The best of EcoWatch, right in your inbox. Sign up for our email newsletter!
EPA Approves New Pesticide Highly Toxic to Bees
Photo courtesy of Shutterstock
In apparent contradiction to its stated intention to protect pollinators and find solutions to the current pollinator crisis, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) approved the unconditional registration of the new insecticide sulfoxaflor, which the agency classifies as highly toxic to honey bees. Despite warnings and concerns raised by beekeepers and environmental groups, sulfoxaflor will further endanger bees and beekeeping. The U.S. EPA continues to put industry interests first to exacerbate an already dire pollinator crisis.
In January, the agency proposed to impose conditional registration on sulfoxaflor due to inconclusive and outstanding data on long-term honey bee brood impacts. At that time, the agency requested two additional studies—a study on residue impacts, and a field test to assess impacts to honey bee colonies and brood development. This week, the EPA granted full unconditional registration to sulfoxaflor stating that there were no outstanding data, and that even though sulfoxaflor is highly toxic to bees it does not demonstrate substantial residual toxicity to exposed bees, nor are “catastrophic effects” on bees expected from its use. While sulfoxaflor exhibited behavioral and navigational abnormalities in honey bees, the EPA downplays these effects as “short-lived.” The agency says it has reviewed 400 studies in collaboration with its counterparts in Australia and Canada to support its decision. However, these studies do not seem to be currently available in the public scientific literature.
Instead of denying or suspending registration in the face of dire pollinator losses, the EPA instead has chosen to mitigate sulfoxaflor impacts to bees by approving a reduced application rate from that initially requested by the registrant, Dow AgroSciences LLC, as well as increasing the time interval between successive applications. The EPA also approved new pollinator label language it believes to be “robust” to protect pollinators. Sulfoxaflor labels will state language such as:
“Do not apply this product at any time between 3 days prior to bloom and until after petal fall.”
and advisory pollinator statement:
“Notifying known beekeepers within 1 mile of the treatment area 48 hours before the product is applied will allow them to take additional steps to protect their bees. Also limiting application to times when managed bees and native pollinators are least active, e.g., before 7 a.m. or after 7 p.m. local time or when temperature is below 55oF at the site of application, will minimize risk to bees.”
However, beekeepers have noted that 48 hour notice is oftentimes insufficient to move their hives to a safer location and that prior notification is not always provided. Label statements, like those authorized for sulfoxaflor, not only underscore the risks to bees, but like most pesticide product labels are unrealistic since sulfoxaflor is a systemic pesticide whose residues can continue to exist in the plant (including pollen and nectar) for longer periods of time that well surpasses the recommended application intervals, and therefore exposes bees to residues longer than suggested. Similarly, label language such as this is extremely difficult to enforce at the use level.
Several comments were submitted by concerned beekeepers and environmental advocacy groups, like Beyond Pesticides, that stated that approval of a pesticide highly toxic to bees would only exacerbate the problems faced by an already tenuous honey bee industry and further decimate bee populations. However, the EPA outrightly dismissed these concerns and instead pointed to a need for sulfoxaflor by industry and agriculture groups to control insects no longer being controlled by increasingly ineffective pesticide technologies.
The EPA also noted that none of the objections to sulfoxaflor registrations pointed to any data “to support the opinion that registration of sulfoxaflor will pose a grave risks to bees,” even though the agency itself acknowledges that sulfoxaflor is highly toxic to bees. Instead, the agency says, “Comments suggested that pesticides can pose risks to bees and that the agency should not allow yet another pesticide to threaten bees.”
The agency’s approval of sulfoxaflor and its attempts to mitigate risks to honey bees highlight the real deficiencies in the agency’s risk assessment process. Risk assessment approaches have historically underestimated real-world risks, and attempts to mitigate adverse impacts with measures that prove insufficient and impractical. These risk assessment approaches make determinations that the risks are “reasonable,” while failing to take into account numerous circumstances and realities that make honey bees vulnerable to chemical exposures, including user failure to adhere to application rate guidelines, and local environmental conditions that may predispose crops, and other plants, to accumulate higher chemical residues, especially in nectar and pollen. In addition to risks to bees, sulfoxaflor is also classified as “suggestive evidence of carcinogenic potential” based on the incidence of tumors and carcinomas in mice and rats.
