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Daily News Blog

14
Feb

“Hey Farmer Farmer, Put Away that” Dicamba Weed Killer

(Beyond Pesticides, February 14, 2020) The weed killer dicamba has been blamed for killing or damaging millions of acres of non–genetically modified crops and other plants that have no protection against the compound. Litigation, legislation, and manufacturer machination abound as dicamba damage mounts. The trial in a suit filed in 2016 by a Missouri peach farmer against dicamba manufacturers Bayer and BASF has just begun; an Indiana state laboratory struggles to keep up with demand to evaluate dicamba damage; Idaho lawmakers are poised to weaken rules that protect farmworkers who apply dicamba (and other pesticides) aerially; agricultural officials in Missouri are pressuring the state legislature to increase funding to handle the exploding numbers of dicamba complaints; and Indiana’s legislature is considering two bills aimed at curtailing dicamba drift that kills neighboring crops. This Daily News Blog will round up the plethora of recent news on dicamba — the toxic and destructive culprit behind each of these stories.

In the face of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) failure to mitigate dicamba hazards, states have been scrambling to enact limits on when and how dicamba can be used, amend buffer zones around application sites, and in some cases, ban its use outright. In 2018, Arkansas banned dicamba use from mid-April through the end of October (and survived a Monsanto challenge to the ban). Later that year, EPA stepped in to rule that the herbicide could be used in the state for two years, superseding the state ban.

Originally developed in the 1950s, dicamba is a benzoic acid herbicide that, when absorbed by plant tissue, ultimately causes the plant to outgrow its nutrient supply and die. Plants poisoned by dicamba typically exhibit curled, cup-shaped leaves, and often, stunted growth. Dicamba’s health effects on animal organisms can manifest as developmental, reproductive, neurological, hepatic, or renal harms. It also is a particular threat to birds, insects, fish, and aquatic organisms, as well as to non-target plants.

In late 2016, EPA registered (approved) a new dicamba formulation, with supposedly lowered volatility, for use with genetically engineered (GE), dicamba-tolerant seeds. The dicamba volatility issue is real: it simply does not stay put, no matter how it is applied, but becomes airborne and travels. This new dicamba formulation has added yet another chapter in the entropic spiral of plants’ development of resistance to any pesticide to which they are exposed.

Dicamba complaints to state regulators have burgeoned; Illinois, for example, received nearly 600 dicamba damage complaints as of late August 2019, compared to 246 in 2017 and 330 in 2018. Concerns among farmers have spiked especially since 2016, when Monsanto (now owned by Bayer AG) released its dicamba-tolerant cotton and soybean seeds, which led to increased use of a newer generation of dicamba-based herbicides. The marketing of dicamba-dependent seeds was an industry response to the widespread resistance that developed to the earlier glyphosate-based herbicides (Roundup, primarily) and their companion Roundup-tolerant seeds. Dicamba is extremely prone to drifting onto non-target areas, particularly in hot temperatures and/or when applied in an admixture with glyphosate. Mixing dicamba and glyphosate has become increasingly widespread in attempts to manage weeds that are resistant to glyphosate.

As Beyond Pesticides wrote in September 2019, “Complicating the picture of dicamba damage is the increasingly common practice of using both it and glyphosate on GE soy and cotton crops — as glyphosate has become more ineffective, given the development of some weeds’ resistance to the compound. In 2015, Monsanto began selling [with EPA approval] another iteration of its genetically engineered (GE) soybean seed, which is tolerant of both compounds. But this seed-plus-double-herbicide protocol has exacerbated the drift problem and resultant plant damage, whether to crops, or to trees and landscapes on nearby private or public lands. Recent research shows that the addition of glyphosate to dicamba herbicides increased concentrations of dicamba in the air by as much as nine times those of dicamba alone.”

Because of dicamba drift, damage to non-target plants and to nearby fields — often other farmers’ crops — has emerged as a very serious issue. The majority of soybeans planted in the U.S. in 2019 were GE, dicamba-tolerant seeds (for use with dicamba). The drift damage is occurring in a huge scale across the “soybean belt,” from Minnesota southward to Arkansas, and the risk of that damage alone can drive farmers to buy dicamba-resistant soybean seeds. Soybeans are the livelihoods of many Midwest farmers, and the drift of dicamba onto untreated, non–genetically engineered, or organic soybean crops — because soybeans are particularly sensitive to the compound — can cause not only crop damage and failure, and economic losses, but also, real animus and social rifts in rural communities.

To wit: the extreme case of the 2017 fatal shooting, as reported by the Arkansas Times, of Arkansas farmer Mike Wallace by Allan Curtis Jones as the two argued over Wallace’s charge that Jones’s dicamba spraying on a nearby field had damaged his soybean crop. In another example, National Public Radio reports that soybean farmer Lewis Flohr of Frankfort, Indiana, who has endured dicamba damage to his crops, “now sees neighboring farms as a potential threat. ‘I flat-out tell people, “I have a lawyer. You know, watch out.”’ His neighbors, he says, ‘think I’m an a**hole.’”

Missouri peach farmer Bill Bader brought his lawsuit against Bayer and BASF back in 2016 after volatile dicamba, drifting onto his orchards from neighboring agricultural properties, caused the loss of 30,000 peach trees, compromised function of his remaining living trees, and huge financial losses. His suit seeks nearly $3 million in damages, and charges that the companies knew that their sale of genetically modified (GE), dicamba-resistant soybean and cotton seeds in 2015 (before the release of a less-volatile version of dicamba in 2017) would cause damage to neighboring farms and potentially drive impacted neighbors to buy the resistant seeds.

The companies refute the claims. According to Investigate Midwest, one of its expert witnesses, Dr. Ford Baldwin (who has previously testified on behalf of Monsanto and BASF), testified that “air in parts of the Midwest and South has become so contaminated with the weed killer dicamba that it has caused widespread damage to soybeans and other crops. . . . So many farmers are spraying so much of the weed killer at the same time that it builds up in the air to high enough levels that it is unable to dissipate. . . . and that, ‘There’s no way you can tell which field it came from. It didn’t just come from one field.’” Among the amusing defense arguments was this, from Jan Paul Miller, legal counsel for Bayer, in the defense’s opening statement: “Crinkling and curling leaves typically symptomatic of dicamba damage . . are just how peach tree leaves look: ‘They cup. They curl. That’s what peach tree leaves do.’”

The investigative reporter Carey Gillam said of the Bader case, “Among the evidence introduced at the Bader Farms trial are internal Monsanto documents showing that the company predicted thousands of drift complaints would occur after its new seed product launch.” There are hundreds of other such “dicamba damage” cases in queue. Ms. Gillam adds, “Bader is only one of a large and growing group of U.S. farmers who say they are the victims of a clearly foreseen chemical catastrophe many years in the making that has ruined crops covering millions of acres of farmland.”

Missouri and Indiana officials are deluged with complaints about dicamba damage, and are trying to keep up with necessary investigations to confirm the causes of farmers’ losses. Missouri’s Department of Agriculture is seeking funding to hire an additional six staffers to handle the load of cases, some of which are four years old. Sammi Jo Freeman, a spokesperson, said, “We had a team that was the right size for an average year of around 100 complaints, and the number of (dicamba complaints) coming in has been the No. 1 complicating factor.” The state backlog stands at nearly 600 cases.

For the past three years, Indiana’s Office of the State Chemist has fielded a barrage of calls about dicamba damaging farmers’ crops. The agency does not have the bandwidth to vet the number of complaints it is receiving — up 300% from 2017. Ping Wan, the office’s lab supervisor, said, “The first issue was we quickly reached our maximum storage capacity. . . . There is not an inch of wall space left.” The office had to buy additional freezers to store the field evidence that awaits evaluation.

NPR coverage says, “Meanwhile, because they’re fully occupied with dicamba complaints, inspectors don’t have time for all their other work, such as routine inspections of pesticide use at schools, golf courses or businesses. ‘I think that most affected states would all agree that it’s not acceptable to continue with this number of complaints. It’s just not acceptable,’ says Leo Reed, another Indiana official who is also president-elect of the Association of American Pesticide Control Officials. . . . But the EPA actually extended its approval of dicamba just a year ago, before the 2019 growing season. The agency decided the problems could be addressed with a few new restrictions on how and where dicamba can be sprayed, along with more training for people who use it. . . . Those changes did not fix the problem, Reed says. ‘As a matter of fact, the complaint numbers went up’ in Indiana and several other states.”

Also in Indiana, spurred by the surge in dicamba damage complaints from farmers, the legislature is reviewing two bills that would increase penalties for farmers (or anyone) who misuses pesticides, and make fines even steeper for repeat offenders. The hope is that the actions will reduce the incidence of dicamba drift and the havoc it causes on neighboring parcels. Associate Director for Policy Engagement for the Indiana Farm Bureau Jeff Cummins endorses the bills because farmers don’t want more-extreme action, such as a ban, on these products. He notes, “There are too many bad actors that are operating and paying the current level of civil penalties just as a cost of doing business.”

In a late May 2019 incident, more than two dozen farmworkers in a Parma, Idaho hops field were unexpectedly doused with an aerially sprayed fungicide that was targeted for an onion field across the road. A dozen or so went to the hospital because of the effects of the exposure. Four months later, several of them were still sick from their exposures. On the heels of this incident, the state agriculture department wrote a letter to crop dusting company, admonishing that — although they were technically not violating application rules — the pilot should have waited to give the farmworkers a chance to vacate the field before unloading the fungicide. Fast forward a few months, and a crop dusting association complained to lawmakers of “excessive oversight and regulation.” The Idaho legislature responded by considering a bill that would eliminate “faulty and careless” from a provision of the state code that says aerial pesticide applicators should not spray in a faulty and careless manner.

The volume of complaints and losses associated with dicamba use has not moved the current EPA to address the compound’s toxicity in any significant way. In 2017, it announced changes to the labeling of dicamba products to try to minimize drift; the change made dicamba a “restricted use” pesticide, meaning that only certified applicators can apply it legally. Those changes, as noted by Association of American Pesticide Control Official Leo Reed (above), did not remedy the problem. In 2018, EPA re-registered dicamba for “over the top” application to plants.

Beyond Pesticides reported, in March 2019: “A number of states, including Indiana, Minnesota, Missouri, South Dakota, North Dakota, Illinois, and Arkansas, have instituted restrictions on [dicamba] use that surpass those accompanying the federal registration of the compound. Texas, Iowa, Georgia, Kentucky, Alabama, and North Carolina are all eyeing 24(c) requests [for stricter-than-federal controls] for tighter application windows, additional training requirements, better record keeping, new fine structures for violations, and other modifications of the federal label. . . . [But] EPA made a low-key announcement on March 19 suggesting that it may change its handling of requests from states to exert stricter controls on use of pesticides than the federal agency sets out in its registration of the compounds — by disapproving them. This is potentially a big deal because it signals that the agency will be less-kindly disposed to states’ desires to establish either somewhat different parameters of use based on local conditions and needs, or more-stringent regulations on pesticide use than those set out by federal regulators. This issue of preemption of localities’ desires to protect their populations and environment has become an increasingly dynamic frontier at the nexus of pesticide use, health, and environment.”

Beyond Pesticides and other advocates point to organic and regenerative agriculture as the solution that protects farmers’ livelihoods, farmworkers’ and public health, and ecosystem functioning. Ecological pest management strategies, organic practices, and non-chemical solutions are the long-term solution to the current host of threats that pesticides impose. In this moment, advocacy with state and local elected officials, and through non-governmental organizations (such as Beyond Pesticides) may be the most effective ways to secure policies, programs, and incentives to help farmers get off the pesticide treadmill. Learn more about organic agriculture and land management.

All unattributed positions and opinions in this piece are those of Beyond Pesticides.

Sources: https://investigatemidwest.org/ and https://www.npr.org/sections/thesalt/2020/02/06/800397488/pesticide-police-overwhelmed-by-dicamba-complaints-ask-epa-for-help

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13
Feb

EPA Fails to Follow Congressional Mandate to Protect Children from Pesticide Exposure

(Beyond Pesticides, February 13, 2020) Congress unanimously passed the Food Quality Protection Act (FQPA) in 1996 to increase protections for children from pesticide exposure. Unfortunately, according to a new study published in Environmental Health, the law is not being employed by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to its full capacity. For most of the 59 pesticides reviewed by the study, EPA did not apply an additional FQPA safety factor and thereby missed an opportunity to protect children’s health. In fact, FQPA solidified EPA’s reliance on risk assessment calculations and mitigation measures that consistently fall short of adequate levels of protection because of serious data gaps, a failure to consider exposure to mixtures and synergistic effects, and a bias against consideration of alternatives (alternatives assessment)  that show toxic pesticides to be unnecessary. 

FQPA establishes a safety standard applied to all food commodities that considers specific risks for infants and children. The law requires EPA to assess the “aggregate risk” (considering exposure from multiple sources) and “cumulative exposure” to pesticides that have a “common mechanism of toxicity.” FQPA mandates “an additional tenfold margin of safety for the pesticide chemical residue and other sources of exposure shall be applied for infants and children to take into account potential pre- and postnatal toxicity and completeness of the data with respect to exposure and toxicity to infants and children.” The administration can also apply a different level of safety factor given there is a basis of reliable data.

[Note: FQPA explicitly excludes occupational exposure to pesticides as a part of the cumulative risk calculation. Farmworker exposure to pesticides used in agriculture may result in secondary effects to farmworker children, including epigenetic and multi-generational effects.]

Olga V. Naidenko, PhD, vice president for science investigations at Environmental Working Group (EWG), examined the implementation of FQPA-mandated safety margins for 59 pesticides. Dr. Naidenko analyzed risk assessments published by EPA from 2011-2019 for the 12 pesticides used in greatest volume in U.S. agriculture, according to U.S. Geological Survey (USGS), 35 pesticides detected on fruits and vegetables by a study conducted by the U.S. Department of Agriculture from 2016 to 2018), and 12 organophosphate insecticides that have been reviewed by EPA since 2015.

EPA applied a 10x safety factor to 11 of the 12 analyzed organophosphates. In fact, some of FQPA’s past victories include lower levels of organophosphate residues on produce and a 70% decline in the use of organophosphates between 2000 and 2012. However, this class of chemicals is still stealing IQ points from American children and costing trillions to the U.S. economy. Chlorpyrifos, which has gained much scrutiny due to its ubiquitous use and detrimental impact on the developing brains of children, is the only organophosphate missing a safety factor for children. The paper points out that, remarkably, there is a single paragraph in the chlorpyrifos risk assessment that explains its exception. EPA references a sole, industry-provided experiment as evidence for removing the safety factor.

Of the non-organophosphate pesticides, “In acute dietary, chronic dietary, incidental oral, dermal and inhalation scenarios, respectively, 13, 12, 15, 31 and 41 percent of reviewed pesticides have an additional FQPA factor for these exposure pathways.” These numbers are similar to FQPA protections reported in 2006, a decade after passage, despite a wealth of new research on the toxicity of many of these chemicals. Importantly, even as some of these pesticides do have applied safety factors, the classification is usually designated due to existing data gaps, rather than additional margins of safety to specifically address children’s elevated vulnerability to pesticide effects.

