EPA’s Assessments of Seeds Coated with Neonicotinoid Insecticides Confirm Dangers to Birds and Aquatic Organisms
(Beyond Pesticides, January 4, 2018) Last month, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) released the preliminary ecological (non-pollinator) assessments for the neonicotinoids (neonics); clothianidin, thiamethoxam, dinotefuran, and the terrestrial ecological assessment for imidacloprid, finding that these pesticides pose both acute and chronic risks to aquatic life and birds. Treated seeds are identified as posing the highest dietary risks to birds, confirming previous research that neonics are highly hazardous not only to bees, but to birds, aquatic life, and other non-target organisms.
Released December 15, 2017, EPA opened the public comment period for these assessments until February 20, 2018. Along with the risks identified in the assessments, the agency is specially requesting feedback on the benefits of continued use of the neonics in cotton and citrus crops identified in last year’s pollinator assessments as posing risks to honey bees. EPA states, “We believe early input from the public will be helpful in developing possible mitigation options that may be needed to address risks to bees.” This despite evidence of long-term systemic exposures to non-target organisms that support a phase-out of these pesticides. EPA believes that neonicotinoids are crucial for the management of Asian citrus psyllid, an invasive pest that causes citrus greening, and for plant bugs and stink bugs in cotton. However, other non-chemical, or biological, management have been successfully employed.
EPA found that risks posed to certain birds from eating neonic-treated seeds exceeded the agency’s level of concern by as much as 200-fold. For clothianidin, the agency finds that as little as 1-5 seeds of treated corn will be enough to exceed acute and chronic levels of concern for small to large birds. Specifically, EPA states, “Dietary exposures from clothianidin treated seeds are noted to result in the highest acute and chronic risks from the terrestrial risk assessment to birds and mammals.”
Clothianidin, which is widely used as seed coatings on millions of acres of corn and soybean, is also determined by EPA to be very highly toxic to other taxa, including shrimp and aquatic insects. Reproduction effects is observed in several freshwater and estuarine/maine invertebrates. Developmental effects have occurred in benthic invertebrates living at the bottom of water bodies.
EPA has already released the preliminary pollinator assessment for the neonicotinoids which identified risks to pollinators from a variety of uses on agricultural crops. The aquatic assessment for imidacloprid, also released last year, finds that imidacloprid threatens the health of U.S. waterways with significant risks to aquatic insects and cascading effects on aquatic food webs.
As a result of risks to aquatic organisms, the Canadian pesticide regulatory agency has recommended banning imidacloprid, a decision on which has been delayed. In Europe, a recent survey finds that streams across the United Kingdom (UK) are contaminated with neonics. The European Commission met on December 12 and 13, 2017 to decide on a proposal to extend the 2013 neonicotinoid ban to all outdoor crops, but this decision was delayed. The issue is expected to be on the agenda again in early 2018. The UK government has reversed its previous stance on neonicotinoids, now saying that it should be banned due to their harm to pollinators.
Research on neonics has been consistent in linking their use to reduced learning in bees, as well as other impacts, such as those on colony size, and reproductive success. Studies looking at effects on birds reports that songbirds exposed to widely used insecticides, like neonicotinoids, fail to properly orient themselves for migration, the first such study that adds weight to arguments that pesticides are a likely cause in the decline of migratory bird populations. U.S. beekeepers lost an unsustainable 33% of their hives between 2016 and 2017. Neonics are also detected regularly in the nation’s waterways at concentrations that exceed acute and chronic toxicity values for sensitive organisms. Beyond Pesticides released Poisoned Waterways, a report which documents the persistence of neonicotinoids in U.S. waterbodies and the danger they cause to aquatic organisms, resulting in complex cascading impacts on the aquatic food web. The report also highlights current regulatory failures of EPA aquatic standards, which continue to underestimate risks to sensitive species due to a reliance on test protocols that do not reflect real-world exposures or susceptibilities. Aquatic standards, which have been underestimating risks to sensitive species due to a reliance on test protocols, do not reflect real-world exposures or susceptibilities.
All unattributed positions and opinions in this piece are those of Beyond Pesticides.
Source: EPA News Release.