BILLINGS, Mont. — An environmental group has filed a lawsuit against the U.S. Forest Service for allegedly polluting waterways by dropping large volumes of fire retardant from aircraft to fight wildfires.
Government data released earlier this year found more than 760,000 gallons of fire retardant were dropped directly onto streams and other waterways between 2012 and 2019.
“It’s simply too toxic at the levels used fighting fires,” said Andy Stahl, executive director of Forest Service Employees for Environmental Ethics of Eugene, which is filing the lawsuit.
The lawsuit was filed Tuesday in U.S. District Court in Montana. This group has sued the Forest Service before on this issue and won, but they say a loophole was left behind
The main ingredients in fire retardant are inorganic fertilizers and salts that can be toxic to some fish, frogs, crustaceans and other aquatic species.
The AP reports that according to a 2011 government decision, fire retardant may only be applied in designated “avoidance areas.” Those reportedly are areas where human life or public safety is threatened and retardant could help.
“And it turns out that loophole has been enough to drive hundreds of retardant bombers through. So this lawsuit seeks to close that loophole,” Stahl told Central Oregon Daily News.
Stahl contends that dropping water is just as effective as dropping retardant and is safer for the environment.
He also says that firefighting efforts on the ground are more effective than air drops. He noted that that no retardant was dropped on the 2020 Labor Day fire that devastated several communities.
A Forest Service spokesperson said the agency typically does not comment on active litigation, according to AP.