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Daily News Blog

17
Jan

EPA Finds Risks to Bees from Neonicotinoid Insecticides, Fails to Act Accordingly

(Beyond Pesticides, January 17, 2017) On January 12, 2017, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) released major risk assessment documents on  pollinator exposure to bee-toxic neonicotinoid insecticides finding no significant risks, despite the large and growing body of science identifying the pesticides’ hazards. In the documents, EPA identifies risks posed to bees by several neonicotinoid insecticides, but suggests that no restriction on uses are imminent. In another decision meant to protect bees from acutely toxic pesticides, the agency is scaling back its original proposal in deference chemical-intensive agricultural interests.

EPA’s long awaited pollinator assessments for the neonicotinoids: clothianidin, thiamethoxam, and dinotefuran, much like the 2016 pollinator assessment release for imidacloprid, identifies risks to bees from the agricultural applications (foliar, soil and seed) of these chemicals, including from pesticide drift. Observed effects include decline in worker bees, and subsequent declines in brood and pollen stores in the colony. EPA‘s assessments continue to focus on honey bees, with cursory mention of wild, native bees. Once again, the assessments did not consider risks from exposures to contaminated water, guttation droplets, or soil, with EPA stating that, “The Agency lacks information to understand the relative importance of these other routes of exposures and/or to quantify potential risks from these other routes, and as such, they are not quantitatively assessed.” Similarly, contaminated dust, produced as a result of the planting of coated seeds, was acknowledged by the agency as a potential source of exposure and risk, as well as the cause of several bee kill incidents. However, once again the agency did not conduct an assessment for this exposure, citing stakeholder work on best management practices to reduce dust.

Pollen and nectar are identified as the major sources of exposure to bees from the neonicotinoids. EPA utilized a new modeling scheme to estimate environmental residues and produce its assessment. The agency also identified on-field risks for certain crops including: for clothianidin  —cucurbit vegetables, citrus and cotton oilseed; for thiamethoxam —fruits, cucurbit vegetables, citrus fruits, berry and small fruit, cotton oilseed; for dinotefuran —stone fruit, cucurbit vegetables, small vine fruit, berries. EPA also released the aquatic assessment for imidacloprid, which found elevated risks to aquatic organisms. This is not surprising as scientific studies show that neonicotinoids adversely affect birds,  aquatic organisms and contaminate soil  and  waterways, and  overall biodiversity.

EPA also released its final Policy to Mitigate the Acute Risk to Bees from Pesticide Products, which follows its 2015 proposal to mitigate exposure to bees from acutely toxic pesticides products. In its 2015 document, EPA proposed to restrict foliar applications of pesticides acutely toxic to bees during crop bloom and when managed bees are present. Then, EPA identified over 60 pesticides that are highly toxic to bees for spray restrictions when managed bees were on site. Beekeepers and concerned activists said then that the proposal fell short in protecting bees, especially native bees.

EPA is now scaling back its modest proposal, focusing on reducing impacts on growers. To enable growers to continue using these toxic pesticides, EPA is providing numerous exceptions, including application timing (applications can now be made two hours before sunset and eight hours before sunrise). Further, instead of targeting restrictions on pesticides that are highly acutely toxic to bees based on bee hazard data, EPA is now planning to utilize risk mitigation criteria with a focus on pesticides that have field residual times (RT25) six hours or less. EPA believes this will provide growers with “greater flexibility” to apply pesticides to crops. The agency has recommended label language:

Foliar application of this product is prohibited to a crop from onset of flowering until flowering is complete when bees are under contract for pollination services to that crop unless:

(i) the application is being made to prevent or control a threat to public and/or animal health as determined by a state, tribal, authorized local health department or vector control agency; OR

(ii) the application is being made to from 2-hours prior to sunset until sunrise; OR,

(iii) the application is being made at a time when the temperature at the

application site is 50oF or less.

Further, at the request of industry-led groups, EPA intends to go back and amend previous neonicotinoid labels that restrict applications under certain conditions with these newly recommended label statements that seem even less protective. The agency states it will begin implementing this policy in 2017 by sending letters to registrants describing steps that must be taken to incorporate the new labeling.

In both the pollinator assessments and “Policy” document, EPA continues to ignore the systemic impacts posed by many of these chemicals, especially the neonicotinoids, which the science has shown are extremely persistent in plants and soil and result in chronic exposures in the environment, continually endangering all pollinators that forage in treated or contaminated areas months and even years after initial application. EPA’s focus on short-term acute impacts from neonicotinoids exemplifies EPA narrow-scope of mitigation and undermines successful pollinator protection.

Systemic neonicotinoid pesticides, as a class of chemicals, move through the plants vascular system and are expressed through pollen, nectar, and guttation droplets.  These pesticides, which include imidacloprid, thiamethoxam and clothianidin, have been found by  a growing body of scientific literature  to be linked to pollinator decline in general.  Neonics are associated with decreased foraging  and navigational ability, as well as increased vulnerability to pathogens and parasites as a result of suppressed bee immune systems.

There will be a 60-day public comment period for the new neonicotinoid assessments onece the EPA’s documents are published in the Federal Register. EPA invites public comment on all of these preliminary assessments, and is especially interested in getting input from stakeholders on the new method for assessing potential exposure and risk through pollen and nectar. EPA may revise the pollinator assessment based on comments received, as well as additional data that it anticipates receiving during 2017. The final neonicotinoid risk assessments will be released for public comment by mid-2018.

In light of the shortcomings of federal action to protect these beneficial organisms, it is left to advocates and consumers to ensure safe havens for pollinators by creating pesticide-free habitat and educating others to do the same. Take action by calling on EPA to suspend neonicotinoids now. You can also declare your garden, yard, park or other space as pesticide-free and pollinator friendly. It does not matter how large or small your pledge is, as long as you contribute to the creation of safe pollinator habitat. Sign the pledge today! Need ideas on creating the perfect pollinator habitat? The Bee Protective Habitat Guide  can tell you which native plants are right for your region. For more information on what you can do, visit Beyond Pesticides’ BEE Protectiv  page.

Source EPA

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