“Given the potential health hazards of pesticides in our food, it is disturbing that the EPA has largely ignored the law’s requirement to ensure adequate protection for children,” said Dr. Naidenko, “The added safety factor is essential to protect children from pesticides that can cause harm to the nervous system, hormonal disruption and cancer.”

The problem is only getting worse. The Trump Administration’s EPA recently stripped away safety factor protections from synthetic pyrethroids, a class of chemicals associated with childhood cancerautism, and other learning disorders. Beyond Pesticides coverage of this change noted, “In reviewing the epidemiological literature on the health impact of this chemical class, EPA looked at hundreds of peer-reviewed studies, but only incorporated two into its determination. The vast majority of studies reviewed by EPA were considered low quality by the agency’s subjective criteria, and effectively ignored.”

Philip Landrigan, M.D., a pediatrician and epidemiologist who is director of the Program in Global Public Health and the Common Good at Boston College, says, “Based on the strong consensus of the pediatric and the public health communities, the FQPA stated unequivocally that regulation of toxic pesticides must focus, first and foremost, on protecting infants and children. When the EPA fails to apply this principle, children may be exposed to levels of chemical pesticides that can profoundly harm their health.” 

Beyond Pesticides advocates for a fundamental reassessment of how pesticides are regulated. If EPA led with a precautionary approach where chemical approval required peer-reviewed evidence that the product is not harmful to people and the environment, safety factors for children would be unnecessary. Clearly, members of the public cannot currently rely on EPA to act in the best interests of children, all people, or the environment. But they can work to protect children and rid the world of toxic pesticides in other ways:

 All unattributed positions and opinions in this piece are those of Beyond Pesticides.

Source: Environmental Working Group, Environmental Health.

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12
Feb

Major Manufacturer of Chlorpyrifos Drops Out of Market, But EPA Continues to Allow Use

(Beyond Pesticides, February 12, 2020) Corteva, a company spun-off from DowDupont, will stop producing chlorpyrifos by the end of this year as a result of declining sales. Despite the move being in the interest of public health, the company is earning little praise from health advocates for what amounts to simply a shrewd financial decision. As news articles on the announcement have noted, Corteva will continue to support Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) registration of chlorpyrifos, which allows generic manufacturers to continue to sell this brain-damaging chemical.

“Other people are going to continue to profit from harming children,” said Marisa Ordonia, an attorney with the group EarthJustice to Canada’s National Observer. “It is big that such a major player is saying no, we’re not going to do this any more. It’s a great signal that people don’t want brain-damaging pesticides on their food. But we’re going to continue to keep fighting to make sure children and farmworkers are protected.”

At odds is the difference between halting production of chlorpyrifos and cancelling its EPA registration. While Corteva has the ability to voluntarily stop producing its own product, EPA registration permits other generic manufacturers to continue to producing the product. And, over the years, there would be nothing to stop Corteva from reintroducing “new” chlorpyrifos products back onto the market.  

Chlorpyrifos is an organophosphate class insecticide. Chemicals in this class are known to inhibit the proper nerve functioning by inactivating the enzyme acetylcholine esterase. Acute exposure to chlorpyrifos can result in numbness, tingling sensation, in-coordination, dizziness, vomiting, sweating, nausea, stomach cramps, headache, vision disturbances, muscle twitching, drowsiness, anxiety, slurred speech, depression, confusion and in extreme cases, respiratory arrest, unconsciousness, convulsions, and death. The chemical’s use in agriculture means that the general public is regularly exposed to smaller doses of the chemical in food.

The most concerning impacts of chlorpyrifos are seen in low income, fenceline, minority, and farmworker communities, where working or living near chlorpyrifos-sprayed fields can mean high rates of chronic exposure.

A study from the Columbia Children’s Center for Environmental Health (CCCEH) at Columbia University found that children exposed to high levels of chlorpyrifos had mental development delays, attention problems, attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder problems, and pervasive developmental disorder problems at three years of age. Concentrations of chlorpyrifos in umbilical cord blood also corresponded to a decrease in the psychomotor development and a decrease in the mental development in 3 year olds.  A follow-up study in 2012 finds that children with high exposure levels of chlorpyrifos have changes to the brain, including enlargement of superior temporal, posterior middle temporal, and inferior postcentral gyri bilaterally, and enlarged superior frontal gyrus, gyrus rectus, cuneus, and precuneus along the mesial wall of the right hemisphere.

In 2016, EPA under the Trump administration reversed an impending ban on the chemical after, records reveal, then-EPA administrator Scott Pruitt met privately with Dow Chemical’s CEO. Since that time, EPA and environmental groups have battled out the chemical’s use in the courts (see this previous Daily News for a timeline). In July 2019, the agency announced officially that it would permit continued uses of chlorpyrifos indefinitely.

While EPA continues to fail to meet its namesake charge of protection of the environment, states and countries around the world taking meaningful action. Two years ago, Hawaii became the first state to take action through a phase-out that completely eliminates all use of the chemical by 2022. Soon after  California became the first state to eliminate use through the rulemaking process. In New York, a law passed by the state legislature implementing a ban prior to Hawaii’s was vetoed by Governor Cuomo (D) and shunted to a slower state rulemaking process. Meanwhile, the EU decided not to renew its registration for the chemical, permitting only a short grace period of 3 months for final storage, disposal and use.

The removal of Corteva (DowDupont) from the chlorpyrifos marketplace is indicative of a pattern within the current administration that puts profit at all cost above the health of the American people, and American children in particular, according to advocates. Decisions regarding public health should not be determined by the dictates of the marketplace, but by the sound science in states like NY, CA, and HI, the EU and other countries are following for the benefit of their residents. Help us send a message to EPA that science matters, and the agency must promote scientific integrity over corporate profits by signing your name today.  

 All unattributed positions and opinions in this piece are those of Beyond Pesticides.

Source: Reuters, Canada’s National Observer

  

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11
Feb

Toxic Herbicide Atrazine Causes Wasp Gut Microbiome to Develop Pesticide Resistance Across Generations

(Beyond Pesticides, February 11, 2020) A new study, published in the journal Cell Host & Microbe, homes in on the impact of the toxic herbicide atrazine on wasp gut microbiology and pesticide resistance. Intriguingly, researchers found that exposure to atrazine changed the composition of gut bacteria in individual wasps and shifts in gut flora were heritable. This study not only represents one of the first evolutionary studies on symbiont-mediated pesticide resistance, it also provides fodder for future research regarding the implications of exposure to xenobiotics (i.e., chemical substances like toxic pesticides foreign to an organism or ecosystem) for other gut bacteria hosts – such as honey bees and humans.

Researchers utilized the hymenopteran insect model Nasonia vitripennis to analyze the effect of subtoxic exposure to atrazine across 36 generations. They reestablished a baseline of toxicity by experimenting with concentrations of atrazine to find the level at which 50% of the population died (LC50). During initial trials, some of the wasps were kept in a germ-free (GF) environment. The authors observed a higher mortality rate among the germ-free population, indicating that gut microbes assist with detoxification.  

Early generations of wasps in the study received a field-realistic dose of atrazine (300 ppb) or a subtoxic dose (30 ppb); exposed individuals showed a gut flora composition significantly different from the control group.  The shift in microbiome composition persists across subsequent generations.

“After a single exposure to some chemicals — xenobiotics — the gut microbiome can be permanently affected,” says Robert Brucker, PhD, a senior study author on the paper. “Exposure can have lasting changes to future generations even after an exposure risk is eliminated.”

After the 8th generation of sublethal dosing, there was a significant increase in tolerance to atrazine.  LC50 increased in later generations of the atrazine-exposed population, indicating pesticide resistance. The paper reads, “Our study is one of the few cases to experimentally evolve cooperation between a host animal and rare members of the microbiome to derive new fitness traits within the population.”

Even when wasps are switched to an atrazine-free diet for six generations, the bacterial composition was similar to that of the exposed parents. Overall, researchers observed an increase in microbiota diversity and bacterial load.  The paper concludes, “Taken together, these results support the conclusions that atrazine exposure can shift the host microbiome, the shifted microbiome inherited, and the altered microbiome is unlikely to revert to an ancestral-like microbial community.”

Lead author Dr. Brucker says, “Overall, we demonstrate that resistance to multiple pesticides can arise in a population that is exposed to sub-toxic concentrations, that the microbiome facilitates this resistance, and that it provides resistance against other pesticides to which the host animal has never been previously exposed.”

Atrazine is the second-most-sold pesticide globally. It is an endocrine disrupting chemical that has also been linked to neuropathy and cancer. A 2016 EPA analysis found that atrazine has been detected in 78% of drinking water across the U.S. In 2018, a study found that many communities in the Midwest have seasonal exceedances up to three to seven times the legal limit of atrazine in drinking water. This new study references previous research on human microbiomes that observed similar atrazine-degrading mechanisms in gut flora, opening another realm for potential study in human systems.

Dr. Brucker says his team plans to leverage their findings to develop probiotics that may help honey bees reduce risk related to pesticide exposure. Beyond Pesticides takes the position that, rather than adapt to a chemical-intensive world, the adverse effects to human health and the environmental are not reasonable, especially in light of the availability of nontoxic and natural alternatives. For more on how to make that reality possible, check out our Tools for Change page and keep abreast with our Action of the Week.

 All unattributed positions and opinions in this piece are those of Beyond Pesticides.

Source: Cell Host and Microbe, Science Daily

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10
Feb

Take Action: Save the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA)

(Beyond Pesticides, February 10, 2020) Through the publication of Rachel Carson’s Silent Spring, pesticide dangers became a major driver for the environmental movement. Perhaps the most effective piece of environmental legislation is the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA). Because NEPA requires a wide-ranging evaluation of the potential environmental impacts of federal actions, as well as alternatives, it serves as a model for environmental decision making. Now key elements of NEPA are under attack by the Trump Administration.

Ask your Congressional Representatives to pressure the White House to retract the proposed changes. At the same time, add your signature to the Beyond Pesticides public comment to Council on Environmental Quality (CEQ).

NEPA established the Council on Environmental Quality (CEQ) as the agency within the White House that is responsible for carrying out the purposes of the act. The regulations established by the CEQ have persisted through changes in administrations for more than 30 years without major modification. Changes proposed by the Trump Administration’s CEQ threaten this model decision-making process.

NEPA is a procedural law. It sets no environmental standards, but sets a standard for evaluating environmental impacts of proposed federal actions. It requires that federal agencies consider the short-term, long-term, and cumulative impacts of actions and disclose them to the public. Courts have ruled, for example, that registration of a pesticide by EPA is not sufficient to address environmental concerns under NEPA.

The Trump CEQ proposal will weaken NEPA regulations in a number of ways:

  • It will limit the scope of required review to exclude from NEPA review non-federal projects with minimal federal funding or minimal federal involvement.
  • It will remove the requirement for cumulative impact analysis, an important component of NEPA review. This removes the examination of greenhouse gas emissions.
  • It advises agencies to evaluate the applicability of NEPA in a way that conflicts with NEPA’s requirement that “the policies, regulations, and public laws of the United States shall be interpreted and administered in accordance with the policies set forth in this Act.”
  • It defines the universe of “reasonable alternatives” that must be considered in a restrictive way, requiring “economic feasibility” and that they “meet the goals of the applicant.”
  • It establishes tight time requirements for completing environmental assessments –time limits that are not currently met by most assessments. While this may eliminate some wasted time, it also limits the depth of analysis.

Ask your Congressional Representatives to pressure the White House to retract the proposed changes. At the same time, add your signature to the Beyond Pesticides public comment to Council on Environmental Quality (CEQ).

Petition to CEQ

(Comment to CEQ that must be submitted to Regs.gov by March 10. https://www.regulations.gov docket number CEQ-2019-0003)

NEPA requires that federal agencies perform a comprehensive, cumulative, in-depth analysis of the environmental impacts of proposed federal actions and alternatives to them. NEPA establishes a standard of decision-making for all federal agencies. CEQ’s proposed changes to NEPA regulations are unacceptable and should be scrapped. They would:

*Unreasonably limit the scope of required review;

*Remove the requirement for cumulative impact analysis and the examination of greenhouse gas emissions;

*Conflict with NEPA’s requirement that “the policies, regulations, and public laws of the United States shall be interpreted and administered in accordance with the policies set forth in this Act;”

*Define the universe of “reasonable alternatives” that must be considered in a restrictive way, requiring “economic feasibility” and that they “meet the goals of the applicant;” and

*Establish tight time requirements for completing environmental assessments –time limits that are not currently met by most assessments, limiting the depth of analysis.

Thank you for your consideration.

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07
Feb

The Black Institute Shows Higher Pesticide Use in Low-Income Neighborhoods in New York City, Calls for Pesticide Ban in Parks

(Beyond Pesticides, February 7, 2020) Toxic pesticide use in New York City (NYC) parks would get the boot if a bill — Intro 1524 — being considered by the New York City Council passes. The bill “would ban all city agencies from spraying highly toxic pesticides, such as glyphosate (Roundup), and be the most far-reaching legislation to implement pesticide-free land practices in New York City parks,” according to a press release from its sponsors, New York City Council members Ben Kallos and Carlina Rivera. The January 29 hearing on the bill in the council’s Committee on Health was preceded by release of an important report from The Black Institute: Poison Parks, which calls out the NYC Parks Department for, in particular, its continued use of glyphosate-based herbicides. It also notes, “Minority and low-income communities suffer from the use of this chemical and have become victims of environmental racism.”

NYC Council members Kallos and Rivera point out, in their joint press release, that Roundup is the pesticide most intensively used by city agencies, and that, “The use of this pesticide poses a health risk for anyone who frequents city parks and playgrounds, as well as, city workers, including city parks employees who come into contact with glyphosate containing chemicals while spraying.” Council member Rivera said: “Our parks and open spaces are critical to our health when our communities have so few of them, so we have to make sure our city is pushing toward making them safer, greener, and more resilient. But no New Yorker should ever have to be exposed to toxic pesticides and it is long past time that our city ban these dangerous chemicals.” Member Kallos added, “Parks should be for playing, not pesticides. All families should be able to enjoy our city parks without having to worry that they are being exposed to toxic pesticides that could give them and their families cancer.”

The Poison Parks report puts its advocacy of nonchemical management of public land in an environmental justice, as well as a public health, context. It defines environmental racism as racial discrimination in: environmental policy-making; the enforcement of regulation and laws; the deliberate targeting of communities of color for toxic waste disposal and the siting of polluting industries; the official sanctioning of the life-threatening presence of poisons and pollutants in communities of color; and the history of excluding people of color from mainstream environmental groups, decision-making boards, commission[s], and regulatory bodies. It also says that the Environmental Justice movement “has failed to address large-scale environmental practices, funded by big business, [that] disproportionately affect communities of color.”

