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Gene Mutation Increases Risk of Parkinson’s Disease from Pesticide Exposure

(Beyond Pesticides, December 6, 2013) In a new study exploring gene-environment interactions, researchers find that individuals with a genetic mutation linked to Parkinson’s disease are more likely to develop the neurodegenerative disease if they are exposed to pesticides. The study, Isogenic Human iPSC Parkinson’s Model Shows Nitrosative Stress-Induced Dysfunction in MEF 2-PGC1α Transcription, identifies the molecule that protects neurons from pesticides, ties genetic mutation to pesticide exposure, and demonstrates that low dose exposure can cause Parkinson’s disease.

The study, conducted by researchers at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and the Sanford-Burnham Medical Research Institute in La Jolla, CA, supports previous epidemiological and animal studies that demonstrate the link between pesticide exposure and neurological damage, using human stem cells as a model.

“For the first time, we have used human stem cells derived from Parkinson’s disease patients to show that a genetic mutation combined with exposure to pesticides creates a ‘double hit’ scenario, producing free radicals in neurons that disable specific molecular pathways that cause nerve-cell death,” says lead author Stuart Lipton, M.D., Ph.D., professor and director at the Sanford-Burnham’s Medical Research Institute.

Using skin cells from Parkinson’s patient who already possess the genetic mutation linked to the disease, researchers transformed them into human induced pluripotent stem cells (hiPSC) and corrected for the mutation in half the cells. Then, researchers transformed these hiPSCs into nerve cells that are damaged by Parkinson’s disease, called A9 dopamine neurons, and control for movement and coordination.

Researchers then exposed these nerve cells to pesticides typical in conventional agricultural areas in the U.S.: “Exposing both normal and mutant neurons to pesticides –including paraquat, maneb, or rotenone– created excessive free radicals in cells with the mutation, causing damage to dopamine-containing neurons that led to cell death,” said coauthor Frank Soldner, M.D., and research scientist.

Notably, researchers also explored the impact of low-doses of pesticides on cells predisposed to Parkinson’s disease. “In fact, we observed the detrimental effects of these pesticides with short exposure to doses well below EPA-accepted levels,” said coauthor Scott Ryan, PhD. and researcher at the Sanford-Burnham’s Medical Research Institute.

The study adds to the increasing body of research surrounding pesticide-induced diseases and raises concerns on how exposures interact with genetic predispositions causing the development of neurodegenerative diseases like Parkinson’s, Alzheimer’s and Amyotrophic lateral Sclerosis (ALS).

Through the Pesticide Induced Diseases Database (PIDD), Beyond Pesticides keeps track of the most recent studies related to pesticide exposure. For more information on the multiple harms pesticides can cause, see our PIDD pages on Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s, cancer, and other diseases.

Studies such as these highlight the importance of buying, growing, and supporting organic. Consumer choices encourage the protection of the people who help put food on our table every day by purchasing organic. By buying organic, you support an agricultural system that does not permit the application of dangerous pesticides. For more information on how organic is the right choice for both consumers and the farmworkers that grow our food, see Beyond Pesticides webpage, Health Benefits of Organic Agriculture.

Sources: Science Daily, Cell

All unattributed positions and opinions in this piece are those of Beyond Pesticides.



House Farm Bill Provision Would Make Eating Fish More Dangerous

(Beyond Pesticides, December 4, 2013) It’s farm bill debate time—again. And as conferee members saddle up to the negotiation table to attempt yet another meeting of the minds before the winter recess, most of the public watching and waiting for word on a resolution are focused on issues like food stamps and milk.Mother and son fishing

What most are not waiting for and has not been at the forefront of the media and public discussion concerning the pending farm bill negotiations are the small but dangerous provisions of the House bill concerning the Federal Water Pollution Control Act (expanded and overhauled as the Clean Water Act (CWA) in 1972) and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) ability to regulate pesticides used near, over, and in water. It should be.

