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Fish and Wildlife Service Checking for Toxic Chemicals on Refuges

April 30, 1985

WASHINGTON (AP) _ Spurred by reports from wildlife refuge managers, the Fish and Wildlife Service is studying contamination by toxic chemicals on 37 of its refuges and other installations this year.

But the service said it does not believe that any of its 473 installations are as severely affected by toxic contamination as the Kesterson refuge in California’s San Joaquin Valley, where Interior Secretary Donald P. Hodel has ordered a halt to the inflow of irrigation runoff water loaded with high concentrations of selenium.

A 1983 survey of problems seen by managers of the 473 installations run by the service yielded responses that listed fertilizer runoff as a problem for 201, the 14th most frequently cited complaint; domestic sewage at 157, in 18th place; oil spills at 154, in 20th place; toxic chemicals at 138, in 24th place; and industrial wastewater at 94, in 35th place.

Those reports led headquarters officials to order studies for ″the ones that looked like they had the worst problems,″ said Ron Lambertson, associate director of the Fish and Wildlife Service for wildlife resources.

″Some of these are simply programs to go out and monitor,″ he said.

Seventy-six areas were chosen for further study, of which 37 are under way this year and the rest to be done in future years.

The most common concern for which more information is being sought is the presence of pesticide residues and toxic metals in wildlife and fish. In one case, the Ruby Lake National Wildlife Refuge in Nevada, contamination of herons ″appears to be coming from south of the border,″ according to a summary of studies under way.

The Kesterson situation ″has made us more aware,″ but ″our indications are that there probably are not any other Kestersons out there,″ Lambertson said.

The next most worrisome contamination problem, he said, was the Crab Orchard National Wildlife Refuge in Illinois, which contains an abandoned dump from an old industrial site listed for priority cleanup under the ″Superfund″ program of the Environmental Protection Agency.

″We don’t think it’s contaminated the water yet, but that’s exactly what we’re checking on now,″ Lambertson said. ″There are fairly high levels of PCBs there.″

PCBs are a class of chemicals that can cause cancer in laboratory animals and are extremely slow to break down in the environment. Long used as an electrical insulating fluid, they have not been manufactured since 1975.

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