The report includes data and maps that demonstrate the impacts of such environmental racism, including this from 2017–2018: “In Manhattan, Harlem was disproportionately sprayed in comparison with the rest of Manhattan. When analyzing this data, only locations that included parks, playgrounds, or recreation centers on park land were considered. Of the fifty parks or playgrounds sprayed in Manhattan in 2018, only 8 locations were not in Harlem. Forty-two locations were in Harlem where about 62% of the population is Black or Brown.” (Manhattan boasts more than 100 city parks.)

The Black Institute President Bertha Lewis said, in comments to the New York Daily News, “We understand the movement about climate and pollution going on. Too many times, the effect on black people and brown people and people of color is an afterthought.” The Bronx Chronicle also quotes Ms. Lewis: “Millions of New Yorkers rely on our public parks. Children, seniors, working people, immigrants, and their pets use them every day, but most don’t know the weed killer Roundup™ used in our parks is literally poisoning them. As our report shows, the neighborhoods affected are black and brown communities, such as Idlewild Park in Queens, where 90% of the residents are black. Average New Yorkers can’t just go to a park upstate or [on] Long Island to enjoy the outdoors. Public parks are the backyard for most New York City residents. We have banned plastic bags, we have banned trucks idling, and we have banned Styrofoam™. It is high time we ban the weed killer Roundup™.”

In the Executive Summary, the report cites the long-standing use of Roundup (made by Monsanto, now owned by Bayer AG) by the New York City Parks Department, and says, “Glyphosate [the active ingredient in Roundup] is slowly poisoning state and city employees, children, the elderly, and pets,” adding that city employees who apply the herbicide are at the greatest risk of harm because of their consistent exposure. The report further decries NYC agencies’ argument that glyphosate herbicides such as Roundup cause no harm because they are approved by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).

Poison Parks correctly notes that EPA permits toxic pesticides to remain registered (allowed for use) and on the market for years and years because its protocol is to review registrations only every 15 years. Roundup has been on the market since 1974. Its effects had “not been studied since 1993,” according to Poison Parks, which also says that in a 2018 review, EPA repeatedly found “something biased or inadequate in each case reporting a positive correlation between non-Hodgkin lymphoma and exposure to glyphosate. At the same time, any report with findings supporting that glyphosate does not cause cancer faced far less scrutiny.”

The report advocates for laws — “below” the federal level, given the state of EPA — that ban the use of glyphosate: “There are safe and healthy methods of reducing weeds without the use of toxic chemicals that threaten [New York] City’s most vulnerable. . . . Parks and recreation areas are timeless community magnets. They provide a place of relaxation and connection to others: a place for children to play, our pets to be free, and opportunity to escape the grind of city life, and need to be protected.” Poison Parks calls on New York City to:

  • cease the routine use of toxic pesticides, including glyphosate herbicides
  • permit, on city-owned land, only the use of safe products with active ingredients approved by the National Organics Standards Board
  • adopt an Integrated Pest Management (IPM) measure that requires public monitoring, record-keeping, and use of nonchemical methods and safer pesticides before consideration of any other treatments

In offering testimony in support of the ban bill — “A Local Law to amend the administrative code of the city of New York, in relation to the use of pesticides by City agencies” — Beyond Pesticides Executive Director Jay Feldman said: “By restricting pesticide use on its own property, the City will provide critical protections for community health, particularly for children, the elderly, and vulnerable population groups that suffer from compromised immune and neurological systems, cancer, reproductive problems, respiratory illness and asthma, Parkinson’s, Alzheimer’s, diabetes, or learning disabilities and autism. We urge this Committee and the New York City Council to adopt Intro 1524, a measure that meets the urgent need for hazard reduction at a time of increasing awareness of the dangers that pesticides pose to human health and the environment, while the federal regulatory system is undergoing a severe reduction in programmatic work, adequate scientific assessment, and, in many cases, a reversal of safety decisions that had been made by the EPA previously.”

The issue is made more urgent, for New York City and for many, many municipalities and states, because most environmental regulation below the federal level in the U.S relies heavily on the determinations of EPA. Under the Trump administration, federal environmental regulation generally, and regulation of pesticides, in particular, have been dramatically weakened; this administration and its EPA clearly advantage agrochemical and other industry interests over the health of people and ecosystems. The consequent loss of public trust in federal agencies broadly, and EPA in particular, reinforce the need for localities to step up and protect local and regional residents and environments.

The bill, which was first proposed in 2015 after Member Kallos heard from students at NYC Public School 290 about their worries about the toxicity and health impacts of pesticides on people and animals, would also establish a 75-foot protective buffer between any natural body of water and permitted pesticide use. On January 29, bill sponsors Kallos and Rivera, and 34 NYC Council colleagues sent a letter to Mayor Bill de Blasio, requesting that he put a moratorium on the use of toxic pesticides “until policies and procedures can be codified by the City Council and relevant agencies.”

Mr. Feldman’s comments at the Committee on Health hearing included: “With glyphosate being the poster child for unacceptable, hazardous pesticide use around our children and families, this legislation is critically needed to protect the residents and the environment of New York City, and advance the adoption of organic land management practices in parks and playing fields. . . . The approach to land care specified by this legislation identifies an allowed substance list to ensure that the products and practices used are compatible with the organic systems that protect people and local ecology. It is this approach to pesticide reform that will effectively stop the unnecessary use of hazardous pesticides applied in parks and public spaces throughout the city. While addressing urgent local concerns related to public and worker health and the environment, passage of this law in New York City will make an important contribution to reversing the escalating crises in biodiversity, including pollinator declines, and the climate crisis — which are exacerbated by petroleum-based, synthetic pesticides, the release of carbon into the environment, and the lost opportunity to sequester carbon in organic soil systems.”

Members of the public who live in New York City are encouraged to contact their representatives on the City Council to ask for passage of this legislation to protect the city’s people, workers, and environment. Read more about the organic, regenerative systems of land management for which Beyond Pesticides advocates in the article, in the Summer 2019 issue of its journal, Pesticides and You, “Organic Systems: The Path Forward.”

 All unattributed positions and opinions in this piece are those of Beyond Pesticides.

Sources: https://theblackinstitute.org/wp-content/uploads/2020/01/TBI_Poison_Parks_Report._010820_FINAL.pdf and https://benkallos.com/press-release/toxic-pesticides-ban-parks-proposed-new-york-city-council-members-kallos-and-rivera-0

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06
Feb

Farmer Takes Bayer/Monsanto to Court for Crop Damage Caused by the Herbicide Dicamba

(Beyond Pesticides, February 6, 2020) Bill Bader, a Missouri peach farmer, is taking on agrichemical giants for damages to his crops, allegedly caused by the volatile herbicide dicamba drifting from neighboring properties. Mr. Bader says that not only did he lose over 30,000 trees, his remaining peaches are now smaller and his trees are less productive. According to Bader, the damage has cost him $20.9 million for which he seeks restitution. The case is claiming that Monsanto, now owned by Bayer, and German partner company BASF knew that the sale of their products would result in crop damage due to drift, but sold dicamba-resistant cotton and soybean seeds anyway. The companies deny the claims.

Dicamba is a benzoic acid herbicide that exerts an auxin-like growth regulatory effect when absorbed by plant tissue, ultimately causing the plant to outgrow its nutrient supply and die. Originally developed in the 1950’s, dicamba has become more popular as crops become resistant to glyphosate. It is extremely volatile and prone to drift. Soybeans are particularly sensitive to dicamba, and drift damage can pit neighbor against neighbor in rural communities. Risk of crop damage alone can drive farmers to buy dicamba-resistant soybean seeds. In addition to injuring crops, dicamba drift is harming ecosystems and habitat for birds.

The case alleges that Monsanto and BASF understood the sale of genetically modified, dicamba-resistant soybean and cotton seeds in 2015, before the release of a less-volatile version of dicamba in 2017, would cause damage to neighboring farms and potentially drive impacted neighbors to buy the resistant seeds. According to the lawsuit, farmers illegally sprayed BASF’s older versions of the herbicide on resistant crops between 2015-2016.

“The damage occurring was part of the plan,” said plaintiff attorney Billy Randles in an opening statement. “The damage was an essential element of selling this product.” Randles said that Monsanto could not control the product in their own greenhouse pointed to internal company discussions where the defendants “so thoroughly anticipated the problem” that they came up with a term for those who were impacted: “driftees.”

Investigative reporter Carey Gillam noted of the case, “Bader is only one of a large and growing group of US farmers who say they are the victims of a clearly foreseen chemical catastrophe many years in the making that has ruined crops covering millions of acres of farmland. Other lawsuits making similar claims have been filed on behalf of farmers from Mississippi, Kansas, Nebraska, Illinois, and several other key farming states.”

As a result of these lawsuits, some states like Arkansas and Missouri have attempted to enact cutoff dates for use to avoid extreme volatility in summer heat. However, many states still lack policies, and those that are in place do not completely prevent the damage caused by drift. Farmers and regulators alike are part of a phenomenon of  “dicamba fatigue” where the high number of incidents and lack of action related to reporting are driving individuals to stop bothering to report.

Mr. Bader’s dying peach tree leaves tested positive for dicamba, and he says his 5,000-acre family farm is struggling to survive. His farm grows 5-6 million pounds of peaches as well as corn, soybeans, berries, apples, and tomatoes.

Jan Paul Miller, the lawyer who gave Bayer’s opening statement, told the court, “Those losses have nothing to do with dicamba sprayed over Xtend seed,” but rather were caused by root rot disease on the farm. The crinkling and curling leaves typically symptomatic of dicamba damage, he argued, are just how peach tree leaves look: “They cup. They curl. That’s what peach tree leaves do.”

Additionally, Mr. Miller responded to accusations that Monsanto had not conducted enough testing on its product by pointing to the eventual approval of the product by regulators at the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). As Beyond Pesticides has regularly said, while EPA’s approval of a pesticide is often used as a defense for the “safety” of a chemical, advocates say the highly flawed regulatory system does not conduct adequate testing.

Evidence presented at trial shows that Monsanto employees avoided further testing by University researchers in 2015 by telling them that they did not have enough product. In an email discussed in court last week, a Monsanto employee wrote as he forwarded the email to a fellow member of the technology development team, “Hahaha difficulty in producing enough product for field testing. Hahaha bullshit.”

Steve Smith, the director of agriculture at world’s largest canned tomato processor, Red Gold Inc., testified at the trial that Monsanto had many warnings regarding the risk dicamba posed to farmers. Mr. Smith was a member of an advisory council to Monsanto on dicamba. “We told them (Monsanto) over and over again it was not a good idea,” said Smith in an interview with Sierra, “They keep saying it’s a matter of educating the growers. But the problem is not education; the problem is chemistry.” Separately, Mr. Smith’s personal fruit trees were demolished by dicamba drift. Mr. Smith has lobbied for tighter restrictions on the new dicamba system, leading a coalition to act on the issue.

On February 3, the first official from BASF testified via video. Gary Schmitz, tech service regional manager for the Midwest, told the court that, while BASF advised farmers there would be no yield loss related to dicamba drift in 2017, privately the company informed applicators that any drift would cause yield loss.

Mr. Schmitz wrote in an email to another BASF employee, “I was always told never to admit guilt.” According to the testimony, he had been making edits to the training document regarding telling investigators to withhold their opinion from potential ‘driftees.’ Mr. Schmitz claimed that even with the cupping symptomology, crops would not suffer yield loss.

In court, Mr. Schmitz still backed that assertion despite record amount of drift cases in the U.S. While Mr. Schmitz admits that BASF received over a dozen complaints from abutting neighbors near production in Shellbyville, IL, he claims that the issue was with the application, not the product. Monsanto executives, similarly, claim that when the product XtendiMax with VaporGrip is applied according to the label, it does not cause any adverse effects.

In contrast to that statement, Dr. Boyd Carey, regional agronomy lead at Bayer, testified last week that, “We anticipated it might happen.” 

The trial is likely to extend over the next three weeks.

Given the volatility of dicamba, it is evident that more regulation is needed. Current policies in place must be reevaluated. EPA must begin following the precautionary principle, taking measures to assess for harm before approval. Beyond Pesticides encourages farmers wishing to jump off the pesticide treadmill to adopt organic approaches that do not perpetuate a cycle of pesticide resistance, eliminating the need for these harmful chemicals, mixes of them, and risk of drift. Those impacted by pesticide drift can refer to Beyond Pesticides’ webpage on What to Do in a Pesticide Emergency, and contact the organization for additional information.

 All unattributed positions and opinions in this piece are those of Beyond Pesticides.

Sources: Sierra, Journal Star, In These Times  

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05
Feb

In a Landscape Context, Organic Cropland Provides Refuge to Biodiversity and Is More Profitable than Chemical-Intensive Sites

(Beyond Pesticides, February 5, 2020) A new study, published in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, confirms that organic agriculture provides refuge for biodiversity in an increasingly toxic, chemical-intensive landscape and that organic sites are more profitable than chemical-intensive agriculture despite slightly lower average crop yields (depending on crop type). Considering the impact of landscape context, the value of organic agriculture to biodiversity increased when surrounded by large chemical-intensive fields, but profitability slightly decreased. Small, organic farms near urban centers, for example, can be more profitable than large organic farms in remote areas.

Researchers conducted a global meta-analysis considering the relationship between landscape context and biotic abundance, biotic richness, crop yield, and profitability. They used landscape metrics that “reflected composition (amount of land cover types), compositional heterogeneity (diversity of land cover types), and configurational heterogeneity (spatial arrangement of land cover types).” Datasets from 148 different studies spanned 60 crops on six continents across a range of farming practices and landscape types. Profitability data only related to US crops.

Organic sites had 34% higher biodiversity than chemical-intensive crops. This should come as no surprise, as mono-cultural croplands have become increasingly large and increasingly toxic to organisms such as pollinators and birds in the last few decades. Organic agriculture uses a precautionary approach to toxic substances, thereby allowing biodiversity to thrive. For example, a recent study from Finland illustrated how organic animal farms can, in fact, improve wild bird abundance.

“A landscape with large field sizes might be an indicator of agricultural intensification in general, with many fields with only one crop and heavier pesticide and herbicide use,” said Olivia Smith, PhD, lead author on the study. “That’s a place where there’s not a lot of natural habitat animals can use. An organic farm on that kind of landscape becomes a refuge for species.”

Profits from organic were on average 50% higher than conventional agriculture. Consumers who care about avoiding toxicity, especially families with young children, are driving a surge in organic agriculture. In the U.S., demand far outpaces the supply. As desire for organic food grows, so do the number of organic farms in the U.S. While the number of farms in the U.S. is generally on the decline, the number of organic farms increased 27% between 2012 and 2017, according to data from the USDA National Agricultural Statistics Service.

This study finds that profitability for organic slightly decreased as field size increased in rural areas. “The areas that get the greatest price premium for organic food are those that have small field sizes, which are often located in more urban areas that are more connected to large consumer bases,” said David Crowder, PhD, another author on the paper. “For example, all else being equal, an organic farmer who is in the middle of Iowa may not do nearly as well as an organic farmer near Seattle where there are more consumers willing to pay higher prices for organic food.”

