Neonic Pesticide May Become More Toxic in Tap Water
By Jennifer Sass
Yet again, our government scientists—the oft neglected but so important brain trust of our nation—bring the public some very important new data. Pesticide water monitoring experts at the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) paired up with scientists from the University of Iowa in a federally funded collaboration to track neonicotinoid pesticides or " neonics" in tap water, including the potential to form chlorinated disinfection byproducts (DBPs) from the pesticides and their metabolites that may be more toxic than the original compounds. And the news isn't good.
Following up on previous research finding neonicotinoids in tap water (Klarich et al. 2017), the scientists now explore whether the neonic compounds or their metabolites that are generated in the environment are transformed into disinfection byproducts during common, important drinking water treatment processes used to protect public health, such as chlorination (Klarich Wong et al. 2019). This paper is the first report of two known metabolites of imidacloprid in tap water; desnitro-imidacloprid and imidacloprid-urea. This is especially concerning because desnitro-imidacloprid is about 319 times more toxic to mammals than imidacloprid, so even much lower levels could be harmful.
In addition to discovering the presence of the two metabolites in tap water, the authors demonstrate the likelihood that these metabolites are further transformed to a new form of neonic-derived chlorinated disinfection byproduct during routine water treatment processes. The scientists simulated the conditions that would occur during realistic drinking water conditions, to show under laboratory conditions that chlorinated chemicals are produced.
These new chlorinated contaminants are untested, untracked and potentially harmful. In other words, their potential impacts on human health could be a big deal! Other types of disinfection byproducts in drinking water are highly toxic, linked to a risk of cancer and birth defects.
Those potential harms could also be a big deal risk-wise because neonics are the most widely used insecticides on the market. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and other regulatory agencies have been disregarding the potential for neonics to harm vertebrates, because their mechanism of toxicity was thought to be insect-selective. Unfortunately, this caused a regulatory blind spot in the harm they do to beneficial insects like bees, and aquatic invertebrate species that provide a critical food source for amphibians, fish and other aquatic vertebrates. The reason the metabolites (for example, desnitro-imidacloprid) raise a red flag is that science now demonstrates that the insect-selective toxicity is altered, causing them to be more toxic to vertebrates including people and other mammals.
See USGS Pesticide Use Maps for the most current information, but note USGS's disclaimer that beginning in 2015 the data reports no longer include seed treatment uses of pesticides; for the neonics this represents somewhere around 90 percent of total pounds of neonic pesticides used in agriculture—a very serious under-reporting. See below for imidacloprid (note the drop-off since 2015 due to failure to include seed treatments).
USGS Pesticide Use Map - imidacloprid
The study report authors note that although the chlorinated disinfection byproducts derived from neonics have an unknown toxicity profile, it is possible that they may be more toxic than the parent compound. Thus, the authors recommend in the article that the "greater potential toxicity and frequent presence in these water samples of neonicotinoid metabolites demonstrates the need to consider their fate and persistence in drinking water treatment systems (ex. during chlorination and other treatment processes) and their potential effects on human health." NRDC agrees! That's why we are asking EPA to include all the neonic metabolites and chlorinated products in its human health risk assessment of the neonic pesticides, due later this year.
In addition to surface water and drinking water contamination, the U.S. Department of Agriculture has found neonics inside fruits and vegetables, where they can't be simply washed off due to their systemic nature. And emerging science suggests a link with neonic exposure and potential disorders including neurobehavioral impairments in animal studies, and autism-like effects in prenatally exposed children (see my blog for details).
In addition to including all relevant neonic metabolites in its risk assessment, EPA should also assess the cumulative risks from all the neonic pesticides and their toxic metabolites together. It is alarming that EPA seems to have no plan for conducting a cumulative risk assessment for this toxic and persistent class of pesticides.
The scientific evidence of harm is piling up—EPA must pay attention!
10 Things You Always Wanted to Know About #Neonics https://t.co/uRzBC3NlVx @NRDC @bpncamp @pesticideaction— EcoWatch (@EcoWatch)1542060018.0
Jennifer Sass is a senior scientist in the Federal Toxics, Health and Food, Healthy People & Thriving Communities Program at the Natural Resources Defense Council.
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By D. André Green II
One of nature's epic events is underway: Monarch butterflies' fall migration. Departing from all across the United States and Canada, the butterflies travel up to 2,500 miles to cluster at the same locations in Mexico or along the Pacific Coast where their great-grandparents spent the previous winter.
