By eliminating ‘neonics’ we offer bees a safer environment
The City of Eugene, Ore., has become the first community in the nation to ban, from city property, the use of neonictinoid insecticides, or “neonics.” The courageous step has them labeled as the “most bee-friendly city” in the United States. Now it is time for Terre Haute to discover ways to protect our precious pollinators, too. Like so many products when they are first put on the market, the research for their safety in the environment is done by the product manufacturer who has a vested interest in proving the product is completely safe to use. But as more comes out about the products, whether it is asbestos, lead in gasoline, cigarettes or neonics, we are learning they are far more toxic than we were initially told.
As a beekeeper, it has been so rare for me to find a bee this year. When I do, I stop in my tracks and watch it. The neonicotinoid imidacloprid, introduced two decades ago in 1994, is the most widely used insecticide in the world. Neonics are used as seed treatments on more than 140 crops, with virtually all corn, soy, wheat and canola seeds planted in the U.S. being pretreated with neonics. Neonics are systemic pesticides that are taken up through roots and leaves and distributed throughout the entire plant, including the pollen and nectar.
About two years ago, bee keeping organizations started contacting the Oregonbased organization Beyond Toxic to report what they have been seeing out in the field.
“We did a really fantastic project with a local grocery store where we covered up all the food in the produce department that is available only because of the pollination of bees. When you look at what is left, it is pretty scary,” Director Lisa Arkin said.
Neonics can poison bees directly, but even low-level exposure can lead to sublethal effects such as a comprised immune system, altered learning and impaired foraging, effectively exacerbating the lethality of infections and infestations.
Beyond Toxic then contacted Eugene City Councilor Claire Syrett to create a resolution to ban the use of neonics on city-owned property. It didn’t take much, if any, convincing of other councilors to support the resolution. It meant working with their parks department to further their integrated pest management program, a method to look at the least toxic avenues possible when solving a pest problem. For them, it is not so much as what they are spraying, but what they are planting. “As a matter of practice now, it is simply examining what we are doing just to insure we are not using products containing neonics.
Some plants are treated in terms of seeds with neonics. That basically makes the plants toxic to insects,” City of Eugene Park Operations Manager Scott Milovich said.
When I asked Terre Haute Parks Manager Hal Orndorff what chemicals his department used, he could not recall any specific chemical names. He said the department doesn’t normally carry any on-hand. Rather, the workers go to the store and buy whatever is in stock on an as-needed basis. They also do not have an IPMP.
Orndorff did say they use the most humane and pet friendly weed killer available on the market.
While the parks in Eugene may look a little scruffier, officials say it is worth the cost of the unknown. “This is really a public health imperative. We have kids, pets, folks of various ages with health vulnerabilities. We want them to be able to use our parks and not worry that they are getting some kind of toxic poisoning from the things we are using to make our parks look nice,” Syrett said.
Arkin says the ban shows that when our Federal Environmental Protection Agency is dragging its feet, local communities can step up and do what is necessary and in a sense provide a model for other municipalities to do the same. The EPA has plenty of evidence that the neonics are persistent in the environment. They harm pollinator species and birds. Last year the American Bird Conservancy reviewed 200 studies about neonics and 2,800 pages of industry data. The report concluded that neonics are lethal to birds, noting that a single neonic-treated seed is enough to kill a song bird.
PICKING THE RIGHT PRODUCT
Friends of the Earth conducted a pilot study to determine the extent of the neonics contamination of common nursery plants purchased at retail garden centered in cities across the U.S.
The findings indicate that bee-friendly nursery plants sold at U.S. retailers may contain systemic pesticides at levels that are high enough to cause adverse effects on bees and other pollinators, with no warning to consumers. The findings have some big box retailers making some major changes. “We are glad to provide customers with alternative products for their insecticide needs and are actively working with our live goods suppliers to find alternative insecticides for protecting live goods and bees.,” said Catherine Woodling, The Home Depot manager of Corporate Communications.
“We will also require all of our live goods suppliers to label plants that they have treated with neonicotinoids by fourth quarter 2014.”
Unfortunately, there are far too many products on store shelves containing neonics to list them all. For a complete list visit: www.foe.org/beeaction. As a consumer, you can make a difference with your voice and dollar.
Remember, if we don’t have pollinators, the whole food chain is disrupted.
There is no money and no corporate profit that can pay for that kind of destruction in the end.
Jane Santucci SI2016 Regional Coordinator, Terra Haute
Jane Santucci is an environmental freelance writer for the Tribune-Star. Santucci is a proud volunteer with TREES Inc. and Our Green Valley. She also sits on the Wabash Valley Goodwill Industries Board of Directors. Share your environmental stories and tips with her at JaneSantucci@yourgreenvalley.com.