For Immediate Release, July 30, 2014

Contact: Jonathan Evans, (415) 436-9682 x 318

New Federal Study: Highly Toxic, Bee-killing Pesticides Common in 9 Midwestern Waterways Including Mississippi and Missouri Rivers

Contaminated Drainage Includes Iowa Minnesota, Montana, Nebraska, Wisconsin and Dakotas

SAN FRANCISCO— A new study from the U.S. Geological Survey has found high levels of the neonicotinoid pesticides linked to massive honeybee die-offs in nine midwestern streams and rivers that drain portions of seven states. The highly toxic pesticides, which are used to coat seeds, are present in concentrations that may frequently violate water-quality thresholds, according to the study. Centered around corn and soybean regions in Iowa, the study is the first broad-scale investigation of water contamination from multiple neonicotinoids in the Midwest, and one of the first conducted in the country. Neonicotinoids were detected at all of the sites sampled, including the Mississippi and Missouri rivers.

“It’s shocking to see the prevalence of these toxic pesticides — already banned by the European Union — in so many American waterways,” said Jonathan Evans, toxics and endangered species campaign director at the Center for Biological Diversity. “We’re sowing poison when these neonicotinoid-treated seeds, known to be toxic to important pollinators like honeybees, are now routinely used for many of our biggest crops, including 99 percent of our corn seeds.”

Neonicotinoid pesticides dissolve easily in water, but do not break down quickly in the environment, making it easy for them to enter waterways as runoff. Pesticides were found in water in higher levels after rainstorms when crops are being planted. Neonicotinoids were also detected in rivers and streams prior to crop planting, indicating that they persist in the environment from previous years. The presence of the toxins in surface waters threatens aquatic insects that are an important food source for fish and other vertebrates. 

Out of the six types of neonicotinoids, three were commonly found in water from the streams and rivers tested. Clothianidin use doubled between 2011 and 2013 and was found at 75 percent of the sites; thiamethoxam was found at nearly half the sites, while imidacloprid was found at almost a quarter of the sites.

Neonicotinoids have a wide array of negative impacts to the environment. Imidacloprid is currently the most commonly used neoniconinoid worldwide and is known to be toxic to aquatic organisms at extremely low concentrations. Bird declines of 3 percent per year in the Netherlands have been connected to neonicotinoids in a recent study. The link between neonicotinoid pesticides and the decline of bees and other pollinators has also been well documented.

“The evidence is mounting that even at minute doses neonicotinoid pesticides are destroying the food web,” said Evans. “We can’t ignore the science any longer; these dangerous chemicals need to be banned from use.”

In an effort to protect wildlife from pesticides, the Center for Biological Diversity joined the Center for Food Safety in petitioning for a ban on the use of neonicotinoids in all national wildlife refuges and has worked to reform the way pesticides are reviewed in the United States. Conservation groups have also called on retailers to stop selling neonicotinoid tainted plants that can harm pollinators such as bees.

Earlier this month federal officials announced that use of the pesticides would be phased out on national wildlife refuges in the Northwest and Hawaii.

The Center for Biological Diversity is a national, nonprofit conservation organization with more than 775,000 members and supporters dedicated to the protection of endangered species and wild places.

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