As biodiversity is crashing down across the planet and scientists warn that humans are driving the sixth mass extinction, it is critical to invest in organic farms that provide refuge for beleaguered organisms. What more, it is time to phase out toxic chemicals that make vast swaths of land uninhabitable to pollinators and toxic to migrating birds. Ask your elected representative in Congress to support pollinators by co-sponsoring Saving America’s Pollinators Act (SAPA). If they are already a cosponsor, use the occasion to thank them for their leadership on this critical issue.

All unattributed positions and opinions in this piece are those of Beyond Pesticides.

Source: WSU Insider, PNAS

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04
Feb

EPA Set to Reapprove Cancer-Causing Glyphosate and Bee-Toxic Neonicotinoids

(Beyond Pesticides, February 4, 2020) It was a good day for Bayer/Monsanto. The chemical company’s weed killer glyphosate and its neonicotinoid insecticides are set for reapproval by the U,S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), according to interim decisions published last week. EPA reapproval of human carcinogens and chemicals contributing to the pollinator crisis is disappointing for health and environmental advocates, but not surprising to those watchdogging the agency during the current administration. “This is how a captured agency behaves,” said Beyond Pesticides community resource and policy director Drew Toher. “When EPA’s decision making repeatedly reflects the exact wishes of the chemical industry, public trust erodes, and we must look to new policy mechanisms that support the protection of health and the environment.”  

On Glyphosate

EPA’s glyphosate decision document glosses over the hazards of the chemical and is requiring very few new safety measures when using the herbicide. These measures are focused on agriculture, including minor label changes around drift, guidelines on resistance management, and a label advisory indicating the chemical is toxic to plants and may adversely impact pollinator foraging. The restrictions fail to match those proposed by Health Canada in 2015, which included buffer zones and restricted entry intervals.  

The agency is determined to avoid consideration of end-use formulations sold to consumers, which science has shown can be more toxic that the active ingredient glyphosate alone. Full formulation testing is the key to understanding the difference between a finding from the International Agency for Research on Cancer that glyphosate is carcinogenic, and EPA’s lackluster review.

As Beyond Pesticides wrote in comments joined by sixteen health, environmental, farmer, and farmworker organizations: “EPA’s myopic review and response to the dangers posed by glyphosate does a disservice to American farmers, farmworkers, and commercial landscapers wishing to use least-toxic products that do not put them at risk of health impacts, and consumers aiming to make the safest choice in regards to what to feed their family and how to manage their yards.”

While EPA has given glyphosate the greenlight, Bayer, its major manufacturer, is mired in class-action cancer lawsuits, and currently in settlement talks rumored to reach over $10 billion. As Bloomberg reporter Adam Allington wrote of EPA’s decision on twitter, “Imagine if there was no tobacco settlement and that cigarettes were still sold without a Surgeon General warning label. People would be suing left and right over product defect claims, and failure to warn. And they would be winning.”

On Neonicotinoids

Neonicotinoids are a chemical class comprised of several different pesticide active ingredients. EPA’s review covered the most frequently used, including acetamiprid, clothianidin/thiamethoxam, dinotefuran and imidacloprid. Despite finding widespread harm to pollinators, birds, and aquatic organisms, the agency is only requiring limited changes around application timing and amounts. It is eliminating use of imidacloprid on residential turf for grubs, and according to a release will be requiring “language on the label advising homeowners not to use neonicotinoid products.” Thus, the agency appears to be approving a product for sale it does not wish people to use.

EPA’s assessment is counterintuitive at every step. With widespread pollinator declines linked to neonicotinoid insecticides since the mid-2000s, a growing understanding of the role these systemic insecticides play in the insect apocalypse, and similar declines in bird populations, the agency, according to advocates, has embraced not protection, but the destruction of the shared environment. While U.S. regulators continue to embrace chemical-dependency, Canada and the European Union acted decisively to eliminate neonicotinoids.

Moving Forward

In the face of inaction from federal regulators, Congress must step in to address this issue. The Saving America’s Pollinators Act (SAPA), currently with 73 cosponsors in the House, would place another layer of review on EPA’s assessments by an independent panel of experts not subject to the influence of the pesticide industry. Under this legislation, experts would consider impacts outside of EPA’s current reviews, including indirect, ecosystem-wide effects to pollinators and their habitat, pesticide synergism, and the availability of alternative products on the market. Click here to tell your rep to join as a cosponsor to SAPA.

While continuing efforts to address our broken pesticide regulatory system, advocates can work towards state and local legislation that not only eliminates glyphosate and neonicotinoids, but the full range of toxic pesticides EPA continues to approve. Go to Beyond Pesticides Tools for Change webpage for resources and a model policy to pass in your community. Individual choices also matter – use Beyond Pesticides’ ManageSafe page to eliminate the need for toxic pesticides, and support organic certified products, which never allow the use of glyphosate, neonicotinoids, and other hazardous synthetic pesticides.

All unattributed positions and opinions in this piece are those of Beyond Pesticides.

Source: EPA press releases (neonicotinoids, glyphosate)



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03
Feb

Save Mayflies and the Ecosystems that Depend on Them

(Beyond Pesticides, February 3, 2020) In more bad news from the insect world, recent research published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences reveals a precipitous decline in numbers of mayflies where they have been historically abundant. The research finds that in the Northern Mississippi River Basin, seasonal emergence of burrowing mayfly (genus Hexagenia) adults declined by 52% from 2012 to 2019; in the Western Lake Erie Basin, from 2015 to 2019, the reduction was a shocking 84%. Neonicotinoid insecticides are a significant factor in this decline because mayflies are extremely vulnerable to their impacts, even at very low exposure levels.

Ask Congress to tell EPA, USDA, and the Department of Interior to develop a joint effort to ensure that its decisions and compliance with its authorizing statutes address the crisis of the threat to mayflies.

Ephemeroptera to entomologists—“mayflies” to the rest of us—is an insect order comprising keystone species, on which other species in an ecosystem are very dependent, and without which, the ecosystem would undergo drastic change. The plummeting mayfly “count” is especially alarming because mayflies are a critical, primary food source in aquatic and terrestrial ecosystems, and provide an important ecological service. As the research study notes, “Seasonal animal movement among disparate habitats is a fundamental mechanism by which energy, nutrients, and biomass are transported across ecotones. A dramatic example of such exchange is the annual emergence of mayfly swarms from freshwater benthic [lake or river bottom] habitats. . . . Annual . . . emergences represent the exchange of hundreds of tons of elemental nutrients, thousands of tons of biomass, billions of organisms, and trillions of calories worth of energy to the surrounding terrestrial habitat. . . . A single emergence event can produce 87.9 billion mayflies, releasing 3,078.6 tons of biomass into the airspace over several hours.” According to Purdue University ecologist Jason Hoverman, PhD, “Mayflies serve critical functions in both aquatic and terrestrial ecosystems. Because of their important role as prey, reductions in their abundance can have cascading effects on consumers throughout the food web.” Without this critical keystone species, an important food source and nutrient recycler would be lost.

Thus, although neonics are directly toxic to many insects, the role of pesticides in destabilization of ecosystems is not necessarily direct. Beyond direct toxicity, pesticides can significantly reduce, change the behavior of, or destroy populations of plants and animals. These effects can ripple up and down food chains, causing what is known as a trophic cascade. The loss or reduction of populations at any trophic level—including amphibians, insects, or plants—can result in changes that are difficult to perceive, but nonetheless equally damaging to the stability and long-term health of an ecosystem.

Three phenomena account for most of the decrease in mayfly populations: (1) dramatically increased use of neonicotinoid pesticides, to which mayflies are highly sensitive; (2) algal blooms, especially in Lake Erie, caused primarily by runoff of agricultural fertilizers and other nutrient-dense pollutants; and (3) the warming impacts of the climate crisis, which include higher water temperatures that can wreak havoc with the development of these tiny creatures.

Because the threats to mayflies cut across regulatory boundaries, it is important for federal agencies to cooperate in protecting them. Action must be taken to protect vulnerable waterways from neonicotinoid contamination. The frequency of detections in U.S. waterways cannot be overlooked. Such routine detections, even at low levels, indicate that our waterways are being overloaded with mobile and persistent chemicals at highly elevated concentrations.  Thus far, little action has been taken to restrict the use of these chemicals in response to the independent scientific literature and EPA risk data that identify direct threats to aquatic invertebrates, as well as indirect threats to higher trophic organisms. Federal benchmarks based on testing on insensitive species are not protective of more sensitive species. Similarly, action is needed to prevent runoff from agricultural fields and feedlots and adopt climate-friendly policies.

Ask Congress to tell EPA, USDA, and the Department of Interior to develop a joint effort to ensure that its decisions and compliance with its authorizing statutes address the crisis of the threat to mayflies.

Letter to Congress

I am writing to call your attention to a serious ecological problem that requires a coordinated effort across government agencies.

Recent research published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences reveals a precipitous decline in numbers of mayflies where they have been historically abundant. In the Northern Mississippi River Basin, seasonal emergence of burrowing mayfly adults declined by 52% from 2012 to 2019; in the Western Lake Erie Basin, from 2015 to 2019, the reduction was a shocking 84%.

The plummeting mayfly “count” is alarming because mayflies are a critical, primary food source in aquatic and terrestrial ecosystems, and provide an important ecological service. As the research study notes, “Seasonal animal movement among disparate habitats is a fundamental mechanism by which energy, nutrients, and biomass are transported across ecotones…A single emergence event can produce 87.9 billion mayflies, releasing 3,078.6 tons of biomass into the airspace over several hours.”

According to Purdue University ecologist Jason Hoverman, PhD, “Mayflies serve critical functions in both aquatic and terrestrial ecosystems. Because of their important role as prey, reductions in their abundance can have cascading effects on consumers throughout the food web.” Without these critical keystone species, important food sources and nutrient recyclers would be lost.

Three phenomena account for most of the decrease in mayfly populations: (1) dramatically increased use of neonicotinoid pesticides, to which mayflies are highly sensitive; (2) algal blooms, especially in Lake Erie, caused primarily by runoff of agricultural fertilizers and other nutrient-dense pollutants; and (3) the warming impacts of the climate crisis, which include higher water temperatures that can wreak havoc with the development of these tiny creatures.

Because threats cut across regulatory boundaries, it is important for federal agencies to cooperate in protecting mayflies. U.S. waterways are being overloaded with mobile and persistent chemicals at highly elevated concentrations.  Little action has been taken to restrict the use of toxic chemicals despite independent scientific literature and EPA risk data that identify direct threats to aquatic invertebrates, as well as indirect threats to higher trophic organisms. Similarly, action is needed to prevent runoff from agricultural fields and feedlots and adopt climate-friendly policies.

Thank you,

 

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31
Jan

Trump Administration Hands Over Clean Water Standards to Agrichemical, Construction, and Mining Industry

(Beyond Pesticides, January 31, 2020) In the latest of a long litany of destructive decisions by the Trump administration, U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) Administrator Andrew Wheeler announced on January 23 the establishment of a new weaker federal rule on protection of U.S. waterways, which replaces the 2015 Waters of the United States (WOTUS) rule that the agency repealed in September 2019. In an obeisant gesture to industrial interests — the agrichemical, construction, and mining sectors — Mr. Wheeler chose to announce the replacement rule, the Navigable Waters Protection Rule, at a Las Vegas National Association of Home Builders International Builders’ Show. This decision will significantly weaken protections by drastically reducing the number of U.S. waterways and acreage of wetlands protected, and by jettisoning proscriptions on activities that threaten waterways from a variety of pollution harms.

President Obama’s WOTUS, aka Clean Water Rule, has provided protections from pesticide runoff and other pollutants to millions of acres of wetlands and thousands of miles of streams. According to Administrator Wheeler, “‘All states have their own protections for waters within their borders, and many regulate more broadly than the federal government. . . . Our new rule recognizes this relationship and strikes the proper balance between Washington, D.C. and the states. And it clearly details which waters are subject to federal control under the Clean Water Act and, importantly, which waters fall solely under the states’ jurisdiction.’” Whereas, the Obama-era rule protected approximately 60% of U.S. waterways — protecting drinking water sources for roughly one-third of the nation — the new rule is expected to reduce dramatically the number of waterways protected.

The WOTUS rule was created to provide greater protections from pollution, and to “bring clarity to decades of political and legal debate over which waters should qualify.” The rule included many smaller waterways and wetlands that function as recharge areas or tributaries to larger water bodies. There was, of course, blowback from business interests, which generally considered it an act of federal overreach; indeed, 27 states sued to block the rule. Those who opposed that rule complained largely about the scope, in that it applied to those smaller waterways and wetlands. The American Farm Bureau Federation and other agricultural groups were particularly strident in their objections. Common sentiment was captured by a comment from a representative of the federation: “When you take private property rights from a man who’s worked all his life, that is very intrusive to him and it’s something he just can’t stand for.”

Critics of the 2015 WOTUS rule also objected to provisions that limited agricultural and industrial “freedom to pollute.” The New York Times described some features of WOTUS: “Under the Obama rule, farmers using land near streams and wetlands were restricted from doing certain kinds of plowing and planting certain crops, and would have been required to apply for permits from the Environmental Protection Agency in order to use chemical pesticides and fertilizers that could have run off into those water bodies.” The new Navigable Waters Protection Rule will remove those requirements, as well.

The new rule will exempt “ephemeral” waterways — those that may be vernal or seasonal, or form after significant rainfall — as well as farm water ponds, underground water passages, groundwater, waste treatment systems, and prior converted croplands, exposing them to greater degrees of fouling and the “downstream” impacts of that. The new rule identifies four categories to which it extends federal protections: large navigable waters (e.g., the Mississippi River), lakes and ponds, tributaries, and major wetlands. When the new rule goes into effect in March, an immediate impact will be that polluters will not need to secure permits to dump potentially harmful substances (think agricultural pesticides and fertilizers, fossil fuel-based products, chemicals, industrial waste) into many streams and wetlands.

Objection to the rollback and new rule is rife. In 2019, 14 states sued EPA, challenging that the proposed WOTUS rollback would ignore law and science, and remove from some waterways basic protections for which the 1972 Clean Water Act was created. In December 2019, the EPA Science Advisory Board’s members (nearly two-thirds of whom were appointed by Trump) posted an online letter saying that the revised definition (of which waterways “count” for federal protection) “decreases protection for our Nation’s waters and does not support the objective of restoring and maintaining ‘the chemical, physical and biological integrity’ of these waters.” The Science Advisory Board, which is tasked with evaluating the scientific integrity of the agency’s regulations, also said the new rule “neglects established science” by “failing to acknowledge watershed systems”; the board also found “no scientific justification” for the exemption of particular waterways from protection.

In addition to its critique of the new waterways rule, in separate letters, the board denounced two other initiatives of the Trump administration’s EPA: its plan to roll back Obama-era rules on tailpipe emissions, and its plan to constrain the use of some scientific data in promulgating regulation — which development Beyond Pesticides has covered.

