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Neonicotinoid pesticides can stay in the US market, EPA says

Agency supports continued use of pesticide class that is harmful to pollinators

by Britt E. Erickson
February 3, 2020

The US Environmental Protection Agency wants to allow five neonicotinoid pesticides to remain in the US marketplace, despite their neurotoxic risks to people and wildlife, including bees and other pollinators. In a proposed interim decision released on Jan. 30, the agency says that it will implement new measures to reduce risks to pollinators and protect public health.

Chemical structure of acetamiprid.
Chemical structure of clothianidin.

The five pesticides are acetamiprid, clothianidin, dinotefuran, imidacloprid, and thiamethoxam. The EPA proposes to require use of additional personal protective equipment for farmworkers who handle the pesticides. The agency is also suggesting restrictions on applying the pesticides to blooming crops to protect bees and other pollinators. The EPA advises homeowners not to use neonicotinoids and proposes to ban the use of imidacloprid on residential lawns and turf.

Chemical structure of imidacloprid.

In 2018, the European Commission banned the outdoor use of three of the pesticides—clothianidin, imidacloprid, and thiamethoxam—because of their potential to harm bees. Growers can only use the chemicals in permanent greenhouses. France went a step further and also banned acetamiprid and another neonicotinoid, thiacloprid. Earlier this year, the European Commission chose not to renew authorization of thiacloprid.

Chemical structure of dinotefuran.

CropLife America, which represents pesticide manufacturers, claims that farmers rely on neonicotinoid-treated seeds to produce healthy crops. “Studies performed around the world demonstrate that neonics are effective in controlling harmful insects in agricultural and non-agricultural settings, with no unreasonable adverse effects on pollinator health when used according to label instructions,” the group says in an emailed statement.

Chemical structure of thiamethoxam.

Environmental groups are disappointed with the EPA’s decision and argue that the proposed measures do not go far enough. “EPA acknowledged it underestimated the risks posed by these neurotoxic pesticides to birds, bees, mammals, and even human health,” Jennifer Sass, senior scientist at the environmental group Natural Resources Defense Council, says in a statement. “Unfortunately, its response is woefully inadequate and offers only baby steps to address this serious threat.”



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