The EPA announced Thursday it supports the continued use and registration of neonicotinoids, a class of insecticides linked to declines in bees, aquatic insects and birds.
The Environmental Protection Agency released its proposed interim decisions for acetamiprid, clothianidin, dinotefuran, imidacloprid, and thiamethoxam. Neonicotinoids are used on a wide variety of crops.
A number of scientific studies have linked the widespread use of neonicotinoid seed coatings to large declines in populations of pollinators and birds. The European Union in 2018 banned all outdoor uses of clothianidin, imidacloprid and thiamethoxam, the three chemicals seen as posing the greatest concern for bee health.
The announcement from the EPA is the next step in a regulatory review that occurs every 15 years for pesticides as required by the Federal Insecticide, Fungicide and Rodenticide Act (FIFRA).
Among large-scale row crops, such as corn, soybeans and cotton, the primary chemicals used in seed coatings are imidacloprid (sold under the brand name Gaucho from Bayer AG), clothianidin (Poncho from Bayer/BASF), and thiamethoxam (Cruiser from Syngenta AG).
Multiple Environment Threats
Industry groups claim that measures can be taken to protect bees and pollinators, while still providing access to important chemicals that farmers rely on.
“Farmers depend on and protect bees and other pollinators, which are essential for their crops,” according to CropLife America, a trade group representing pesticide companies.
“Many farmers are beekeepers themselves and go to great lengths to provide habitat and forage for bee colonies, such as planting wildflowers around their cropland,” said CropLife.
In addition to the threats posed to bees, environmental groups point to recent studies which have linked exposure to neonicotinoids to developmental problems in unborn children.
“EPA acknowledged it underestimated the risks posed by these neurotoxic pesticides to birds, bees, mammals and even human health,” said Jennifer Sass, a senior scientist at the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC).
Sass said EPA’s response to these risks is “woefully inadequate” and offers only baby steps to address a serious threat.
“Instead of doing its job, EPA failed to apply a critical protective factor required by law in its assessment, leaving pregnant women and children at risk. Enough of the half-measures—we need strong and immediate action that protects people, wildlife and the environment,” she said.
The proposed interim decisions also contain new measures to reduce potential ecological risks, particularly to pollinators, and protect public health, according to the EPA.
Among the management measures being proposed are measures to “help keep pesticides on the intended target and reduce the amount used on crops associated with potential ecological risks,” the agency said.
The EPA is also proposing the use of additional personal protective equipment and restrictions on when pesticides can be applied to blooming crops in order to limit exposure to bees.
Upon publication in the Federal Register, the public will have 60 days to post comments. After reviewing public input, the agency will issue a final interim decision, scheduled for this summer.