Toxic cleanup turns up frogs

  During a routine survey of a toxic-waste dump near Santa Maria, Calif., EPA staffers stumbled upon a peculiar surprise. Hiding in the vegetation surrounding a series of rain-filled ponds were an estimated 300 red-legged frogs, a species listed as threatened under the Endangered Species Act. While the discovery was welcome news, biologists now worry that the four billion pounds of toxic waste stored uphill from the ponds pose a serious threat to the frog population's survival.

Owned by Casmalia Resources, the landfill on the Southern California coast took in nearly all types of industrial waste throughout the "70s and "80s until it was abandoned in 1989. The frogs probably moved in later, taking up residence in ponds downstream from the landfills, according to Steve Henry of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service in Ventura. "We are still not convinced that the water quality in the area is suitable for the frogs," says Henry. Yet so far, the frogs seem to be fine, though crews from the EPA have to proceed carefully while continuing their cleanup.

The frog, listed as threatened in 1996, has lost prime habitat to development while facing stiff competition from the introduction of the eastern bull frog, which eats it.

*Juniper Davis
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