The board has also criticized that development — to limit the science EPA would use in developing rules related to public health by requiring that scientists disclose all of their raw data, including confidential medical records, before EPA would consider a study’s conclusions. Critics note that such a rule would hamper enactment of any new regulations related to clean water (and air) because many research studies that would inform such rules necessarily rely on personal health data gathered under confidentiality agreements. The board warned that this “may not add transparency, and even may make some kinds of research more difficult.”

John Gluckenheimer, PhD, who was appointed to the EPA Science Advisory Board in 2019, has said that the new rule is “based upon speculation about what the courts will decide, rather than really having much scientific substance,” and that it ignores “the established science showing that even those wetlands and underground streams have a significant impact on the health of larger bodies.” Response to the board’s letter from the Natural Resources Defense Council’s (NRDC’s) Jon Devine, an expert in water policy, was unvarnished: “They are saying that the Trump proposal is entirely untethered from the scientific evidence, and that the scientific record for the rule that the administration is trying to replace remains unrefuted and very solid. And any self-respecting scientist is going to say that.”

Former EPA Administrator and now president and CEO of NRDC Gina McCarthy has been vociferous in her critique of the rollback and new rule: “‘So much for the “crystal clear” water President Trump promised. You don’t make America great by polluting our drinking water supplies, making our beaches unfit for swimming, and increasing flood risk. This effort neglects established science and poses substantial new risks to people’s health and the environment. We will do all we can to fight this attack on clean water. We will not let it stand.’”Janette Brimmer of Earthjustice said in a statement that under the new rule, “few protections will remain to stop polluters from dumping toxic byproducts into our waters.” Collin O’Mara, president and CEO of the National Wildlife Federation, said, “This is not just undoing the clean water rule promulgated by the Obama administration. This is going back to the lowest level of protection we’ve seen in the last 50 years. This is a staggering rollback.”

The Washington Post reports, “The independent assessments raise questions about the basis for the administration’s push to unspool regulations enacted under President Barack Obama.” The newspaper also cites a comment made by Steven Hamburg, chief scientist at the Environmental Defense Fund who was a member of the EPA Science Advisory Board until September 2019: “It really calls into question to what degree these suggested changes are fact-based as opposed to politically motivated.” Critics further note that this decision — among the nearly 100 other rollbacks of environmental rules under the Trump administration  — may be challenging to undo under a future administration because of the rightward ideological shift in the composition of the Supreme Court.

Beyond Pesticides advocates for organic and regenerative land management systems that protect waterways, conserve water, create less surface runoff, and reduce the need for nutrient input. Advancement of that goal requires the strong voices of the public — particularly in the current political zeitgeist and given the trajectory of recent EPA decision making. Please call and write to elected officials and support NGOs (non-governmental organizations, such as Beyond Pesticides) that are working to protect waterways from pollution, and thus, human and environmental health.

All unattributed positions and opinions in this piece are those of Beyond Pesticides.

Sources: https://www.npr.org/2020/01/23/798809951/trump-administration-is-rolling-back-obama-era-protections-for-smaller-waterways and https://www.washingtonpost.com/climate-solutions/epas-scientific-advisers-warn-its-regulatory-rollbacks-clash-with-established-science/2019/12/31/a1994f5a-227b-11ea-a153-dce4b94e4249_story.html

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30
Jan

Croplands’ Toxicity to Pollinators Has Skyrocketed Since the Turn of the Century

(Beyond Pesticides, January 28, 2020) The practice of coating seeds with insecticides, now widely adopted as a result of the agrichemical industry, has created increasingly toxic conditions for pollinators foraging on US cropland, finds a study published in Scientific Reports by Penn State University scientists. The data finds that even as overall volume of insecticide use has decreased, the total “bee toxic load” – a term branded by researchers – has increased markedly due in large part to the use of hazardous seed coatings. The switch from one toxic chemical to another is indicative of a chemically-driven agricultural system that, in order to reverse insect, pollinator and bird declines, must undergo rapid changes over the next several decades.

Researchers used information from multiple US databases to determine regional patterns in pesticide use and corresponding toxicity loads to pollinators. Thus the term “bee toxic load” was determined by combining the area of land where insecticides were applied with the total toxicity of the particular insecticide used. To compare the impact of changes in the mode of action of the insecticides used, toxicity data was separated between oral and contact toxicity.   

Findings indicate that from 1997-2012, contact bee toxic load remained steady, while oral bee toxic load increased nine times, despite significant declines in the overall weight of insecticides applied during that time period. This is reflective of the changing approach within chemical farming over the past few decades. While organophosphates, a class of highly toxic contact insecticides, are falling out of use either as a result of regulatory restrictions or shifting economic incentives, neonicotinoids, well known for their adverse impact to pollinators, are being applied in their place.

The most frequent use of neonicotinoids, systemic insecticides that make their way into the pollen, nectar, and dew drops a plant produces, is in the form of seed treatments. Honeybees and other pollinators come in to contact with these poisons primarily through oral contact in nectar and pollen.

As the study finds, between the period of 1997-2012, oral potency of insecticides increased by 16 times, while application rates declined 64%. At the same time, the fraction of U.S. cropland using insecticides increased 78%, from 15% in 1997 to 26% in 2012.

“This dramatic increase in oral-based toxic load is connected to a shift toward widespread use of neonicotinoid insecticides, which are unusually toxic to bees when they are ingested,” said study coauthor Maggie Douglas, PhD.

The trend is particularly pronounced in the U.S. Midwest. According to the study, the widespread use of neonicotinoid seed treatments increased oral bee toxic load by 121 times. Worse yet, there is little to no evidence that these seed treatments are actually managing pest problems.

“Several studies have shown that these seed treatments have negligible benefits for most crops in most regions,” said study coauthor Christina Grozinger, PhD. “Unfortunately, growers often don’t have the option to purchase seeds without these treatments; they don’t have choices in how to manage their crops.”

This research, like a similar study on overall pesticide toxicity published last year in PLOS One, provides an important touchstone that highlights well-known problems with the current pesticide regulatory system. However, acute toxicity, either through oral or direct contact, is only one part of the equation. Honey bees and other pollinators also suffer from chronic exposure to these persistent insecticides. Neonicotinoids are well- known for chronic impacts that lead to reproductive damage, impaired mobility and navigation, as well as difficulty with feeding, foraging, memory, and learning. Certain wild species, such as ground nesting bees, are at significant risk of chronic impacts, which studies have already linked to adverse impacts on size, development into adulthood, and longevity.

The only way to reject the chemical farming paradigm that repeatedly cycles through one toxic chemical after another, as they are found to be hazardous andor lack efficacy because of insect resistance, is to (i) support organic systems that rejects this approach, and (ii) promote policies that invest in alternatives. Buy organic whenever possible, and reach out to your member of Congress and urge them to support HR1337, Saving America’s Pollinators Act. For more information on the dangers of neonicotinoid coated seeds, see Beyond Pesticides’ short video Seeds That Poison.

All unattributed positions and opinions in this piece are those of Beyond Pesticides.

Source: Penn State University press release, Scientific Reports

 

 

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29
Jan

Rate of Male Breast Cancer on the Rise in Scotland, Endocrine-Disrupting Chemicals Suspected

(Beyond Pesticides, January 29, 2020) A study of male breast cancer (MBC) in Scotland reports an alarming, increasing trend of this rare disease – especially in agricultural areas. While only accounting for 1% of diagnosed breast cancer, MBC forms in the breast tissue of men and is often fatal because of delayed diagnosis and lack of research on male-specific treatment. The authors point to risk factors that include increased exposure to endocrine-disrupting chemicals, such as pesticides, and a need for further study.

Researchers analyzed data from the Information Services Scotland database spanning from 1992-2017. Results showed that incidence of breast cancer in men rose with age, and that the total number and age-adjusted incidence of MBC increased in the last 25 years. Overall, the incidence rose by 38.5%. There was a total of 558 diagnoses in Scotland in the entire period. The trend is clearest in certain regions, including the North of Scotland and some rural areas.

“Within the confines of this observational study, reasons for these regional differences are difficult to reconcile, but potential explanations are offered,” the authors write, “Exposure to environmental compounds that mimic oestrogens (so-called Endocrine-Disrupting Chemicals; (EDCs)) might be exacerbated in areas of higher agricultural activity, with potential adverse health consequences. With lifetime exposure to oestrogen a well-established risk factor for breast cancer, it is reasonable to speculate that EDCs may also contribute to this.”

Endocrine disruptors are chemicals that can, even at low exposure levels, disrupt normal hormonal (endocrine) function. EDCs include many pesticides, exposures to which have been linked to infertility and other reproductive disorders, diabetes, cardiovascular disease, obesity, and early puberty, as well as attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), Parkinson’s, Alzheimer’s, and childhood and adult cancers.

“There has been pretty much a doubling of the incidence over the 25-year period,” Valerie Speirs, PhD, professor of molecular oncology at Aberdeen University, told the Sunday Post, “Dumfries and Galloway and the Borders are areas associated with farming and perhaps the pesticides might be an issue. Some of the pesticides used in agricultural industry may well mimic the effects of some of the hormones that are associated with increased breast cancer risk, and that may be part of the reason we are seeing higher numbers. Endocrine-disrupting agents may impact not just on cancer, but other aspects of health too.”

Kotryna Temcinaite, PhD, research communications manager at the charity Breast Cancer Now, said, “Our Male Breast Cancer Study is now trying to pinpoint the genetic, environmental and lifestyle causes of breast cancer in men, which could enable us to identify those who are at greater risk and what could be done to help lower the chances of developing the disease.”

EDCs represent an under-researched and under-regulated threat to human health. Beyond Pesticides wrote on the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA)’s stalled analysis of the risk these chemicals pose, “A persistent critique of EPA’s toxicological assumptions has to do with the “dose makes the poison” concept that underlies conventional toxicology. In fact, researchers have discovered that this concept—that the more exposure, the more extreme the impacts—is not consistently the case across exposures to chemical compounds such as pesticides. Additionally, even very low-level exposures (aka “doses”) can, in some instances, cause more extreme health impacts.”

 A 2017 European study shows that costs of disease burden and health care related to chemical environmental exposures, writ large, may constitute a figure somewhere north of 10% of global gross domestic product (GDP). Advocates say that figure should shock everyone, motivate policymakers to become much more proactive on the chemical regulatory front, and move the public to help raise the alarm on the risks of the use of pesticides and other dangerous chemicals.

Read more from Beyond Pesticides about endocrine disrupting pesticides and chemicals, and ways to protect people from exposures, including eating organically and advocating for better regulatory policies through Beyond Pesticides’ Action of the Week

All unattributed positions and opinions in this piece are those of Beyond Pesticides.

Source: European Journal of Surgical Oncology, The Sunday Post

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28
Jan

Documented Decline of Mayflies, a Keystone Species, Destabilizes Ecosystems

(Beyond Pesticides, January 28, 2020) In more bad news from the insect world, recent research reveals a precipitous decline in numbers of mayflies in territories where they have been historically abundant. Reported by National Geographic and published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, the research finds that in the Northern Mississippi River Basin, seasonal emergence of burrowing mayfly (genus Hexagenia) adults declined by 52% from 2012 to 2019; in the Western Lake Erie Basin, from 2015 to 2019, the reduction was a shocking 84%. Neonicotinoid insecticides are a significant factor in this decline because mayflies are exquisitely vulnerable to their impacts, even at very low exposure levels.

Ephemeroptera to entomologists — and “mayflies” to the rest of us — are a keystone species, one on which other species in an ecosystem are very dependent, and without which, the ecosystem would undergo drastic change. The Latinate name is apt: mayflies are among the most short-lived organisms, with lifespans across the 2,000+ known species lasting from five minutes to one day to a few weeks. Like damselflies and dragonflies, members of an ancient group of insects, the 600 North American species, as do their global kin, make optimal reproductive use of their brief adult lifespans: each female can lay from as few as 50 to as many as 10,000 eggs on the surfaces of water bodies. Those eggs then sink to the lake or river floor, after which they emerge as nymphs and spend up to two years foraging on bottom sediments before appearing as adult mayflies. Read more about the unusual lifecycle of the mayfly here.

The plummeting mayfly “count” is especially alarming because mayflies are a critical, primary food source in aquatic and terrestrial ecosystems, and provide an important ecological service. As the research study notes, “Seasonal animal movement among disparate habitats is a fundamental mechanism by which energy, nutrients, and biomass are transported across ecotones. A dramatic example of such exchange is the annual emergence of mayfly swarms from freshwater benthic [lake or river bottom] habitats. . . . Annual . . . emergences represent the exchange of hundreds of tons of elemental nutrients, thousands of tons of biomass, billions of organisms, and trillions of calories worth of energy to the surrounding terrestrial habitat. . . . A single emergence event can produce 87.9 billion mayflies, releasing 3,078.6 tons of biomass into the airspace over several hours.”

Jason Hoverman, an ecologist at Purdue University, commented, “Mayflies serve critical functions in both aquatic and terrestrial ecosystems. Because of their important role as prey, reductions in their abundance can have cascading effects on consumers throughout the food web.” In a Beyond Pesticides Pesticides and You article, “Poisoned Waterways,” the authors put it squarely: “Without this critical keystone species, an important food source and nutrient recycler would be lost.”

In addition, because they thrive only in clean, high-quality water, mayfly populations serve as barometers of water quality, according to Kenneth Krieger, emeritus director of the National Center for Water Quality Research at Heidelberg University, and an expert on Lake Erie mayflies. The study co-authors conclude, “As ecological indicators, these losses may signal deterioration in water quality and, if current population trends continue, could cascade to widespread disappearance from some of North America’s largest waterways.”

Three phenomena account for most of this dive in mayfly populations: (1) dramatically increased use of neonicotinoid pesticides in recent years in these regions; (2) algal blooms, especially in Lake Erie, caused primarily by runoff of agricultural fertilizers and other nutrient-dense pollutants; and (3) the warming impacts of the climate crisis, which include higher water temperatures that can cause havoc with the development of these tiny creatures. Taken together, these factors are complexes of nasty synergies:
• nutrients in fertilizer runoff feed algal blooms that starve water of oxygen and generate toxic byproducts to which mayflies are susceptible

  • warming waters increase stratification of waters, reducing mixing of nutrients and oxygen among the layers, which can then lead to transient or chronic hypoxia (low oxygen levels) that are lethal to waterway-bottom-dwelling mayfly nymphs
  • the increasing concentrations of pesticides, and neonicotinoids in particular, in freshwater ecosystems exacerbate risks to mayfly populations

One of the most widely used classes of insecticides, neonicotinoids are highly toxic, damaging insects’ central nervous systems, and causing death even at low-level exposures. Neonicotinoids (neonics) are used on millions of acres of U.S. cropland, on nursery plants, and to treat seeds. Because neonics persist in soil and easily become airborne, they can travel to contaminate nearby waterways. Agricultural runoff increasingly includes neonic metabolites. Neonics in Great Lakes tributaries, for example, have registered at levels 40 times those established as protective by the Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA’s) Aquatic Life Benchmark, according to a 2018 study.

