Wil Molenkamp / Flickr

Conservation Groups, House Reps Call for EPA to Respect Science, Take Action on Pollinator-Killing Pesticides

Congressman Earl Blumenauer (D.-Ore.), alongside Representative Jim McGovern (D.-Mass.) and conservation, farmworker, farmer and consumer groups, on Wednesday reintroduced the Saving America's Pollinators Act, which aims to suspend the registration of certain neonicotinoid insecticides until the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) conducts a full scientific review.

In addition, 16 environmental and conservation groups have collected more than 100,000 public comments urging the agency to rein in the rampant overuse of neonicotinoid pesticides—a leading cause of pollinator population declines.

Thousands of scientific studies implicate neonicotinoid pesticides, or "neonics," as key contributors to declining pollinator populations. EPA's own scientists have found that neonics pose far-reaching risks to birds and aquatic invertebrates.

Last week, at the request of industry, the EPA extended its comment period on preliminary ecological and human health risk assessments for the neonicotinoids clothianidin, thiamethoxam and dinotefuran, and a preliminary ecological risk assessment for the neonicotinoid imidacloprid. The EPA's risk assessments found deadly impacts to birds from neonic-treated seeds, poisoned insect prey and contaminated grasses.

"EPA's recent assessment confirms what the science has already shown: that neonicotinoids are highly toxic not just to bees, but to aquatic species and birds," said Nichelle Harriott, science and regulatory director at Beyond Pesticides. "To protect our waterways and pollinators it is imperative that action be taken on these chemicals."

"Our nation's beekeepers continue to suffer unacceptable mortality of 40 percent annually and higher," said Andrew Kimbrell, executive director of Center for Food Safety. "Water contamination by these insecticides is virtually out of control. Wild pollinators and wetland-dependent birds are in danger. EPA must recognize the vast scientific literature showing the hazards of these chemicals and act to protect bees and the environment."

University researchers have found that tiny amounts of neonics are enough to cause migrating songbirds to lose their sense of direction and become emaciated. A recent study by USGS researchers found neonics widespread in the Great Lakes at levels that may potentially harm aquatic insects—the foundation of healthy aquatic ecosystems.

"By harming pollinators like bees and butterflies, and natural pest control agents like birds and beneficial insects, neonicotinoids are sabotaging the very organisms on which farmers depend," said Cynthia Palmer, director of pesticides science and regulation at American Bird Conservancy.

These chemicals have become ubiquitous in our food supply. Testing carried out by American Bird Conservancy and the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health found neonicotinoids in 9 out of 10 bites of food from House and Senate dining halls, with some foods containing as many as five types of neonics.

Europe has instituted a temporary ban on neonicotinoids based on their harms to pollinators. Canada's pesticide regulatory agency has recommended banning the most widely used neonicotinoid based on harms to aquatic ecosystems.

"When presented with the science about neonics and bees, the question becomes 'In what imaginary world could this astoundingly efficient bee-killing, persistent insecticide, used countrywide in extreme overkill quantities, not be harming our pollinators?' said Dr. Luke Goembel, chemist and legislative vice chair with the Central Maryland Beekeepers Association. "The only thing that is keeping the U.S. from joining other nations in banning the use of these devastating poisons is the immense profit that fuels PR campaigns, intense lobbying efforts, and questionable studies designed to mislead us on the harm these poisons do."

Given the ongoing obstruction by EPA leadership, however, Representatives Blumenauer and McGovern are offering a legislative remedy to address the national pollinator crisis.

"Scientists at EPA are treated as irrelevant now because they are no longer part of the decision-making process," said Betsy Southerland, former director of EPA's office of Science and Technology. "All environmental decisions come out of Administrator Pruitt's private meetings with industry and agribusiness."

"The EPA has an important mission—protecting people and the environment from harm," said Genna Reed, science and policy analyst for Union of Concerned Scientists. "The EPA's leadership can't do their job unless they listen to their own scientists and make decisions that reflect the facts. At a time when EPA staff is shrinking and science advisors at the agency are underutilized, it is critical that the agency act to enforce safeguards that really protect people, informed by the evidence."

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