The EPA May Extend the Use of Pesticides that Paralyze Bees

This story originally appeared on The Guardian and is part of the Climate Desk collaboration.

The US Environmental Protection Agency is poised to allow the use of four of the most devastating chemicals to bees, butterflies, and other insects to continue in America for the next 15 years, despite moves by the European Union to ban the use of toxins that have been blamed for widespread insect declines.

The EPA is widely expected to confirm a proposed plan outlined last year that will extend the use of imidacloprid, thiamethoxam, clothianidin, and dinotefuran on US farmland for the next 15 years, even though the agency has noted “ecological risks of concern, particularly to pollinators and aquatic invertebrates.”

These four insecticides are all types of neonicotinoids, a class of chemicals that is widely used on crops to treat them for pests but has been found to cause devastation among non-target insects, such as bees. The chemicals assault receptors in an insect’s nerve synapse, causing uncontrollable shaking, paralysis, and death.

Neonicotinoids are used across 150 million acres of American cropland, an area roughly the size of Texas, and have contributed to the land becoming 48 times more toxic than it was a quarter of a century ago. The chemicals are water-soluble and quickly leach out of plants into soils and streams, causing such harmful impacts to wildlife that Canada has restricted their use, while the EU has banned the outdoor deployment of clothianidin, imidacloprid, and thiamethoxam.

But while states such as Connecticut and New Jersey have enacted some curbs on neonicotinoids, the US federal government is set to bend to pressure from farming groups and pesticide makers to perpetuate their use nationally.

“We are already seeing crashes in insect numbers, and we don’t have another 15 years to waste,” said Nathan Donley, environmental health science director at the Center for Biological Diversity.

“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.”

An EPA spokesperson said that review decisions for the neonicotinoids will be issued in “late 2022” and that mitigation rules for their use are being considered. “We understand the importance of pollinators for healthy ecosystems and a sustainable food supply,” she said, adding that the EPA “is working aggressively to protect pollinators, including bees.”

An outright ban, similar to the EU’s, appears unlikely for the US, however. “While the agency reviews the regulatory efforts of the EU, EPA also looks at regulation in countries such as Australia, Canada, Japan, New Zealand, and others that share our risk-based approach to regulation,” said the spokesperson. “The differences in the details of our underlying laws can naturally lead to different regulatory conclusions.”

The use of neonicotinoids, hailed by industry as a key to bumper crop yields, has exploded since the 1990s. The chemicals are sprayed directly on to fruit and vegetables but are most commonly found embedded in the coating of corn and soybean seeds sold by companies such as Bayer and Syngenta to farmers.

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