Sunday, April 28, 2013

Death By Neonicotinoid: A Study for the Birds

On Friday I promised you a look at how the neonicotinoids involved in colony collapse disorder are not only killing off a staggeringly large proportion of honeybees, but also related to the deaths other animals.

The poisoning of one food source can easily cause a chain reaction that ensures the loss or decrease of its harvester   Disease in prey can produce disease in its predator, and cause devastating results in anything that depends on their relationship.  What kills one animal has the potential to kill another.

You get the point: A danger to the one is a danger to the many.

What does this have to do with colony collapse disorder?

It has to do with the danger of neonicotinoids, those chemicals at the heart of colony collapse disorder.

Those chemicals that are 'perfectly safe' because they don't harm mammals.

Those chemicals that are used in farmlands across the globe.

"What's wrong with them, then?" 
you ask.

It's a good question, actually.  On the surface everything seems copacetic. Unfortunately, there are a whole lot more than mammals living within our world.  Every creature is a part of our eco-system.  A serious danger to one of them is bad...

But what if the danger is to more than one of them?

Like birds, for example.

The American Bird Conservancy (ABC) released a media statement that caused my jaw to drop.  It's entitled Birds, Bees, and Aquatic Life Threatened by Gross Underestimate of Toxicity of World's Most Widely Used Pesticide.

Quite a mouthful.  

Personally, I think it should have been shortened to something like, Neonicotinoids Have the Potential to Kill Everything Except Mammals and the EPA is Ignoring the Evidence.

Oh, wait... that's not much shorter, is it?  Oh, well.  We'll go with their title, then.

So what's it all about?  

Well, the ABC got Dr. Pierre Mineau, whose primary interest is in pesticide toxicology, to do a review on 200 different studies on the subject of neonicotinoids, attaining much of it through the Freedom of Information Act.  The study was co-authored by Cynthia Palmer, the Pesticides Program Manager for the ABC.

The final report, entitled The Impact of the Nation's Most Widely Used Insecticides on Birds, is 97 pages long, and focuses primarily on the following neonicotinoids:  Imidacloprid, Clothianidin, and Thiamethoxam.

Conveniently, that link to the report is a pdf file, so you can download it and read at your convenience.

According to the ABC's media release,
The report evaluates the toxicological risk to birds and aquatic systems and includes extensive comparisons with the older pesticides that the neonicotinoids have replaced. The assessment concludes that the neonicotinoids are lethal to birds and to the aquatic systems on which they depend.
Indeed, if we continue reading, we learn that:
“A single corn kernel coated with a neonicotinoid can kill a songbird,” Palmer said. “Even a tiny grain of wheat or canola treated with the oldest neonicotinoid -- called imidacloprid -- can fatally poison a bird. And as little as 1/10th of a neonicotinoid-coated corn seed per day during egg-laying season is all that is needed to affect reproduction.”
The report claims that the procedures used to evaluate research regarding neonicotinoids were flawed and outdated.  Interestingly, it's stated that EPA scientists have repeatedly stated concerns about neonicotinoids, but that the agency has essentially ignored them, and allowed registrations for these products to continue.

One particularly interesting point was that:
EPA and other regulatory agencies worldwide have underestimated the toxicity of these compounds to birds partly because the risk assessment methods fail to account sufficiently for interspecies variation in toxicity. For example, risk assessments underestimate acute risk by up to 10 fold for bird species beyond mallard ducks and bobwhites, the two usual test species. As for aquatic invertebrates, EPA has underestimated the toxicity of the neonicotinoid imidacloprid by over an order of magnitude because of the Agency’s failure to consider data from the peer-reviewed literature. EPA has grossly underestimated the toxicity of the other neonicotinoids as well, in part due to the Agency’s reliance on their standard test species, Daphnia magna, a freshwater flea which happens to be uniquely insensitive to neonicotinoids.
Wow.  Just... wow.

As we can see, this isn't just a problem for the bees.  It's also for the birds.

Neonicotinoids effect the birds and the bees.

(Ok, ok... stop groaning.  I'll quit with the bad jokes...)

You get the point, though.  At the end of the press release, it's stated that "The report urges the EPA to expand its registration review of neonicotinoids to include birds, aquatic invertebrates, and other wildlife."

And I agree with the study.  Who wouldn't?

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