Commentary on 'Launch of a Pesticide Right to Know Effort in Oregon'

Dan Montgomery

June 24, 1998

This proposed right to know law would require licensed pesticide applicators, whether private or commercial, to report pesticide use to the Oregon Department of Agriculture, but would not require reporting of industrial waste which is dumped into rivers. The less pollution of rivers and streams, the better. The USGS reported that the lower Willamette River has a fluoride concentration of about 0.2 parts per million.1 This is on the borderline of being enough to make the salmon too tired to swim up the river to spawn. The slower migration time leads to the loss of the salmon. At 0.5 ppm, the loss of salmon was 55% at John Day Dam on the Columbia River. 2

A fluoride concentration of 0.2 parts per million is part of the total chemical exposure of salmon in the Willamette River. The Willamette is polluted with carbofuran and triclopyr and many other pesticides.3 Triclopyr is an herbicide. It comes in two forms. The newer product is an ester which is 10 to 100 times more toxic to salmonids than the acid form. In one experiment, juvenile coho salmon became lethargic because of low level exposure to triclopyr. Triclopyr can make salmon less likely to avoid predators and more likely to drift downstream.4 In another experiment, male Atlantic salmon which were placed in water with nominal concentrations of carbofuran had an impaired ability to sense the presence of female pheromones. The researchers concluded that this impairment may cause them to fail to reproduce.5

There is a lengthy list of pesticides which are known to behaviorally disable salmon or interfere with the reproductive fitness of salmon in some way. These have recently been reviewed by Grier, et al..6 If we measure the effect of one chemical at a time, we won't find much, but when we add up the effect of many chemicals, then it becomes apparent that wild salmon are swimming through a toxic soup in the Willamette River and its tributaries. Plans for wild salmon recovery could be more effective by including the removal of toxic chemicals from the Willamette River Basin.

  1. Dan Montgomery, "Acid Fluoride, Computer Chips and the Decline of Wild Salmon," Fluoride Issues, Environmental News,, March 24, 1998. Fluoride Issues,
  2. Richard G Foulkes and Anne C Anderson, (1990) "Impact of Artificial Fluoridation on Salmon Species in the Northwest USA and British Columbia, Canada," Fluoride, 27(4), pp. 220-226.
  3. JA Johansen and GH Geen, (1990) "Sublethal and acute toxicity of the ethylene glycol butyl ether ester formulation of triclopyr to juvenile coho salmon (Oncorhynchus kisutch)," Archives of Environmental Contamination and Toxicology, 19, pp. 610-616.
  4. CP Waring and A Moore, (1990)"Sublethal effects of carbamate pesticide on pheromonal mediated endocrine function in mature male Atlantic salmon (Salmo salar L.) parr," Fish Physiology and Biochemistry, 17(1-6), pp. 203-211, (abstract).
  5. Neva Hassanein, Katie Jo Keppinger and Caroline Cox, Altering Oregon's Destiny: Hormone-Disrupting Pesticides in the Willamette River, Eugene, Oregon: Northwest Coalition for Alternatives to Pesticides, Table 1, p. 5, October, 1997.
  6. Norma Grier, Erik Clough and Anna Clewell, Toxic Water: A Report on the Adverse Effects of Pesticides on Pacific Coho Salmon and the Prevalence of Pesticides in Coho Habitat, Eugene, Oregon: Northwest Coalition for Alternatives to Pesticides, December, 1994.