Approval for four types of neonicotinoid chemical and bee-killing pesticides used on US farmland to be extended, further endangering vulnerable insects.
The US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) is expected to approve a plan to extend the use of four of the most harmful pesticides to bees, butterflies, and other insects in the US for the next 15 years, despite them being linked to widespread decline of insect populations.
Even though the EPA is aware of the four types of neonicotinoid chemical – imidacloprid, thiamethoxam, clothianidin and dinotefuran – and their “ecological risks of concern, particularly to pollinators and aquatic invertebrates”, the agency is expected to move ahead with the extension approval, allowing the continued use of these harmful chemicals on farmlands in the US.
Neonicotinoids are insecticides used to kill insects on crops, helping boost crop yields. But the pesticides end up killing many unintended insects including important pollinators such as bees and butterflies. The chemicals are toxic to invertebrates and damage their nervous systems, which can often result in uncontrollable shaking, paralysis and death.
Its marked impact on insect species population and contribution to their dramatic decline has led to the European Union to ban the use of the three neonicotinoids outdoors and for Canada to restrict their use.
The bee-killing pesticides have been and remain in use across 150m acres of American cropland (equivalent to the size of Texas), where these plots of land have since become 48 times more toxic compared to 25 years ago. The chemicals are sprayed directly onto fruit and vegetables, which are absorbed by the plants, reaching towards the stems, leaves, flowers, nectar and pollen; eventually leaching out into soils and water sources such as streams.
“We are already seeing crashes in insect numbers and we don’t have another 15 years to waste,” Nathan Donley, environmental health science director at the Center for Biological Diversity, said to the Guardian. “It’s frustrating to see the EPA go down this path. We really are at a crossroads – we can follow the science and the rest of the world or we can go out on our own and appease the chemical industry.”
The US population of the American bumblebee alone has plummeted by 90%, according to recent research. Aside from habitat loss and climate change, the use of pesticides has been cited as the main cause of the species’ risk of extinction. Worldwide, it is estimated that insect populations are dropping by as much as 2% a year.
While the EPA is currently reviewing risks of neonicotinoids with the findings to be published by late 2022, environmental groups have launched a legal effort to force the EPA to regulate neonicotinoid-coated seeds and to reduce the number of “emergency” permits issued to states that request the spraying of the chemicals beyond what is normally allowed without a full review process.
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