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Judge said sprays of flame retardant polluted rivers but allowed continued use

BILLINGS, Montt (AP) — A judge ruled Friday that the US government could: continue to use chemical flame retardants to fight wildfires pollute the rivers of the western states Violate federal law.

U.S. District Judge Dana Christensen of Missoula, Montana, said stopping the use of the red slurry material could further exacerbate the environmental damage caused by wildfires.

The judge agreed with the opinion of US Forest Service officials that it is sometimes necessary to drop flame retardants from aircraft into areas with waterways to protect life and property.

the verdict came later Environmental activists filed a lawsuit After it was discovered that the Forest Service had dumped flame retardants into waterways hundreds of times over the past decade.

Government officials say chemical flame retardants could be crucial in slowing the progression of dangerous fires. Wildfires across North America have grown larger and more devastating over the past two decades as climate change warms the planet.

More than 200 flame retardants have entered waterways in the last decade. Such situations are usually erroneous and occur in less than 1% of thousands of packages per year, federal officials say.

Coalitions, including those in Paradise, California, where a 2018 fire killed 85 people and destroyed towns, said court rulings against the use of flame retardants would endanger lives, homes and forests.

“This case was very personal to us,” said Paradise Mayor Greg Bolin. “Our brave firefighters need every tool in their toolbox to protect life and property from wildfires, and today’s ruling ensures we have a fighting chance this fire season. You can get to

State and local agencies rely heavily on the US Forest Service for firefighting, many of which originate from or involve federal lands.

Flame retardants are special mixtures of water and chemicals such as inorganic fertilizers and salts. Designed to change the way a fire burns, weakening the flame and slowing its progress.

This gives firefighters time to move blazes away from inhabited areas and, in extreme situations, to evacuate people from danger.

“Flame retardants are long-lasting and effective even when dry,” says Scott Upton, a former California Fire Department regional manager and air strike group supervisor. “Water tastes good when it’s dry. It’s very effective at suppressing fires, but it doesn’t last long.”

The Oregon-based group Forest Service Employees for Environmental Ethics argued in it. lawsuit filed last year The Forest Service continued to use flame retardants without taking adequate precautions to protect streams and rivers, it said, ignoring the Clean Water Act.

Christensen said stopping the use of flame retardants “could lead to even greater damage from wildfires, including damage to life, property and the environment.” The judge said the ruling was limited to 10 western states that claimed pollution damage to waterways used by members of the plaintiffs’ group.

After filing the lawsuit, the Forest Service applied to the Environmental Protection Agency for permission to continue using flame retardants without violating the law. That process can take years.

Mr. Christensen has ordered federal officials to report on their progress every six months.

Experts say climate change, migration of people to fire-prone areas and overgrown forests are causing more devastating large-scale fires that are harder to fight.

More than 100 million gallons (378 million liters) of flame retardants have been used in the past decade, according to the USDA.

According to the 2021 Risk Assessment, the health risk to firefighters and others coming into contact with flame retardants is considered low.

However, chemicals can be toxic to some fish, frogs, crustaceans, and other aquatic life. A government study found that misuse of flame retardants can adversely affect dozens of endangered species, including crayfish, spotted owls, and fish such as shiners and suckers.

Forestry officials said they are trying to comply with the law by obtaining pollution permits, but that could take years.

In recent years, officials have avoided falling into buffer zones within 300 feet (92 meters) of waterways to prevent river pollution. Flame retardants can only be applied within these zones when human life or public safety is threatened. Officials said of the 213 firefighting incidents between 2012 and 2019, 190 were accidents and the rest were needed to save life and property.

As the 2023 fire season begins, Matt Diaz, president of the California Forest Society, said the potential lack of access to flame retardants to federal agencies that play a key role in many fires is “terrifying.”

Much of the western United States received heavy snowfall this winter, resulting in much of the region being less at risk of fire than in recent years.

https://www.ksby.com/weather/fire-watch/judge-says-fire-retardant-drops-are-polluting-streams-but-allows-use-to-continue Judge said sprays of flame retardant polluted rivers but allowed continued use

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