Seeking to nullify the Sixth Circuit’s ruling in National Cotton Council v. EPA and the resulting general permit, sections 12323 and 100013 amend CWA to exclude pesticides from the law’s standards and its permitting requirements. Known as the National Pollution Discharge Elimination System (NPDES), CWA requires all point sources, which are discernible and discreet conveyances, to obtain either individual or general permits. Whether a point source must obtain an individual or general permit depends on the size of the point source and type of activity producing the pollutants. Regardless of whether it is a general permit or individual permit, an entity cannot pollute without a permit and in most cases can only permit in the amounts (called effluent limitations) and ways prescribed in the permit.

Separate, but inextricably linked to the NPDES program, are CWA’s water quality standards, under which states are responsible for designating waterbody uses (such as swimmable or fishable) and setting criteria to protect those uses. If a water body fails to meet the established criteria for its use, then it is deemed impaired and the states, or EPA, if the state fails to act, must establish a Total Maximum Daily Load (TMDL), a kind of pollutant diet. The system comes full circle in that impaired waters with TMDLs can be integrated into the NPDES permits.

Neither CWA nor the NPDES program are perfect, but one need look no further than the fish we eat to understand the important role that this critical environmental framework plays in limiting human exposure to pesticides and other toxins.

CWA, Fish, and the Pesticide Connection

In the recently released Environmental Health Perspectives’ article, Meeting the Needs of the People: Fish Consumption Rates in the Pacific Northwest, the complexities of the CWA, its NPDES progam, and its water quality standards criteria are laid out in a disturbing tale of environmental justice and failing bureaucracies.

In short, Native Americans in the Pacific Northwest eat a lot of fish. It’s part of their culture and a way of life preserved in their legal and tribal rights, but they are facing increasing health risks due to the toxic chemicals in those fish. The solution to this problem seems fairly straight-forward: reduce the toxins in the water so that the levels in the fish are safe to eat. It’s a solution envisioned by CWA and its web of regulatory protections, however, as the article explains, “One of the variables used to calculate ambient water quality criteria is fish consumption rate.”

While the takeaway from the article is somewhat defeating and shows the far-reaching weaknesses of existing risk assessment methodologies, the underpinnings of the article —the connection between a water body’s water quality criteria, an entities NPDES permit, and the safety of the fish we put in our mouths— cannot be dismissed as irrelevant tales of woe. Whether the system is functioning perfectly or not, the point is that a system exists that contemplates the risks inherent to consuming toxin-laced fish and has the potential to protect the general consuming public.

From Fish Back to the Farm Bill

What does not have this ability is the Federal, Insecticide, Rodenticide, and Fungicide Act (FIFRA). It is this federal framework, however, on which supporters of the House provision hang their hats and point to as the already-in-place protective standard capable of preventing water pollution from pesticides. Beyond Pesticides has debunked this argument in more ways than one. Other environmental advocacy groups have also pointed out that the sky has not fallen since EPA’s implementation of the general pesticide permit under CWA.

The Clean Water Act is intended to ensure that every community, from tribe to urban neighborhood, has the right to enjoy fishable and swimmable bodies of water. There is a lot of work still to be done to improve the nation’s waters and protect the health of people dependent on those waters.  Without the Clean Water Act, there are no common sense backstops or enforcement mechanisms for reducing direct applications of pesticides to waterways. It may not be perfect, but it is better than nothing, which would be the effect of the House farm bill. We can’t afford to lose these protections.

Tell your Senators to oppose any efforts to undermine the Clean Water Act.

For more information, read our factsheet, Clearing up the Confusion Surrounding the New NPDES General Permit and visit our Threatened Waters page.

Sources:  Environmental Health Perspectives, Natural Resources Defense Council, U.S. Environmental Protection Agency

All unattributed positions and opinions in this piece are those of Beyond Pesticides.