In addition to their well-documented harms to bees, neonics represent a grave threat to insects such as mayflies. Indeed, in 2017, EPA identified mayflies as the most sensitive aquatic invertebrate to imidacloprid (a neonicotinoid) exposure. An EPA document said, “The potential exists for indirect risks to fish and aquatic-phase amphibians through reduction in their invertebrate prey-base,” e.g., mayflies. For more on the threats of these compounds, see the article, “Poisoned Waterways,” in Beyond Pesticides journal, Pesticides and You.

The loss of mayfly populations means more than just fewer insects for organisms higher on the food chain to consume; impacts can ripple through ecosystems. Although neonics are directly toxic to many insects, the role of pesticides in destabilization of ecosystems is not necessarily direct. In a Pesticides and You article, “Pesticide Use Harming Key Species Ripples through the Ecosystem,” the author explains the dynamics of trophic cascades. “Beyond direct toxicity, pesticides can significantly reduce, change the behavior of, or destroy populations of plants and animals. These effects can ripple up and down food chains, causing what is known as a trophic cascade. . . . The loss or reduction of populations at any trophic level — including amphibians, insects, or plants — can result in changes that are difficult to perceive, but nonetheless equally damaging to the stability and long-term health of an ecosystem.”

Such enormous losses of a keystone prey organism — mayflies — as the study researchers discovered represent a potential trigger of such trophic cascades in the identified watersheds. In the above-referenced article, the mechanisms of such a cascade are described. In that instance, the runoff of an agricultural pesticide (bifenthrin) caused significant downward population pressure on larval macroinvertebrates (including mayfly nymphs). That loss of periphyton-eating species (mayflies, stoneflies, and caddisflies) initiated a trophic cascade from the top­ down, causing algal blooms. In addition, the pesticide’s impact on the endocrine systems of macroinvertebrates caused an acceleration of the interval to metamorphosis, resulting in earlier emergence and smaller size than is typical.

As the authors wrote in “Poisoned Waterways, “Current federal aquatic life benchmarks for neonicotinoids are potentially underestimating risks. Experts find that standard test organisms used by EPA to establish these benchmarks are orders of magnitude more tolerant of neonicotinoid exposure than [are] other vulnerable species [such as Ephemeroptera], and recommend water levels to be well below the benchmarks set by EPA. In addition, chemical admixtures and potential synergistic effects are not considered in aquatic risk assessments, resulting in unknown risks to species. Stronger action is needed to restrict neonicotinoid contamination of waterways.”

As Beyond Pesticides wrote in 2017, “Action must be taken to protect vulnerable waterways from neonicotinoid contamination. The frequency of detections in U.S. waterways cannot be overlooked. Such routine detections, even at low levels, indicate that our waterways are being overloaded with mobile and persistent chemicals at highly elevated concentrations. . . . Thus far, little action has been taken to restrict the use of these chemicals in response to the independent scientific literature and EPA risk data that identify direct threats to aquatic invertebrates, as well as indirect threats to higher trophic organisms. . . . Federal benchmarks based on testing on insensitive species are not protective of more sensitive species. Given the toxicity of this class of insecticides to non-target, beneficial invertebrates, and the regulatory deficiencies, it is imperative that action be taken to limit their use and presence in waterways in the U.S.”

Given the plethora of harms caused by industrial and agricultural chemical contamination of our water, air, soil, food, and bodies, it is more important than ever that members of the public step up and speak up, contact their local, state, and federal elected officials, and do all they can to advance a shift to less- and nontoxic practices that will protect insects — and all living organisms. Stay current on these issues by following Beyond Pesticides’ Daily News Blog and journal, Pesticides and You, and find organizational resources here.

All unattributed positions and opinions in this piece are those of Beyond Pesticides.

Sources: https://www.nationalgeographic.com/animals/2020/01/mayfly-insect-populations-in-decline/#close and https://www.pnas.org/content/early/2020/01/15/1913598117

 

 

 

 

 

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27
Jan

Insist that the Veterans Administration Cover Conditions Caused by Agent Orange

(Beyond Pesticides, January 27, 2019) United States military veterans suffering from bladder cancer, hypothyroidism, hypertension, and Parkinson’s-like symptoms after their exposure to Agent Orange will remain unprotected and uncompensated until at least late 2020, according to a letter sent by Veterans Affairs (VA) Secretary Robert Wilkie to U.S. Senator Jon Tester (D-MT).

Send a letter to Veterans Affairs (VA) Secretary Robert Wilkie insisting that bladder cancer, hypothyroidism, hypertension, and Parkinson’s-like symptoms be added to the VA’s list of eligible conditions.

Congress included a provision in the must-pass December federal spending bill requiring VA to provide legislators “a detailed explanation” for the now multi-year delay in determining whether to list the diseases. The provision is intended to cut through the ongoing delays, but there is no indication VA is going to meet the 30-day deadline. “The longer VA continues to drag its feet on expanding the list of conditions associated with Agent Orange, the longer our veterans continue to suffer—and die—as a result of their exposure,” Senator Tester said in a statement to the news site Connecting Vets. He continued, “It’s time for VA to stop ignoring the overwhelming evidence put forth by scientists, medical experts and veterans and do right by those who served. Any prolonging of their suffering is unacceptable.” 

The delay is seen by advocates for veterans as a serious lack of support and compensation at a time when the current administration is mobilizing the military. In October 2019, U.S. Senator Sherrod Brown’s (D-OH) attempt to introduce a resolution requiring the Trump Administration’s VA to list the diseases was shot down by U.S. Senate Veterans Affairs Committee Chairman Johnny Isakson (R-GA), citing costs. Rick Weidman, legislative director of Vietnam Veterans for America, summed up his response to ProPublica, “If you can afford the goddamn war, you can afford to take care of the warriors.”

“Some might accuse this body that we are waiting for them to die, as hard as it is to say that,” Sen. Brown said on the Senate floor. He continued, “Veterans shouldn’t have to fight this one at a time … we did this to them. The American government decided to spray Agent Orange. We knew it was harmful.”

According to Military Times, 83,000 veterans suffer from bladder cancer, Parkinson’s-like symptoms or hypothyroidism, and an untold number have high blood pressure. It is imperative that soldiers who fight for their country know they will be compensated when they fall ill as a result of their service.

Agent Orange, given its name because it was stored in orange striped drums, contained the active ingredients 2,4-D and 2,4,5-T. This formulation was contaminated with the highly toxic 2,3,7,8-tetrachlorodibenzo-p-dioxin (also called TCDD or simply dioxin) and is now banned. Not only were soldiers exposed on the battlefield, but many veterans who flew in post-Vietnam UC-123 Agent Orange spray aircraft had their health devastated by residual contamination.  

The Vietnam government is part of an ongoing lawsuit against Bayer’s Monsanto as the manufacturer of the deadly herbicide during the war. Recent reports find that dioxin continues to contaminate Vietnam’s soils, water, sediment, fish, aquatic species, and food supply.

While Agent Orange is banned, 2,4-D, which comprised one half of its make-up, is still one of the most widely used herbicides on lawns, school grounds, and parks today. It is considered a possible human carcinogen, and has been linked to liver damage and endocrine disruption in humans, in addition to being toxic to wildlife, pets and beneficial insects. Previous research from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has detected dioxin contamination in a number of 2,4-D herbicide products produced for consumer sale.

Send a letter to Veterans Affairs (VA) Secretary Robert Wilkie insisting that bladder cancer, hypothyroidism, hypertension, and Parkinson’s-like symptoms be added to the VA’s list of eligible conditions.

Letter to Secretary Robert Wilkie

Dear Secretary Wilkie:

I am writing in support of United States military veterans suffering from bladder cancer, hypothyroidism, hypertension, and Parkinson’s-like symptoms after their exposure to Agent Orange—who remain unprotected and uncompensated.

The VA continues to drag its feet on expanding the list of conditions associated with Agent Orange, and our veterans continue to suffer—and die—as a result of their exposure. As Senator Tester said, “It’s time for VA to stop ignoring the overwhelming evidence put forth by scientists, medical experts and veterans and do right by those who served. Any prolonging of their suffering is unacceptable.”

Your delay is evidence of a serious lack of support and compensation for veterans at a time when the current administration is mobilizing the military. Opponents of compensation cite costs, while others, like Rick Weidman, legislative director of Vietnam Veterans for America, say, “If you can afford the goddamn war, you can afford to take care of the warriors.”

“Some might accuse this body that we are waiting for them to die, as hard as it is to say that,” U.S. Senator Sherrod Brown said on the Senate floor. He continued, “Veterans shouldn’t have to fight this one at a time … we did this to them. The American government decided to spray Agent Orange. We knew it was harmful.” According to Military Times, 83,000 veterans suffer from bladder cancer, Parkinson’s-like symptoms or hypothyroidism, and an untold number have high blood pressure.

It is imperative that soldiers who fight for their country know they will be compensated when they fall ill as a result of their service. Please add bladder cancer, hypothyroidism, hypertension, and Parkinson’s-like symptoms to the VA’s list of eligible conditions.

Thank you.

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24
Jan

Regulatory Capture: USDA’s Organic Governance Board Dominated by Affiliates of Industry’s Corporate Lobby

(Beyond Pesticides, January 24, 2019) Continuing a trend well established by prior Republican and Democratic administrations, the five new members recently appointed by USDA Secretary Sonny Perdue to the National Organic Standards Board (NOSB) all have a current or past relationship with the industry’s major lobby group, the Organic Trade Association (OTA).

Over the past decade, Big Food has consolidated ownership of most of the largest and best-known organic brands. At the same time, many have criticized USDA for “stacking” the board, which is charged with guiding the regulatory oversight of organic farming and food production, with members from, or friendly to, corporate agribusiness interests.

OrganicEye, the investigative arm of Beyond Pesticides, has issued an industry briefing paper profiling the five newly appointed members of the NOSB with a focus on their relationship to corporate agribusiness and the industry’s powerful lobby group, the Organic Trade Association (OTA).

The NOSB was established when Congress passed the Organic Foods Production Act as part of the 1990 farm bill. The board was created to ensure that the voice of organic farmers and consumers drove the direction of USDA’s organic program when there was grave concern about handing over the budding organic farming movement to federal conventionally focused agriculture bureaucrats and the corrupting influence of corporate lobbyists.

“It is our job as the organic community to keep the board and USDA accountable to the standards of the law and to uphold the integrity of the organic label. We seek to ensure accountability to have the law work as it was intended by the drafters,” said Mark A. Kastel, Director of the Washington-based OrganicEye, which acts as an industry watchdog and investigative group.

Because of the challenge of limiting corporate influence, some never thought it was advisable to give the authority to USDA to oversee the organic label in the first place. “I was one of the cautionary voices warning my fellow pioneering organic farmers against trusting the federal government,” said Eliot Coleman, prominent Maine farmer and well-known author. “As predicted, USDA collusion allowed the profiteers and the deceptive marketers to take over the NOSB. The risk of fraud is now the order of the day. Us old-time organic growers, whose dedication to quality and integrity created the popularity of the organic label in the first place, must now demand an end to this charade.”

USDA has been accused of violating the spirit and letter of the law establishing the NOSB and has been the subject of lawsuits from those seeking to uphold the integrity of the National Organic Program at USDA. An early lawsuit challenged USDA’s allowance of synthetic ingredients in organic-labelled processed food. More recently, USDA was sued for appointing agribusiness executives to NOSB seats earmarked for farmers. An additional lawsuit challenged the legality of changing the requirement that a supermajority of the board was required to re-approve all synthetic and nonorganic ingredients and inputs used in organic production when they sunset every five years.

In response to the lawsuits accusing USDA of undermining the authority of the NOSB, corporate lobbyists and administration officials went to Congress, after the fact, to legalize their illegitimate conduct, said Mr. Kastel.

“Lobbying of Congress by USDA and powerful organic interests, in an effort to legitimize their illegal activities, confirms our allegations that collusion between USDA and corporate lobbyists undermined the authority Congress vested in the expert 15-member, diverse, industry stakeholder group,” added Mr. Kastel.

OrganicEye’s Mr. Kastel said that the organization would assume all new NOSB members will carry out their duties objectively, to serve the overall public, and will not criticize any of the individuals until their established voting record demonstrates a basis for concern. However, because of the history of USDA support for Big Food, ties to OTA, and the lack of background of some new members with organic principles, advocates are deeply concerned that the balance envisioned in the federal organic law —to bring together on the NOSB the rich diversity of the organic community and industry—will not be achieved.

New appointees include Nathan Powell-Palm, an organic farm operator from Montana (farmer seat); Kimberly Huseman, an employee of the nation’s second-largest conventional poultry processor, Pilgrim’s Pride (handler); Gerald D’Amore, a produce industry consultant with ties to some of the industry’s largest conventional grower-marketers (handler); Mindee Jeffery, a longtime employee in natural food groceries (retailer); and Wood Turner, VP of an investment capital firm and former executive with Dannon/Stonyfield, the nation’s largest organic yogurt producer (environmentalist/conservationist).

The industry has been in the same position before, watching USDA officials bypass eminently qualified candidates who have applied for seats on the NOSB, instead choosing agribusiness-connected candidates oftentimes with a very minimal history of involvement in the organic movement.

Because of the dubious voting records of some corporate employees appointed to the NOSB, OrganicEye and Beyond Pesticides have created a link to a letter where, in less than two minutes, organic stakeholders can send a clear message to the CEOs who employ all current members of the board stating that we will, in the marketplace, hold them responsible if their employees  undermine organic principles and betray our values.

In the past, staffers employed by prominent brands such as Horizon, Whole Foods, Earthbound Farms, Smucker’s, and Driscoll’s, as well as the OTA and CCOF, were accused of aligning with corporate lobbyists, instead of voting in the public interest, while sitting on the NOSB.

“As I have done in the past, OrganicEye just filed a request, under the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA), for the application packages of all nominees to the board,” Mr. Kastel stated. “We will update our report with anything we learn and also identify the qualified applicants who the political appointees at the USDA decided to pass over.”

OrganicEye and its leadership have been critical of the USDA National Organic Program’s ineffective enforcement oversight and have called out the OTA for heaping praise on the anemic program, while simultaneously lobbying to loosen the organic regulatory standards, resulting in hydroponic (soilless) produce production, livestock factories, and copious amounts of imported feed and ingredients of dubious pedigree flooding the market.

“After serving five years on the National Organic Standards Board myself,” said Jay Feldman, Executive Director of Beyond Pesticides, “I have witnessed how cards are stacked against independent voices. OrganicEye’s research is designed to empower industry stakeholders, so we can put pressure on our governmental officials and on brands that betray true organic values in the marketplace.”

Stay current with advocacy and action on issues in organics through Beyond Pesticides coverage of organics and keeping organic strong. Sign on to our letter to CEOs here.

