The Environmental Protection Agency has just released a report reaffirming what researchers have been saying for years: neonicotinoid pesticides are devastating America’s bee population. The report singles out one widely-used pesticide, imidacloprid, as posing a particular risk. The danger to bees is so high, the agency wrote in a recent statement, it may consider restricting or limiting the use of the chemical by the end of the year.
While most insecticides can be harmful to bees, neonicotinoids are dangerous for an especially interesting reason. With other pesticides, farmers can simply avoid treating plants when they’re blooming to minimize bee exposure to toxic chemicals. But neonicotinoids are systemic pesticides that travel through the entire plant, including the flowers and nectar.
Worse still, they’re persistent, so they can still harm bees long after they were applied to the plant. Simply avoiding application when plants are blooming does nothing to lower the risk to bees, and research shows they can remain in the surrounding soil for over five years. All it takes to affect bees is a tiny amount: the EPA found imidacloprid starts to reduce the number of bees and decrease the amount of honey a hive produces at just 25 parts per billion.
Unfortunately, a ban on imidacloprid won’t be enough to stop colony collapse disorder on its own. The pesticide is just one of several neonicotinoids the EPA is assessing, one by one, and there’s plenty of reason to believe other insecticides in the same class pose an equally high risk. The European Union took the precautionary step of simply banning neonicotinoids for two years in late 2013. Why can’t the US do the same until the EPA’s review of these pesticides is complete?