Given the global phenomenon of bee decline and the recent precautions taken in the European Union regarding bee health with the two-year suspension of neonicotinoid pesticides known to be highly toxic to bees, it is irresponsible that the EPA will allow yet another chemical with a high potential to be hazardous to bee health into the environment. It is also counterintuitive to current agency and interagency work to protect pollinators.
Sulfoxaflor is a new active ingredient, whose mode of action is similar to that of neonicotinoid pesticides—it acts on the nicotinic acetylcholine receptor in insects. Even though it has not been classified as a neonicotinoid, it elicits similar neurological responses in honey bees, with many believing that sulfoxaflor is the new generation of neonicotinoid. Sulfoxaflor will be registered for use on vegetables, fruits, barley, canola, ornamentals, soybeans, wheat and others.
Visit EcoWatch’s BIODIVERSITY page for more related news on this topic.
EcoWatch Daily Newsletter
A powerful volcano on Monday rocked an uninhabited island frequented by tourists about 30 miles off New Zealand's coast. Authorities have confirmed that five people died. They expect that number to rise as some are missing and police officials issued a statement that flights around the islands revealed "no signs of life had been seen at any point,", as The Guardian reported.
"Based on the information we have, we do not believe there are any survivors on the island," the police said in their official statement. "Police is working urgently to confirm the exact number of those who have died, further to the five confirmed deceased already."
The eruption happened on New Zealand's Whakaari/White Island, an islet jutting out of the Bay of Plenty, off the country's North Island. The island is privately owned and is typically visited for day-trips by thousands of tourists every year, according to The New York Times.
My god, White Island volcano in New Zealand erupted today for first time since 2001. My family and I had gotten off it 20 minutes before, were waiting at our boat about to leave when we saw it. Boat ride home tending to people our boat rescued was indescribable. #whiteisland pic.twitter.com/QJwWi12Tvt— Michael Schade (@sch) December 9, 2019
Michael Schade / Twitter
At the time of the eruption on Monday, about 50 passengers from the Ovation of Seas were on the island, including more than 30 who were part of a Royal Caribbean cruise trip, according to CNN. Twenty-three people, including the five dead, were evacuated from the island.
The eruption occurred at 2:11 pm local time on Monday, as footage from a crater camera owned and operated by GeoNet, New Zealand's geological hazards agency, shows. The camera also shows dozens of people walking near the rim as white smoke billows just before the eruption, according to Reuters.
Police were unable to reach the island because searing white ash posed imminent danger to rescue workers, said John Tims, New Zealand's deputy police commissioner, as he stood next to Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern in a press conference, as The New York Times reported. Tims said rescue workers would assess the safety of approaching the island on Tuesday morning. "We know the urgency to go back to the island," he told reporters.
"The physical environment is unsafe for us to return to the island," Tims added, as CNN reported. "It's important that we consider the health and safety of rescuers, so we're taking advice from experts going forward."
Authorities have had no communication with anyone on the island. They are frantically working to identify how many people remain and who they are, according to CNN.
Geologists said the eruption is not unexpected and some questioned why the island is open to tourism.
"The volcano has been restless for a few weeks, resulting in the raising of the alert level, so that this eruption is not really a surprise," said Bill McGuire, emeritus professor of geophysical and climate hazards at University College London, as The Guardian reported.
"White Island has been a disaster waiting to happen for many years," said Raymond Cas, emeritus professor at Monash University's school of earth, atmosphere and environment, as The Guardian reported. "Having visited it twice, I have always felt that it was too dangerous to allow the daily tour groups that visit the uninhabited island volcano by boat and helicopter."
The prime minister arrived Monday night in Whakatane, the town closest to the eruption, where day boats visiting the island are docked. Whakatane has a large Maori population.
Ardern met with local council leaders on Monday. She is scheduled to meet with search and rescue teams and will speak to the media at 7 a.m. local time (1 p.m. EST), after drones survey the island, as CNN reported.
- New Evidence Suggests Ancient Egypt Was Brought Down by ... ›
- Climate Change Could Set Off Volcanoes - EcoWatch ›
- U.S. Has 18 'Very High Threat' Volcanoes - EcoWatch ›
- Scientists Discover 91 Volcanoes Hidden Under Antarctic Ice Sheet ... ›