Feds Moves to Dismiss Case Seeking to Protect Children from Pesticides

(Beyond Pesticides, December 4, 2013) The U.S. Department of Justice filed a motion in federal court asking a judge to dismiss a lawsuit alleging that the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has failed to uphold environmental justice protections under civil rights law. EPA previously found that Latino schools in California disproportionately suffer from exposure to pesticides due to spraying near their schools, but has yet to adequately remedy these risks, prompting parents to file a civil rights complaint.

The schools are near crop fields where toxic fumigants are routinely sprayed and drift off agricultural fields to the nearby community. More than a decade after Latino parents first filed a civil rights complaint with EPA detailing the dangerous levels of pesticides at Latino public schools throughout California, parents on Aug. 23, 2013 filed a lawsuit against EPA to force the agency to protect the civil rights of hundreds of Latino children. The parent say that ongoing pesticide monitoring set up by the California Department of Pesticide Regulation (CDPR) has not protected children from excessive exposure to pesticides. The case argues that the Latino community did not receive due process and that EPA’s agreement with CDPR does not prevent schools from pesticide contamination.

On November 20, 2013, the U.S. Department of Justice (which serves as the EPA’s legal counsel) filed a motion to dismiss the case without a trial. Documents filed with the court argue the case should be dismissed in part due to lack of jurisdiction, stating that there is no law requiring EPA to consult with the original complainants, and that EPA acted within its authority. EPA’s counsel further argues that the plaintiffs have another avenue to fight improper permits: “Plaintiffs have another adequate remedy in court, namely, state court suits challenging the issuance of permits to use pesticides near the school (or schools) relevant to plaintiffs.”

However, fighting permits one by one would do nothing to stop the pattern of discrimination, said Madeline Stano, a staff attorney at the Center on Race, Poverty and Environment, which filed the lawsuit on behalf of the parents. “The state court option EPA attorneys point to would mean our clients challenging every single permitting action (likely hundreds) that results in discrimination near all Latino public schools in California,” said Ms. Stano. “Which doesn’t even get to the bad behavior that EPA found CDPR to have violated under Title VI in their preliminary finding of discrimination.”

EPA also argues that the new plaintiffs do not actually have standing to sue, because their children are ages one, three, five and six—and therefore not currently enrolled in the schools with higher-than-average pesticide applications nearby.

The current monitoring program is the result of a settlement agreement EPA reached with CDPR in 2011, which EPA celebrated as a crowning civil rights achievement. This settlement aimed to resolve a 1999 civil rights complaint under Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 which prohibits intentional discrimination and discriminatory effects on the basis of race, color, and national origin by recipients of federal financial assistance. It alleged that CDPR’s renewal of the toxic fumigant methyl bromide in 1999 discriminated against Latino school children whose schools are located near agriculture fields. Concerns were raised that there was an unintentional adverse and disproportionate impact on Latino children resulting from the use of methyl bromide during that period. While methyl bromide has been phased-out in the U.S., research shows that it is continued to be used in alarming amounts across California due to a sizeable loophole in regulations.

As a follow up to the 1999 complaint, the suit filed this summer cites EPA’s failure and continued failure to protect the children’s rights to freedom from racial discrimination, noting that CDPR’s measures fell short of actually providing relief to the children and their parents who were affected by the use of methyl bromide. Legal representatives argue that the exclusion of the Hispanic community by EPA is unconstitutional under the Civil Rights Act, and are continuing to work have the case heard. A judge will rule on the motion to dismiss after December 11.

Currently, California runs tests for air particles from methyl bromide and 32 other pesticides and breakdown products, and measures the results against screening levels established by CDPR. However, critics maintain that the state’s sampling is not representative of peak agricultural exposures and question whether any level of a toxicant in air is reasonable under the law, given the viability of alternative agricultural practices that do not rely on these chemicals. Pesticides can drift and volatilize, and move over long distances fairly rapidly through wind and rain. Documented exposure patterns resulting from drift cause particular concerns for children and other sensitive population groups. Adverse health effects, such as nausea, dizziness, respiratory problems, headaches, rashes, and mental disorientation, may appear even when a pesticide is applied in compliance with label directions.

