Sizable factions of the scientific community have railed against the EPA for continuing to allow the imprudent and widespread use of neonicotinoid pesticides on the nation’s crops before extensive testing can determine if the substances pose as deleterious a risk as that found in multiple studies — several of which were conducted by the Environmental Protection Agency.
Such as ongoing analysis and the government’s latest assessment of four neonicotinoid pesticides (often referred to for brevity as ‘neonics’), two of which, EPA scientists conclude, directly threaten not only indispensable pollinators like bees and butterflies, but birds, aquatic life, other insects, and some small mammals, as well.
“The EPA’s assessments confirm neonicotinoid pesticides are extremely harmful to birds and aquatic life at the very center of our ecosystems,” asserted Center for Biological Diversity director of environmental health program, Lori Ann Burd, in a statement Friday. “With bird, aquatic invertebrate and bee populations in decline, the only way to prevent further catastrophic damage is to follow Europe’s lead and ban these dangerous pesticides.”
Dangerous, to say the least, in terms of impact to ecosystems and the broader environment — but, in particular, to the species and pollinators responsible for much of the nation’s agricultural acreage.
“In today’s assessment the EPA found that risks posed to certain birds from eating neonic-treated seeds exceeded the agency’s level of concern — the level at which harm is known to occur — by as much as 200-fold,” the Center for Biological Diversity statement continues. “In addition to killing birds, a recent scientific study also found, neonic pesticides significantly impair the migratory ability of seed-eating songbirds.
“Today’s analysis found that if neonic-treated seeds make up just 1 percent to 6 percent of a bird’s diet, serious harms could result.”
As Burd and the Center note, similar results abroad led the European Union to institute a temporary ban on neonics, while agency regulating pesticides in Canada recommended a ban for one of the most widely used neonicotinoids due to depredation of aquatic life — yet, these sobering findings from the government agency putatively tasked with protecting the environment do not necessarily secure a ban in the United States.
“The EPA’s own research leaves no question that neonicotinoids pose unacceptable risks,” the environmental health expert opined. “But while other developed nations wisely restrict use of these dangerous poisons, the United States has refused to take even the most basic steps to protect our wildlife from neonics.”
Four neonicotinoid pesticides — clothianidin, thiamethoxam, dinotefuran, and imidacloprid — are under investigation by the EPA after a growing body of evidence pegs the insidious substances responsible for sharply declining honey bee, butterfly, and other pollinator populations, as well as slumps in numbers of endangered species, in the U.S. and overseas.
But it’s the latter, imidacloprid, which is of exceptional concern to environmentalists and vigilant scientists — posing an “acute risk,” finds the EPA, to bird populations when sprayed directly onto crops. Indeed, the pernicious substances also threaten birds and animals eating neonic-treated seeds — which is one common method of delivery to treat plants, like cotton, with these pesticides.
“Neonicotinoids are a class of pesticides known to have both acute and chronic effects on honeybees, birds, butterflies and other pollinator species, and they are a major factor in overall pollinator declines,” the CBD press statement from December 15 explains. “These systemic insecticides cause entire plants, including pollen and fruit, to become toxic to pollinators; they are also slow to break down and therefore build up in the environment.”
And, as Truthout notes, “In 2016, the EPA also found that imidacloprid ‘potentially poses risk to [bee] hives when the pesticide comes in contact with certain crops that attract pollinators,’ according to a preliminary assessment released at the time.”
This November, Futurism reported on a stunning analysis of two of the world’s most popular pesticides, the neonicotinoid, imidacloprid, and the organophosphate, chlorpyrifos — widely suspected of causing brain and nerve damage, and in a class of substances which indeed do, although the assertion remains technically unproven — a long-temporarily banned pesticide removed from consideration for permanent prohibition by Trump EPA-appointee, Scott Pruitt, in March 2017, under highly suspect circumstances.
“Studies on the risks of neonicotinoids have often focused on bees that have been experiencing population declines. However, it is not just bees that are being affected by these insecticides,” Christy Morrissey, a biology professor at the University of Saskatchewan, warned in a press release announcing the study, at the time of publication.
Post-doctoral fellow and leader of that research team, Margaret Eng, added, “These chemicals are having a strong impact on songbirds. We are seeing significant weight loss and the birds’ migratory orientation being significantly altered. Effects were seen from eating the equivalent of just three to four imidacloprid treated canola seeds or eight chlorpyrifos granules a day for three days.”
She noted that although recovery from the effects was possible, “the effects we saw were severe enough that the birds would likely experience migratory delays or changes in their flight routes that could reduce their chance of survival, or cause a missed breeding opportunity.”
Futurism elaborated on the findings, “The insecticides have devastating and quick-acting effects on songbirds. They lost up to 25% of both their body mass and fat stores in addition to becoming lethargic and not eating as much (both signs of acute poisoning). They also became confused when attempting to migrate, unable to successfully orient themselves.”
Yet, the Trump administration’s EPA appears less than reluctant to allow the prolific use of all of the aforementioned pesticides.
In fact, just before press time, the Center for Biological Diversity issued yet another media statement pertaining to neonicotinoids, specifically in re, thiamethoxam, whose application for expanded use was surreptitiously slipped into the Federal Register on Friday — altogether unannounced by the dubious Environmental Protection Agency. Should the application garner approval, the substance — currently allowed to be applied as a seed coating — would be sprayed directly onto food crops, as well.
“For years the EPA and pesticide companies bragged that by using treated seeds they were avoiding spraying insecticides, and despite the science showing that these treated seeds were deadly to birds, claimed that they were environmentally beneficial,” Burd averred. “But we can expect the Trump EPA to now ignore the risks to birds and bees and approve these ultra-toxic pesticides to be sprayed across hundreds of millions of U.S. acres.”
Neonicotinoids indeed remain under ostensive review by the agency, with a determination to be delivered within the next two years.
While waiting without bated breath for government agencies to render verdict for or against an immense and ballooning body of scientific research admonishing of the dangers of neonicotinoids, consider the altogether ominous concluding thought from the Center’s newest press release — and the potentially tragic ramifications of erstwhile flippant, myopic decisions,
“A large and growing body of independent science links neonicotinoids to catastrophic bee declines. Twenty-nine independent scientists who conducted a global review of more than 1,000 independent studies on neonicotinoids found overwhelming evidence linking the pesticides to declines in populations of bees, birds, earthworms, butterflies and other wildlife.”
Image: Siam Teewareecharouen/Shutterstock.