalty. With interest, he owes the state nearly $454 million — and the amount is going up $87,502 each day until... Read More

    February 16, 2024
    by Tom Ramstack
    Environmentalists Sue EPA for Data on Health Risks of Forever Chemicals

    WASHINGTON — Environmentalists sued the Environmental Protection Agency this week in federal court in Washington, D.C., seeking information about health... Read More

    WASHINGTON — Environmentalists sued the Environmental Protection Agency this week in federal court in Washington, D.C., seeking information about health risks from forever chemicals in fluorinated plastic containers. The two groups that sued accuse the EPA of withholding information about PFAS. They are called forever chemicals... Read More

    February 6, 2024
    by Dan McCue
    DC Appellate Court Rejects Trump's Immunity Claim

    WASHINGTON — A court of appeals in the District of Columbia has rejected former President Donald Trump’s claim that he... Read More

    WASHINGTON — A court of appeals in the District of Columbia has rejected former President Donald Trump’s claim that he is immune from prosecution for allegedly interfering in the 2020 presidential election. In a unanimous, 57-page ruling, a three-judge panel of the U.S. Circuit Court of... Read More

    News From The Well
    scroll top