Communities living near agricultural areas have disproportionate exposure risks to pesticides due to pesticide drift. Farmworker communities and their children, as a result of pesticide exposures, are at risk of developing serious chronic health problems such as cancer, neurological impairments and Parkinson’s disease. For more on pesticides induced diseases visit, Pesticide-Induced Disease Database. Our food choices have a direct effect on those who grow and harvest what we eat around the world. This is why food labeled organic is the right choice. In addition to serious health questions linked to actual residues of toxic pesticides on the food we eat, our food buying decisions support or reject hazardous agricultural practices, protection of farmworkers and farm families.

For more information on the importance of eating organic food for you, workers and the environment, check out Beyond Pesticides’ Eating with a Conscience food guide and organic food program page.

All unattributed positions and opinions in this piece are those of Beyond Pesticides.

Source:  Center on Race, Poverty and the Environment. Monterey Country weekly



Start of EU Moratorium on Neonicotinoids Puts Focus on US EPA Inaction

(Beyond Pesticides, December 3, 2013) On Sunday, December 1, 2013 the European Union (EU) took critical steps to protect pollinators from the hazards associated with the use of neonicotinoid pesticides. Despite attempts by agrichemical corporations, including Bayer, and Syngenta,  to delay or reverse the decision, the two-year, continent-wide ban on bee-harming pesticides has gone into effect. However, what’s happening on the other side of the Atlantic is part of a larger story that raises serious concerns for the future of our food. In the United States, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), under the direction of Administrator Gina McCarthy, has put forth inadequate label changes that do not protect pollinators. With the support of  over 60 organizations, Beyond Pesticides has helped launch a coalition-based national advertising campaign to raise awareness of pollinator declines and urge EPA to stop stalling by enacting substantive restrictions on the use of bee-harming pesticides.beespost

Go to save-bees.org to lend your support to these efforts.

Neonicotinoids, a relatively new class of pesticides, are often used as a seed coating on agricultural crops. Studies have found that honey bees are exposed to high concentrations of neonicotioid pesticides through the dust that is kicked up when coated seeds are planted. But that’s not the only route of exposure. Neonicotinoids are systemic, meaning that as a coated seed grows into a plant the pesticide grows with it. When honey bees and other pollinators forage or drink from what are termed “guttation” (water) droplets emitted from neonicotinoid-treated crops, they are exposed to sub-lethal doses of the chemical. At this level the pesticides don’t kill bees outright. Instead, they impair bees’ ability to learn, to find their way back to the hive, to collect food, to produce new queens, and to mount an effective immune response.

These pesticides aren’t just systemic, though. They’re also persistent. A study released earlier this year, which looked at Bayer’s own internal data on neonicotinoids, found that the half-life of many of these chemicals to be between 200-1000 days, with some reports showing persistence of nearly 19 years. Thus, continued and successive plantings of neonicotinoid-treated seeds only builds upon past applications and increases the overall level of these chemicals in the environment.

Beyond being systemic and persistent, neonicotinoids are acutely toxic to honey bees and other pollinators. Massive bee kills in Florida, Minnesota, and Oregon show that the agricultural use of these chemicals should not be our only concern. The Oregon Department of Agriculture recently moved to restrict certain uses of some neonicotinoids, but the new rules do not prevent the wide-ranging means by which pollinators can be exposed to these pesticides. Through nursery plants treated with neonicotinoids, we may actually be bringing these chemicals unwittingly into our backyards when attempting to plant pollinator friendly habitat. A study by Friends of the Earth earlier this year found significant levels of neonicotinoids in “bee-friendly” plants sold at home and garden retailers such as Home Depot and Lowe’s.

