Ten national environmental groups charged yesterday that changes made by the Reagan administration in environmental enforcement programs have "trickled down" to local communities in the form of increased threats to public health and natural landscapes.
In a 64-page report, the groups compiled incidents that they contend show a breakdown in environmental protection around the country.
These included the direct spraying of pesticides on Mexican-American farm workers in the Rio Grande Valley in apparent violation of federal rules; acid rain damage to fish and forests in the Northeast and the Midwest; dangerous levels of the pesticide toxaphene, a suspected carcinogen, in fish in the Great Lakes; decreased protection for several million acres of wetlands in Wisconsin, and reduced monitoring of air and water quality in 13 states.
"Wherever you scratch the surface, something disastrous is happening locally," said Jonathan Lash, an attorney with the Natural Resources Defense Council. "This is one place where the trickle-down theory really works. Toxic pollution, hazardous wastes, lost parklands, acid rain -- these are problems Americans care about, and the Reagan environmental policies are making them worse."
Administration officials discounted the report as election-season propaganda, calling it a rehash of past environmentalist attacks on the administration. They also contended that it was filled with inaccuracies.
"What I see in it is of course politics," said A. Alan Hill, chief of the White House's Council on Environmental Quality. "These are the same groups that endorsed Jimmy Carter in 1980 and have just continued their political war against this adminstration ever since. It doesn't serve the cause of environmental protection."
An Environmental Protection Agency spokesman said the report was "out of whack" in charging that the administration has done little to clean up toxic wastes in the contaminated Niagara River.
"They fail to mention that EPA last April established a commission to work with New York State to study the river, awarded a $500,000 study grant and aided them with water monitoring and technical assistance," the spokesman said.
The spokesman also said the administration was waging an aggressive war on acid rain by putting $22 million in the fiscal 1983 budget to study the problem. The groups charged in their report that the administration spends too much time studying acid rain rather than controlling it. The report blamed acid rain for the loss of $2.5 billion in fishing and tourism business in the Northeast.
The environmentalists acknowledged that many of the problems detailed in the report -- such as health threats from pesticides, hazardous wastes and other forms of pollution -- received inadequate attention before the Reagan administration took office.
But they contended that the threats are being exacerbated by recent cutbacks in environmental enforcement, combined with a more pro-industry attitude among regulators. The report noted that the administration has increasingly approved "emergency uses" of pesticides that would otherwise be forbidden under federal regulations.
It cited a survey of more than 100 Texas farm workers in the Rio Grande Valley who said they were working in fields when pesticides were sprayed from passing airplanes or tractors. The workers complained of rashes, sores, dizziness and headaches, all symptoms of pesticide poisoning.
The report criticized the EPA for turning down requests to intervene in the case.
A spokesman said the EPA studied the case and concluded that Texas was enforcing the federal law adequately. He noted that the state sponsors an educational radio program about pesticides in English and Spanish.