All unattributed positions and opinions in this piece are those of Beyond Pesticides.

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23
Jan

University of California Makes Changes to Reduce Use of Toxic Pesticides, Fails to Embrace Organic

Photo: Beyond Pesticides’ board member Chip Osborne and student advocate Bridget Gustafson meet on a University of California organic land management pilot site, supported by Beyond Pesticides.

(Beyond Pesticides, January 23, 2020) University of California (UC) President Janet Napolitano recently has approved recommendations made by the UC Herbicide Task Force, a proposal that falls short of systems change that student activists are advocating. New changes will, however, restrict the use of some toxic pesticides and increase transparency across the university’s ten campuses. While the decision represents an important step forward, advocates remain critical of integrated pest management (IPM) policy and support an overall transition to organic land management. The UC Board of Regents will meet today to discuss the decision.

President Napolitano will continue the suspension of glyphosate, established last year, until a UC-wide integrated pest management (IPM) policy is implemented and all ten UC campus locations complete individual IPM plans. A system-wide “oversight committee” will guide and authorize school IPM committees. The overarching IPM policy will restrict application of highly toxic pesticides, only permitting use after a local IPM committee has reviewed and approved its specific use application following an IPM-based assessment. Other synthetic pesticides will be subject to limitations of use and review as determined by IPM committee. In addition, a pesticide use authorization software—a database for the application of herbicides that includes information such as what substance was sprayed, where it was sprayed, and when it was sprayed—will report campus pesticide usage. 

Integrated pest management has been captured by the pesticide industry and misconstrued to permit the use of toxic pesticides, which are not permitted in an organic system. IPM traditionally permitted toxic pesticides only as a last resort, but industry influence has distorted the practice to place pesticide use on par with other pest management approaches, including mechanical, structural, cultural and biological controls. Organic land management, by contrast, takes a precautionary approach by focusing on soil health and only using a discrete list of least-toxic products that do not cause adverse effects and are compatible with soil biology. 

The Herbicide-Free Campus organization is made up of student groups across the UC-system and the nation. Student advocates are motivated by concerns that exposure to toxic pesticides is linked to neurotoxic effects, respiratory illness, cancer, endocrine system disruption, and learning disabilities – all of which more potently affect frontline communities and people of color. Further, they are alarmed by the association between toxic pesticide use and devastating environmental threats, including the climate crisis, insect apocalypse, and dramatic biodiversity decline. Students are especially troubled about the continued use of fossil-fuel based pesticides and synthetic fertilizers in the face of the climate crisis and elevated levels of atmospheric carbon. 

Herbicide-Free Campus recruited students across the UC-system, hosted educational events, organized over 15 weeding workdays with groundskeepers, met with UC Regents, and created herbicide-free resolutions through the Associated Students of the University of California. As a result of these efforts, President Napolitano temporarily banned glyphosate (Roundup) across the UC system last summer and established a task force to provide recommendations. The creation of the task force was catalyzed by lawsuits won against agrochemical manufacturer, Bayer’s Monsanto, by plaintiffs who developed cancer after exposure to the widely used weed killer Roundup (glyphosate). 

“The task force has done a good job working within the system to develop recommendations for how the UC campuses can decrease their pesticide usage,” says Herbicide-Free Campus co-founder Bridget Gustafon, “However, these recommendations will be seen as a failure to me if the burden of the work from them falls onto the backs of the already overburdened, undercompensated landscape services folks, instead of creating a systemic, encompassing foundation for their work to stand on. So, may we, as students and countless activists have done before, pick up our shovels, open up our ears and eyes, and continue our grassroots efforts to hold this institution accountable for systematically and equitably implementing the task force’s recommendations.”  

Student activists are asking UC to commit to transitioning to all organic land care maintenance on all University of California campuses by 2025. This could be an opportunity for the University of California, which prides itself on its commitment to sustainability, to join other universities such as Harvard, the University of Colorado at Boulder, Yale, University of Pennsylvania, and others as a national leader in the field. Beyond Pesticides is proud to support the efforts of these passionate student advocates.

Beyond Pesticides is working to transition land management to organic practices, which eliminate all toxic pesticides and synthetic fertilizers, at universities, school districts, parks departments and on town, city, and county lands throughout the U.S. Information on organic land management and organic-compatible products can be found on the Beyond Pesticides website. See our Tools for Change page, which includes model policies and ordinances. Email Beyond Pesticides at [email protected] for more information.

All unattributed positions and opinions in this piece are those of Beyond Pesticides.

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22
Jan

Nitrate Contaminates Water for Half a Million People in Minnesota

(Beyond Pesticides, January 22, 2020) About half a million Minnesotans have been subject to drinking water contaminated by nitrate, according to a new report by the Environmental Working Group (EWG). Synthetic fertilizer and manure runoff from cropland are the leading causes of the toxic water pollutant. Nitrate consumption is linked to cancer and blue baby syndrome, a fatal infant blood disease. As the state begins to address the issue through the newly instated Groundwater Protection Rule, advocates say the reaction may be “too little, too late.”

EWG analyzed federal and state nitrate test results from all public water systems where groundwater is the main source in Minnesota from 2009 to 2018. The Minnesota Department of Health fulfilled EWG’s public records requests and the group searched the data for contamination code number 1040: nitrate.  

Researchers at EWG found that 727 public groundwater systems serving 473 thousand people tested positive for at least 3mg/L of contamination at least once in the 9 years of analyzed data. 124 systems tested positive for ≥ 10mg/L, of contamination, serving over 150,000 individuals.  

Coarse textured soils, karst geology and shallow bedrock are more vulnerable to groundwater contamination than other types of sediment. The EWG report states, “Almost 90 percent of public water systems with nitrate levels at or above 3 mg/L draw on groundwater in or very near areas considered highly vulnerable to nitrate contamination. About the same percentage of private household wells also draws on groundwater in these highly vulnerable areas. If you live in one of these areas, you are very likely drinking nitrate-contaminated water.”

After years of advocacy, Minnesota finalized a Groundwater Protection Rule last spring and it is being implemented this year. Farmers in areas with vulnerable soils or near highly contaminated water will be barred from applying synthetic fertilizer in the fall.

“We think it’s a move in the right direction, but we definitely think the rule falls short for several reasons,” says Sarah Porter, senior GIS analyst at EWG and lead author of the recent report, “It doesn’t address how much nitrogen goes down. And it only affects 13% of the cropland in the state, so it’s not that much.”

The rule only enforces the timing of application – not the amount. Retired University of Minnesota soils scientists Gyles Randall calls this “a big miss.” It does not address contamination by manure and advocates fear that the rule does not have much teeth for enforcement, either.  “After 20 years there won’t be any improvement in nitrate in the water,” says Randall.

The Star Tribune reported, “Steve Morse was a legislator in 1989 when he co-authored Minnesota’s Groundwater Protection Act. Today he runs the Minnesota Environmental Partnership and said he thinks it’s appalling that it’s taken 30 years to get regulation to address nitrate contamination.” Morse told the Tribune, “It’s kind of like a slow-motion Flint water crisis.”

Minnesota begins the process of contamination that sweeps down the entire Mississippi river system, ultimately dumping tons of nitrate into the Gulf of Mexico and causing huge “dead zones” caused by algal blooms and deoxygenation. In 2019, the dead zone was 6,952 square miles.

Beyond Pesticides has written previously about the risks to water, ecosystems, and organisms of nutrient- and pesticide-riddled agricultural runoff, not only from farms, but also, from golf courses and other managed landscapes, and about the advantages of organic land management. Beyond Pesticides advocates for the protective — and regenerative — advantages of organic, ecologically based agriculture. Stay current with developments in efforts to protect human and environmental health through its Daily News Blog.

All unattributed positions and opinions in this piece are those of Beyond Pesticides.

Source: Environmental Working Group, Star Tribune

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21
Jan

Send a Message to EPA: Do Your Job to Protect Health and the Environment

(Beyond Pesticides, January 21, 2020) As news reports come in demonstrating the threats to major groups of organisms, such as insects and birds, and the stability of Earth’s ecosystems, and scientists appeal for major policy changes, recent actions by the Environmental Protection Agency’s Science Advisory Board highlight the need for public insistence that EPA do its job.

Tell EPA Administrator Andrew Wheeler to follow the advice of scientists and do his job. Tell your Congressional representatives to support scientific integrity at EPA and other agencies.

Although the influence of regulated corporations has historically silenced science that threatens profits–as shown by industry reaction to Rachel Carson’s Silent Spring—attacks on science in federal agencies have increased in the Trump administration. EPA has dismissed findings of scientists concerning chlorpyrifos, atrazine, and synthetic pyrethroids. Now EPA’s war on its own scientists has reached the point that its Science Advisory Board, which oversees the scientific integrity of the agency’s regulation, posted letters on-line criticizing EPA’s rollback of environmental protections. As reported in a front page story on January 1, 2020 by The New York Times, “A top panel of government-appointed scientists, many of them hand-selected by the Trump administration, said on Tuesday that three of President Trump’s most far-reaching and scrutinized proposals to weaken major environmental regulations are at odds with established science.”

These most recent rollbacks involve protection of waterways, limitations on vehicle emissions, and use of scientific data to support health regulations. Without reliance on science, agency policies cannot fail to be arbitrary and capricious – the standard of irresponsibility in government. The Times quoted Patrick Parenteau, a professor of law with the Vermont Law School, “The courts basically say if you’re going to ignore the advice of your own experts you have to have really good reasons for that. And not just policy reasons but reasons that go to the merits of what the critiques are saying.”

Send a message to EPA Administrator Andrew Wheeler that he must do his job, as supported by the best available science.

Letter to EPA

As news reports come in demonstrating the threats to major groups of organisms, and the stability of Earth’s ecosystems, and as international scientists appeal for major policy changes, action by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to protect biodiversity and ecosystem integrity has never been more critical. Recent actions by the EPA’s Science Advisory Board highlight the need for public insistence that the agency do its job.

Under your leadership, EPA has dismissed findings of scientists concerning chlorpyrifos, atrazine, and synthetic pyrethroids. Now EPA’s own Science Advisory Board, which oversees the scientific integrity of the agency’s regulation, has posted letters on-line criticizing EPA’s rollback of environmental protections. As reported by The New York Times, “A top panel of government-appointed scientists, many of them hand-selected by the Trump administration, said on Tuesday that three of President Trump’s most far-reaching and scrutinized proposals to weaken major environmental regulations are at odds with established science.”

These most recent rollbacks involve protection of waterways, limitations on vehicle emissions, and use of scientific data to support health regulations. Without reliance on science, agency policies cannot fail to be arbitrary and capricious–the standard of irresponsibility in government. The Times quoted Patrick Parenteau, a professor of law with the Vermont Law School, “The courts basically say if you’re going to ignore the advice of your own experts you have to have really good reasons for that. And not just policy reasons but reasons that go to the merits of what the critiques are saying.”

It is time for you, as the Administrator of EPA, to listen to your own advisors and the best available science and act to preserve life on Earth.

Thank you.

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17
Jan

European Union Bans Neonicotinoid Insecticide, Citing Health and Environmental Concerns

(Beyond Pesticides, January 17, 2020) In Brussels, the European Commission (EC) has just decided not to renew approval of the neonicotinoid pesticide thiacloprid, citing both environmental and health concerns related to use of and exposure to the pesticide. The decision was approved by a majority of European Union (EU) governments last fall, after the EC had made the proposal to them. The EC based that proposal on findings of the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) published in January 2019, which highlighted concerns about toxicity to humans and high concentrations in groundwater. European Commissioner for Health and Food Safety Stella Kyriakides commented, “There are environmental concerns related to the use of this pesticide, particularly its impact on groundwater, but also related to human health, in reproductive toxicity.”

The current EU use approval for thiacloprid products expires on April 30, 2020. The EC decision — functionally, a ban — means that farmers will need to turn to other means to deal with the primary thiacloprid targets in agriculture, aphids and whiteflies. Beyond Pesticides and many organic agricultural resources advocate for widespread adoption of organic, regenerative systems and practices. Such systems may include management features such as mechanical and biological controls, trap crops, natural barriers, least-toxic IPM (Integrated Pest Management), and practices such as avoiding monocultures, crop rotation, introducing beneficial predator insects, and a focus on building healthy, “living” soils.

Martin Dermine of PAN (Pesticide Action Network) Europe responded to the news of the EC decision: “Thiacloprid is ‘toxic to pollinators and humans: as such it must have no place in the production of our food.’” . . . It was in 2015 that the European Chemicals Agency classified thiacloprid as toxic to reproduction, which should have led to an immediate ban; yet, four years later, people and the environment are still exposed to this toxic substance. The case of thiacloprid is another example of the loose implementation of EU law to the benefit of the agrochemical industry.’ Mr. Dermine added that it will not be possible for the Commission to protect human health and biodiversity as long as such delays and improper implementation of the precautionary principle ‘continue to be structural features of the EU approval procedure.’”

EURACTIV reports that Bayer Crop Science (maker of thiacloprid) spokesperson Utz Klages has said that “although the company ‘continues to believe that thiacloprid-based crop protection products can be used safely when appropriate risk mitigation measures are applied,’ they ‘respect the decision of the EU Member States regarding the non-reapproval of thiacloprid.’” He also said that pesticides (which are referred to in the UK as “crop protection products) are an important tool for farmers, and that there are not enough alternative chemical solutions for “numerous crop and pest combinations.”

Bayer’s thiacloprid, sold under the brand names Calypso and Biscaya, is a member of the class of pesticides called neonicotinoids. These compounds are highly toxic insecticides that damage insects’ central nervous systems, causing death even at very low doses. Thiacloprid is one of the three most commonly used neonicotinoids (neonics), along with imidacloprid and thiamethoxam. In use since the 1990s, neonics are the most widely utilized class of pesticides worldwide. Primary agricultural uses include direct application to crops and nursery plants, and treatment of seeds with the compounds.

Human exposures often happen through groundwater contamination, which makes its way to drinking water sources. The authors of a 2019 study noted, “Because of their pervasiveness in source waters and persistence through treatment systems, neonicotinoids are likely present in other drinking water systems across the United States.” Health impacts of exposure to thiacloprid can include neurotoxicity, reproductive anomalies, hepatic and renal damage, and more recently identified, an increase in expression of a gene linked to hormone-dependent breast cancer. In that last instance, researchers discovered a pathway via which neonicotinoids stimulate excess estrogen production, which is a known event in the development of such cancers. Previous research in 2015 had identified a role for thiacloprid and thiamethoxam in heightened production of an enzyme (aromatase) that stimulates estrogen production and, thereby, hormone-dependent cancer cell proliferation.

In addition to the concerns about health, research has demonstrated negative impacts of thiacloprid on non-target species; it especially weakens immune systems and impairs reproduction of bee populations. Such impacts of the compound on bees and bumblebees have been well established. One vector of harmful impact of thiacloprid on honey bees is the synergy between it and two common pathogens to which honey bee populations have been vulnerable in recent years — the invasive microsporidian Nosema ceranae and the black queen cell virus — which interactions resulted in elevated levels of bee mortality.