The European Food Safety Authority studied the science, undertook a comprehensive review of the data available on the risks neonicotinoids pose to pollinators, and concluded that these chemicals pose “high acute risks” for bees. As it currently stands, EPA has provided inadequate protection for our pollinators. Despite petitions, lawsuits, and pleas from beekeepers and other groups, the agency has failed to rein in the unnecessary use these bee-killing products. As New York beekeeper Jim Doan asserts, “Beekeepers are losing colonies at an unprecedented rate – the losses are too extreme to keep up with, and our entire industry is at risk of collapse unless federal action is taken. Convening conferences and changing pesticide labels is lip service and window dressing to the issue, but has no substance.” Winter losses for beekeepers from the 2012-2013 season were over 30% (as they have been every year since 2006), and some beekeepers experienced losses of up to 90% of their managed honey bees. Scientists also had serious concerns about the success of California’s $2.8 billion almond harvest. In spite of this dire situation, EPA is not planning to complete its review of neonicotinoids until 2018. This is unacceptable. The ad says it all. Bees can’t wait 5 more years. And neither can we.

Please support the coalition’s efforts to restrict bee-toxic pesticides by visiting save-bees.org and signing the petition to EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy. For additional information on the decline of honey bees and other wild pollinators, and a history of our efforts to get EPA to act, visit Beyond Pesticides’ BEE Protective webpage.

All unattributed positions and opinions in this piece are those of Beyond Pesticides.



Broad Coalition Is Building Buzz on Pollinator Decline with National Ad Campaign

(Beyond Pesticides, December 2, 2013) Today, Beyond Pesticides, Center for Food Safety and Pesticide Action Network, supported by Ceres Trust and joined by more than 60 other organizations, launched a national media campaign to bring attention to the severity of pollinator declines due in part to the use of bee-harming pesticides. The campaign launch was timed to coincide with the beginning of the European Union’s two-year moratorium on three of the most potent neonicotinoids, which began yesterday. See the ad here. For action item related to this campaign, go to www.save-bees.org. For more on Beyond Pesticides’ BEE Protective campaign, go to www.BEEprotective.org. wbdv8zpowbdv8zposave-bees.orgsavebees

As part of the national media campaign, full page ads were released in seven newspapers today, including the New York Times, citing the urgency and impact of bee declines and encouraging the public to call on EPA to take action.

“We hope this national media campaign will spur public action to combat this major threat to the environment and to our food system. We must protect bees and other pollinators from these harmful pesticides that EPA has so far failed to safeguard them from,” said Larissa Walker, policy and campaign coordinator for Center for Food Safety.

Never before has such a broad coalition of organizations come together to support pollinator protection. The breadth of the coalition highlights the importance of pollinators to so many, including beekeepers, farmers, policy makers, faith groups, consumer groups and anyone who eats food.

“Protecting bees and pollinators is an urgent matter that must bring our nation together to balance our need for a bountiful food production system and a sustainable environment,” said Jay Feldman, executive director for Beyond Pesticides.

One in every three bites of food depends on bees for pollination, and the annual value of pollination services worldwide are valued at over $125 billion. In the United States alone, pollination contributes $20-30 billion in agricultural production annually.

“Honey bees play a crucial role in pollinating the world’s food crops,” said Gary Hirshberg, co-founder and chairman of Stonyfield, and one of the ad signatories. “So protecting bees from pesticides is not only good for bees, but also for business; the loss of honey bees is a direct threat to the ability of farmers and food companies to deliver diverse, nutritional foods.”

In recent years, a number of scientific studies have linked bee declines to pesticide use. In particular, a class of systemic pesticides known as neonicotinoids have been found to harm bees — both alone and in combination with other pesticides. Neonicotinoids, or “neonics,” are often used as seed treatments and sprays on a variety of crops and ornamental plants. Even though several countries, including the entire European Union, have taken action to restrict the use of neonicotinoids, the U.S. still allows their widespread use.

“Beekeepers are losing colonies at an unprecedented rate – the losses are too extreme to keep up with, and our entire industry is at risk of collapse unless federal action is taken. Convening conferences and changing pesticide labels is lip service and window dressing to the issue, but has no substance,” said New York beekeeper Jim Doan.

