Nicotine, as we all know by now, is a powerful poison.
So powerful that on 22 November 1963 [yes, that day] the Central Intelligence Agency once sent an agent to kill Fidel Castro with a syringe disguised as a fountain pen and filled Black Leaf 40, a powerful nicotine-based insecticide that our father used the stuff to kill mites on his roses.
Black Leaf 40 is no longer with us, following a 1992 ban on its use by the Environmental Protection Agency — you know, the department Trump wanted to eliminate — because of its widespread long-term environmental hazards as well as it’s propensity to poison people.
But the ban on Black Leaf 40 didn’t stop the widespread current use of nicotine-based insecticides, using nicotine-based chemicals called neonicotinoids.
How widespread is their use here in the U.S.?
Consider this chart from How Neonicotinoids Can Kill Bees — The Science Behind the Role These Insecticides Play in Harming Bees, a very informative new report from the Xerces Society for Invertebrate Conservation:
Estimated Annual Agricultural Use of Neonicotinoids in the United States: 1994–2014
More from the report’s Executive Summary:
Neonicotinoids have been adopted for use on an extensive variety of farm crops as well as ornamental landscape plants. They are the most widely used group of insecticides in the world, and have been for a decade. Developed as alternatives for organophosphate and carbamate insecticides, neonicotinoids are compounds that affect the nervous system of insects, humans, and other animals. Although less acutely toxic to mammals and other vertebrates than older insecticides, neonicotinoids are highly toxic in small quantities to many invertebrates, including beneficial insects such as bees.
The impact of this class of insecticides on pollinating insects such as honey bees and native bees is a cause for concern. Because they are systemic chemicals absorbed into the plant, neonicotinoids can be present in pollen and nectar, making them toxic to pollinators that feed on them. The potentially long-lasting presence of neonicotinoids in plants, although useful from a pest management standpoint, makes it possible for these chemicals to harm pollinators even when the initial application is made weeks before the bloom period. In addition, depending on the compound, rate, and method of application, neonicotinoids can persist in the soil and be continually taken in by plants for a very long periods of time.
Across Europe and North America, a possible link to honey bee die-offs has made neonicotinoids controversial. In December 2013, the European Union significantly limited the use of clothianidin, imiadcloprid, and thiamethoxam on bee-attractive crops. In the United States, Canada, and elsewhere, local, state, and federal decision makers are also taking steps to protect pollinators from neonicotinoids. For example, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service phased out all uses of neonicotinoids on National Wildlife Refuges lands starting in January 2016.
The European Union has banned the used of three neonicotinoids — clothianidin, thiamethoxam and imidacloprid — and restricted the use of a fourth, fipronil.
Given that bees are responsible for pollinating much of the food we eat, impacts on apians is a cause for deep concern.
A Colorado city bans nicotine-derivative insecticides
More on the good reasons for concern, as summarized in the following, taken from Boulder, Colorado city government website section on protecting pollinators:
One group of pesticides, the neonicotinoid insecticides (also called neonics), stand out as a major contributing factor to the catastrophic loss of bees and other animals. Neonicotinoid insecticides are extremely toxic to pollinators at very low doses. They are absorbed and taken up by the plant, ending up in all plant tissues, including the nectar and pollen collected by pollinators and the seeds, fruits, and leaves eaten by other animals. These products are often applied as soil treatments in the form of granules or drenches, where they can persist for many years and continue to contaminate plants, kill earthworms and other important beneficial soil organisms, and run off into surface water where they can kill aquatic invertebrates. An analysis by a consortium of independent scientists from around the globe reviewed more than 800 peer-reviewed studies and concluded that neonicotinoid insecticides pose a significant risk to the world’s pollinators, worms, birds and other animals and that immediate action is needed. Studies conclude that pesticide application rates that regulatory agencies consider protective to the environment actually harm aquatic organisms found in surface waters (dragonflies mayflies, snails and other animals that form the base of the food chain and a healthy, clean watershed) and build up in soils to levels that can kill soil organisms.
The city was so concerned that in May 2015, the city banned use of the chemicals on city land and urged similar actions by individuals, corporations, and state and federal government as well.
Canada to ban a popular neonicotnoid
One of the most widely used neonicitinoids in imidacloprid, and back in November CBC News reported that the Canadian government’s health agency is proposing a nationwide band on the substance based on its impacts on bees:
“Based on currently available information, the continued high-volume use of imidacloprid in agricultural areas is not sustainable,” the assessment states.
It proposes phasing out all agricultural uses of imidacloprid, and a majority of other uses, over the next three to five years.
“I’m really surprised,” said Mark Winston, a professor of apiculture at Simon Fraser University and senior fellow at the university’s Centre for Dialogue.
“To take an action to phase out a chemical that is so ubiquitous, and for which there is so much lobbying pressure from industry, I think that’s a really bold move.”
After the jump, impacts from use on one crop, the industry denial machine, and bee behavioral impacts. . . Continue reading