Despite PAN Europe’s comment about delays and improper enactment of the Precautionary Principle, this recent action by the European Commission underscores the contrast between neonic regulation in Europe and that here in the U.S. Thiacloprid is the fourth of five neonicotinoids for which — although previously approved for EU use — restrictions or bans subsequently (since 2013) have been adopted. For example, based on a 2012 risk assessment by the EFSA, the EC severely restricted the use of three neonics (clothianidin, imidacloprid, and thiamethoxam) in pesticide applications on bee-attractive crops and in seed treatment; it continued to allow use in greenhouses, treatment of some crops after flowering, and use on winter grain crops.

The EC also required applicants for those neonics to provide additional, “confirmatory information” on the compounds for further evaluation. Following that evaluation, the EC concluded that the remaining outdoor uses of the neonics could not be considered safe, and in 2017, proposed bans of those three neonics. In 2018, all outdoor uses of the three substances were banned in the EU, and only greenhouse use continued to be permissible. In addition, France has instituted a strong neonic ban; Germany suspended use of neonics more than a decade ago; and Italy long ago banned neonic seed treatments.

In the U.S., the neonic regulatory history is not precautionary, and has been slower, and less protective. A sampling of relatively recent Beyond Pesticides reporting on regulatory action and inaction by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) includes:

  • After 20 years of imidacloprid use in the marketplace, in 2016 EPA released a long-awaited preliminary honey bee risk assessment linking use of the neonic to severely declining honey bee populations and confirming harmful residues of the chemical in crops where the pollinators forage.
  • In May 2017, a federal judge ruled that EPA violated the Endangered Species Act (ESA) when it issued 59 neonicotinoid insecticide registrations between 2007 and 2012 for pesticide products containing clothianidin and thiamethoxam.
  • In May 2019, EPA announced the final notices of cancellationon the registration of 12 neonicotinoid pesticide products, each of which contains one of the neonics, chlothianidin or thiamathoxam; the decision to pull these products from the marketplace was a requirement of the 2018 settlement of a case brought by beekeepers and environmental advocacy groups. In covering this, Beyond Pesticides noted the larger and worrying context: “For all but two of the 12 canceled products, a nearly identical surrogate remains actively registered. Furthermore, the fact remains that there are hundreds more products containing the active ingredients targeted by the lawsuit that have not been removed in any capacity – 106 products containing clothianidin and 95 containing thiamethoxam remain untouched on the market. Breaking down the impacts of the EPA ruling even further, there are several eerily similar classes of insecticides that operate the same way neonicotinoids do that remain untouched by regulation.”

Currently, the Trump administration is directing EPA to dismantle its own efficacy, kneecap enforcement, change how science is used at the agency, and rein in regulation broadly — all in service to the interests of the agro-chemical, fossil fuel, and industrial farming sectors. In the face this, advocacy organizations continue their work to publicize important research, health, and policy developments related to pesticide use, and to educate policy makers and the public. Beyond Pesticides asks that members of the public become engaged, speak out, contact their elected officials, organize in their local communities, and do all they can to shift the current trajectory at EPA to one that is genuinely protective of human and environmental health. Stay current on these issues by following Beyond Pesticides’ Daily News Blog and journal, Pesticides and You, and find organizational resources here.

All unattributed positions and opinions in this piece are those of Beyond Pesticides.

Source: https://www.reuters.com/article/us-eu-bayer-pesticide/eu-commission-bans-bayer-pesticide-linked-to-harming-bees-idUSKBN1ZC136

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16
Jan

Environmental Chemicals Are Stealing IQ Points from American Children and Costing Trillions to the U.S. Economy

(Beyond Pesticides, January 16, 2020) Exposure to environmental chemicals in the U.S. since the turn of the century has resulted in millions of lost IQ points, hundreds of thousands of cases of intellectual disability, and trillions of dollars of lost economic activity. This is according to a study led by a team of scientists at the New York University Grossman School of Medicine, published in the journal Molecular and Cellular Endocrinology. “Although people argue against costly regulations, unrestricted use of these chemicals is far more expensive in the long run, with American children bearing the largest burden,” says senior study author Leonardo Trasande, MD, MPP in a press release.

Exposure to environmental chemicals can result in neurotoxic effects. Prenatal exposure represents a critical window when these effects can be particularly pronounced and result in lasting damage to a child. Researchers focused their study on contact with mercury, lead, organophosphate pesticides, and flame retardants in the womb.

Biomonitoring data from a long-running Centers for Disease Control and Prevention study on environmental chemicals was used to determine exposure levels. Because each chemical results in differing levels of intellectual damage, each was assigned an IQ impact based on past research. For example, scientists indicated that 4.25 IQ points are lost for every 10-fold increase in organophosphate exposure. Intellectual disability was determined to be when IQ dropped below 70. Again using previous research, each lost IQ point was assigned a value of $22,268. Each case of intellectual disability was estimated to result in $1,272,470 in lost productivity. These dollar amounts are all inflation-adjusted to the year 2018.

With increased attention to childhood lead and mercury exposure, the contribution of these chemicals to IQ decay remains significant yet declined over the last two decades. At the same time, the proportion of IQ loss attributable to flame retardants (polybrominated diphenyl ethers [PBDEs]) and organophosphate pesticides has increased substantially, from 67% to 81%. Flame retardants were identified as the most costly contributor, resulting in over 162 million lost IQ points and 738,000 cases of intellectual disability, totaling over $4.5 trillion over the course of the entire study period (2001-2016). Although exposure from lead declined over the study period alongside IQ loss, there is no safe level of exposure to the metal for children, resulting in neurotoxic effects. Lead-attributable IQ loss declined from 8 million per year in 2001 to 2 million in 2016.

Despite modest declines in organophosphate pesticide use over the study period, the impacts of organophosate exposure appear roughly on par with lead exposure. Pesticides were estimated to result in over 26 million lost IQ points and over 110,000 cases of intellectual disability, totaling roughly $735 billion in economic costs. The total impact of all the chemicals studied by researchers is estimated at nearly 200 million lost IQ points, and almost 1.2 million cases of intellectual disability, costing the U.S. economy an astounding $7.5 trillion.

Scientists attribute the continued effects of flame retardants and pesticides to lax regulation and unwillingness to adequately address exposure by government officials. The paper cites the failure of the Trump administration to ban chlorpyrifos as evidence that exposure to this highly toxic class of chemicals is likely to increase. “Unfortunately, the minimal policies in place to eliminate pesticides and flame retardants are clearly not enough,” said lead study author Abigail Gaylord, MPH.

The study also raised the prospect of regrettable substitutions, whereby chlorpyrifos would be replaced with another neurotoxic chemical class, such as the synthetic pyrethroids, as a reason for overhauling the way the nation analyzes hazardous pesticides. “Without proper toxicological testing standards for industrial chemicals in the Untied States we run the risk of introducing chemicals that are just as bad, or even worse, for human health,” the study reads.

Lead exposure is on the decline due to its removal in gas and paint, but legacy exposure in paint and pipes continues to plague communities like Flint, Michigan. Mercury exposure has been reduced due in part to regulations on coal plant emissions, but remains a significant risk for certain regions of the country. Flame retardants can in some instances be avoided through careful purchases on items like furniture but necessitate increased regulation. Likewise, individuals can focus on eating organic food in order to reduce organophosphate exposure, but uses remain on golf courses and for mosquito control, and farmworkers and agricultural communities are disproportionately impacted.

See here and here for past coverage of NYU’s work to uncover the hidden costs of environmental chemicals on our children’s intelligence and our economy. For more evidence on the need for increased regulation and the organic solution, see Beyond Pesticides’ Pesticide Induced Diseases Database and the Why Organic program page.  

All unattributed positions and opinions in this piece are those of Beyond Pesticides.

Source: NYU Press Release, Molecular and Cellular Endocrinology

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15
Jan

Exploratory Study Indicates Pesticide Exposure May Relate to Higher Risk for Endometriosis

(Beyond Pesticides, January 15, 2019) A study published in the journal Environment International, Association of urinary metabolites of organophosphate and pyrethroid insecticides, and phenoxy herbicides with endometriosis, is the first of its kind. Researchers considered the endocrine-disrupting properties of pesticides (such as reduced sperm counts) and investigated whether there might be a relationship between pesticide exposure and endometriosis. Endometriosis is an estrogen-dependent gynecologic disease that affects about 176 million women globally. It can cause extreme pain and infertility as well as increased risk for cancer and cardiovascular diseases. This study finds a positive correlation between some pesticide metabolites and endometriosis, though authors encourage further study to corroborate the findings.

Researchers examined exposure to 11 “universal pesticides” and their metabolites and its relationship to endometriosis in 492 reproductive-age women recruited from 14 surgical centers in Utah and California from 2007-2009. The women at these clinics were scheduled for laparoscopy or laparotomy—the “gold standard” for identifying endometriosis is through these surgeries. The study compares results from the clinical cohort to a group of women in the same age bracket from areas surrounding the participating clinics. 619 urine samples were analyzed from the operative and population cohorts.

This study detected six of the pesticides or their metabolites in ≥95% of urine samples — including organophosphates and 2-4,D. Pyrethroids and their metabolites were detected in 47–80% of the samples. The odds ratios, or measure of association between exposure and an outcome, are significant for two organophosphate metabolites: 2-Isopropyl-4-methyl-6-hydroxypyrimidine (IMPY) and 3,5,6-trichloro-2-pyridinol (TCPY). The authors conclude, “Our results suggest that exposure to elevated concentrations of diazinon (the parent compound of IMPY) and chlorpyrifos and chlorpyrifos-methyl (parent compounds of TCPY) may be associated with endometriosis.” However, the authors emphasize the small sample size and need for further studies. “Our findings should be considered as exploratory,” they state.

Endocrine disrupting chemicals (EDCs) are far under-studied and under-regulated. In 2015, Beyond Pesticides summarized the Environmental Protection Agency’s performance on evaluating endocrine disrupting chemicals and protecting the public from them: “Delays and criticisms from scientists have highlighted inadequacies of the overall program. After FQPA [Food Quality Protection Act] set a 1999 deadline for EPA to develop a battery of assays with which pesticide manufacturers were required to screen their products as possible endocrine disruptors, EPA repeatedly pushed back the deadline for over a decade. Moreover, critics of EDSP have said that EPA’s testing protocol is outdated, failing to keep pace with the science.” Adding to the critique, in 2017 Beyond Pesticides covered the ongoing inadequacy of EPA’s progress on EDCs, noting that “inadequate federal testing, disproportionate industry influence, and subverted regulatory oversight threaten decades of progress on protecting people from hormone disrupting chemicals.”

As opposed to stalling and undermining the use of science in decision making, EPA must begin following a precautionary principle where they take measures to assess for harm before approval. The Precautionary Principle, as set out in 1998, says: “When an activity raises threats of harm to human health or the environment, precautionary measures should be taken even if some cause and effect relationships are not fully established scientifically. In this context the proponent of an activity, rather than the public, should bear the burden of proof. The process of applying the precautionary principle must be open, informed and democratic and must include potentially affected parties. It must also involve an examination of the full range of alternatives, including no action.”

It is a fact that  our nation and world are saturated with human-made chemicals — 80,000 on the market in the U.S. alone, and most synthesized only in the past 50 years. The majority of those compounds have not been evaluated for effects other than acute toxicity, and 95% have not been reviewed for potential impacts on children. Given these circumstances, Beyond Pesticides advocates for a Precautionary approach to permitting of all pesticides, and for the transition to a world free of them. Join us: https://beyondpesticides.org/join/sign-me-up.

All unattributed positions and opinions in this piece are those of Beyond Pesticides.

Source: Environment International

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14
Jan

New Method of Lyme Disease Prevention Promising, But Not Ready to Replace Personal Protective Measures

tick insect warning sign in forest

(Beyond Pesticides, January 14, 2020) Scientists have found a new method to reduce the sources of Lyme disease, but it is uncertain whether the finding will ultimately translate into fewer cases of human infections. Research published in the journal Experimental and Applied Acarology finds that incorporating Lyme vaccines into pelletized mouse food had the effect of reducing levels of Borrelia burgdorferi, the bacterium that causes Lyme disease, in both mice and ticks in a certain location.

“So, the idea here is to vaccinate the mice,” study author Kirby Stafford, PhD told WBUR. “What we’ve done is incorporate a Lyme disease vaccine in an oral bait that would immunize them. That would prevent ticks feeding on those animals from becoming infected and then ultimately turn around and infect you.”

To test their approach, researchers enrolled 32 homes in Redding, CT, an area where Lyme disease in endemic and several human cases are reported each year. Vaccine-incorporated mouse baiting stations were placed around 21 homes, while 11 acted as a control. Four times throughout the two year study period, mice and the ticks attached to them were trapped and tested for the disease. While there were no significant differences between the experimental and control plot in the first year, this changed after the second year of study.

In areas where the vaccine bait was placed, mice infections were significantly lower than controls, with tick populations following suit. Only 9% of ticks were found to be infected with Borrelia burgdorferi in treated areas, while ticks at control plots displayed a 39% infection rate.

While the study shows promise for a novel method of tick control, there is not yet enough data to say that the reductions will translate to protections for humans, according to a Bard College researcher interviewed by WBUR. “We’ve got nothing… nothing that’s been demonstrated to reduce the number of Lyme disease cases in humans,” said Felicia Keesing, PhD, a disease ecologist. “We have a variety of things that reduce the number of ticks in people’s yards. Those have not translated to having an effect on people’s health. So this study has the right idea, but it doesn’t mean it will necessarily translate into actually fewer cases in people.”

Past research has found that the use of toxic insecticides on suburban lawns can reduce the number of ticks in one’s yard. However, households whose lawns were treated with insecticides still reported a similar number of tick encounters and tick-borne illnesses as those whose properties were left untreated. Thus pesticides should not be considered a viable means of addressing Lyme disease transmission –particularly in light of the risks associated with of exposing one’s self and family to neurotoxic pesticides.  

More recent studies focusing on highly toxic permethrin, which can be incorporated or sprayed onto clothing, have likewise been inaccurately reported in the media as a means of successful tick management. While simple repellents like oil of lemon eucalyptus, picaridin, and insect repellent IR 3535 can be effective in deterring ticks from finding and attaching to humans, DEET and permethrin should be avoided.

The best method to prevent tick bites and the diseases they carry is to wear appropriate clothing (light colored that covers one’s whole body), a hat, and consider tucking one’s pant’s into your socks. Most important is to conduct regular tick checks alongside a friend, as it’s critically important to detach a tick from one’s skin as soon as possible after the bite to reduce the chance of disease transfer.  If you have an outdoor pet, don’t forget to check them as well (consider a flea/tick comb and remember areas like behind the ears and in between toes). For more information on how to manage ticks safely, see Beyond Pesticides ManageSafe webpage.

All unattributed positions and opinions in this piece are those of Beyond Pesticides.

Source: WBUR, Experimental and Applied Acarology

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