Millions of People Care About Monarchs<p>I will never forget the sights and sounds the first time I visited monarchs' overwintering sites in Mexico. Our guide pointed in the distance to what looked like hanging branches covered with dead leaves. But then I saw the leaves flash orange every so often, revealing what were actually thousands of tightly packed butterflies. The monarchs made their most striking sounds in the Sun, when they burst from the trees in massive fluttering plumes or landed on the ground in the tussle of mating.</p><p>Decades of educational outreach by teachers, researchers and hobbyists has cultivated a generation of monarch admirers who want to help preserve this phenomenon. This global network has helped restore not only monarchs' summer breeding habitat by planting milkweed, but also general pollinator habitat by planting nectaring flowers across North America.</p><p>Scientists have calculated that restoring the monarch population to a stable level of about 120 million butterflies will require <a href="https://doi.org/10.1111/icad.12198" target="_blank">planting 1.6 billion new milkweed stems</a>. And they need them fast. This is too large a target to achieve through grassroots efforts alone. A <a href="https://www.fws.gov/savethemonarch/CCAA.html" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">new plan</a>, announced in the spring of 2020, is designed to help fill the gap.</p>
Pros and Cons of Regulation<p>The top-down strategy for saving monarchs gained energy in 2014, when the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service <a href="https://www.fws.gov/southeast/pdf/petition/monarch.pdf" target="_blank">proposed</a> listing them as threatened under the Endangered Species Act. A decision is expected in December 2020.</p><p>Listing a species as endangered or threatened <a href="https://www.fws.gov/endangered/esa-library/pdf/listing.pdf" target="_blank">triggers restrictions</a> on "taking" (hunting, collecting or killing), transporting or selling it, and on activities that negatively affect its habitat. Listing monarchs would impose restrictions on landowners in areas where monarchs are found, over vast swaths of land in the U.S.</p><p>In my opinion, this is not a reason to avoid a listing. However, a "threatened" listing might inadvertently threaten one of the best conservation tools that we have: public education.</p><p>It would severely restrict common practices, such as rearing monarchs in classrooms and back yards, as well as scientific research. Anyone who wants to take monarchs and milkweed for these purposes would have to apply for special permits. But these efforts have had a multigenerational educational impact, and they should be protected. Few public campaigns have been more successful at raising awareness of conservation issues.</p>
<span style="display:block;position:relative;padding-top:56.25%;" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="91165203d4ec0efc30e4632a00fdf57d"><iframe lazy-loadable="true" src="https://www.youtube.com/embed/KilPRvjbMrA?rel=0" width="100%" height="auto" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" style="position:absolute;top:0;left:0;width:100%;height:100%;"></iframe></span>
The Rescue Attempt<p>To preempt the need for this kind of regulation, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service approved a <a href="https://www.fws.gov/savethemonarch/pdfs/Monarch%20CCAA-CCA%20Public%20Comment%20Documents/Monarch-Nationwide_CCAA-CCA_Draft.pdf" target="_blank">Nationwide Candidate Conservation Agreement for Monarch Butterflies</a>. Under this plan, "rights-of-way" landowners – energy and transportation companies and private owners – commit to restoring and creating millions of acres of pollinator habitat that have been decimated by land development and herbicide use in the past half-century.</p><p>The agreement was spearheaded by the <a href="http://rightofway.erc.uic.edu/" target="_blank">Rights-of-Way Habitat Working Group</a>, a collaboration between the University of Illinois Chicago's <a href="https://erc.uic.edu/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Energy Resources Center</a>, the Fish and Wildlife Service and over 40 organizations from the energy and transportation sectors. These sectors control "rights-of-way" corridors such as lands near power lines, oil pipelines, railroad tracks and interstates, all valuable to monarch habitat restoration.</p><p>Under the plan, partners voluntarily agree to commit a percentage of their land to host protected monarch habitat. In exchange, general operations on their land that might directly harm monarchs or destroy milkweed will not be subject to the enhanced regulation of the Endangered Species Act – protection that would last for 25 years if monarchs are listed as threatened. The agreement is expected to create up to 2.3 million acres of new protected habitat, which ideally would avoid the need for a "threatened" listing.</p>
A Model for Collaboration<p>This agreement could be one of the few specific interventions that is big enough to allow researchers to quantify its impact on the size of the monarch population. Even if the agreement produces only 20% of its 2.3 million acre goal, this would still yield nearly half a million acres of new protected habitat. This would provide a powerful test of the role of declining breeding and nectaring habitat compared to other challenges to monarchs, such as climate change or pollution.</p><p>Scientists hope that data from this agreement will be made publicly available, like projects in the <a href="https://www.fws.gov/savethemonarch/MCD.html" target="_blank">Monarch Conservation Database</a>, which has tracked smaller on-the-ground conservation efforts since 2014. With this information we can continue to develop powerful new models with better accuracy for determining how different habitat factors, such as the number of milkweed stems or nectaring flowers on a landscape scale, affect the monarch population.</p><p>North America's monarch butterfly migration is one of the most awe-inspiring feats in the natural world. If this rescue plan succeeds, it could become a model for bridging different interests to achieve a common conservation goal.</p>
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