A judge ruled Friday that chemical retardant dropped on wildfires by the U.S. Forest Service is polluting streams in western states in violation of federal law, but said that it can keep being used to fight fires.
The ruling from U.S. District Judge Dana Christensen in Montana came after environmentalists sued the government for dropping the red slurry material into waterways hundreds of times over the past decade.
Government officials say chemical fire retardant is sometimes crucial to slowing the advance of dangerous blazes. Wildfires across North America have grown bigger and more destructive over the past two decades.
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More than 200 loads of retardant got into waterways over the past decade. Federal officials say those situations usually occurred by mistake and in less than 1% of the thousands of loads annually.
The Oregon-based group Forest Service Employees for Environmental Ethics argued in its lawsuit filed last year that the Forest Service was disregarding the Clean Water Act by continuing to use retardant without taking adequate precautions to protect streams and rivers,
A coalition that includes Paradise, California — where a 2018 blaze killed 85 people and destroyed the town — had said a court ruling that stopped the use of retardant would have put lives, homes and forests at risk.