Today’s ad not only brings attention to this growing issue, but leads readers to a website where they can take further action, such as supporting current legislation in Congress, contacting EPA or planting pollinator habitat in their own communities.

“The EU reviewed hundreds of scientific studies and concluded that a two year moratorium was a necessary first step. The U.S. has failed to even come close to that standard,” said Emily Marquez, PhD, staff scientist at Pesticide Action Network. “EPA should follow the science and take action to protect bees from harmful pesticides.”

Center for Food Safety, Beyond Pesticides, and Pesticide Action Network are coordinating efforts to reverse the troubling trend of pollinator decline through legal, policy and grassroots efforts.

The ad also appeared in the Boston Globe, the Washington Post, Politico, Minneapolis Star Tribune, the Des Moines Register and the Los Angeles Times.

Here are some actions that you can take and help spread the word:
(1) Visit www.save-bees.org: Please sign the petition to urge EPA to take action. It’s easy and important.
(2) Tweet to spread the word. Here are some sample tweets — use the hashtag #savebees and target @EPA. Also consider replacing your profile pic with the attached.

  • @EPA time to take action to #savebees from #neonicotinoids save-bees.org @truefoodnow @bpncamp @pesticideaction
  • Bees pollinate 1 in 3 bites of food. Will @EPA #savebees? save-bees.org @truefoodnow @bpncamp @pesticideaction
  • In the U.S. alone, honey bees’ contribution to our economy is valued at over $19 billion. @EPA #savebees save-bees.org

(3) Add your group to the list of supporters. Please let me or Nichelle Harriott know if your organization or business would like to be added to the supporter list for save-bees.org. We have an opportunity to grow our voice with your support.

For more information, contact:
Abigail Seiler, CFS, 443-854-4368
Paul Towers, PAN, 916-216-1082
Jay Feldman, Beyond Pesticides, 202-543-5450


Beyond Pesticides, founded in 1981, works with allies in protecting public health and the environment by identifying the hazards of chemical-intensive land, building and community management practices and promoting healthy, sustainable and organic systems. More information can be found at www.beyondpesticides.org.

Center for Food Safety is a national, non-profit, membership organization founded in 1997 to protect human health and the environment by curbing the use of harmful food production technologies and by promoting organic and other forms of sustainable agriculture. CFS maintains offices in Washington, D.C., San Francisco, California and Portland, Oregon. More information can be found at www.centerforfoodsafety.org.

The Ceres Trust, whose name honors the ancient goddess of agriculture, provides grants that support: research in organic agriculture at universities and to graduate students; education to create careers in the production and processing of certified organic food; programs to eliminate pesticide exposure and GMO contamination; and efforts to preserve crop biodiversity and public access to seeds. www.cerestrust.org.

Pesticide Action Network (PAN) North America works to replace hazardous pesticide use with ecologically sound and socially just alternatives. As one of five PAN Regional Centers worldwide, we link local and international consumer, labor, health, environment and agriculture groups into an international citizens’ action network. This network challenges the global proliferation of pesticides, defends basic rights to health and environmental quality, and works to insure the transition to a just and viable society. More information can be found at www.panna.org.

All unattributed positions and opinions in this piece are those of Beyond Pesticides.



A Time to BEE Thankful

(Beyond Pesticides, November 27, 2013) You can almost taste it: the moist, tender turkey, the fluffy mashed potatoes, the creamy green bean casserole, the perfectly seasoned stuffing, the roasted brussel sprouts sprinkled with salty bacon, the sweet tang of the cranberry sauce, and the velvety bite of the pumpkin pie. Thanksgiving and all its bounty is almost here.asf

Of course, the impending feast doesn’t magically appear. Whether you have merely observed the bustle of preparation, assisted with the pealing and chopping, or orchestrated the entire affair, it is well known that the hard work of many lies behind the tantalizing spread.

And if your Thanksgiving tradition is like most gatherings across the nation, before you carve the turkey, scoop the mashed potatoes and stuffing, serve up the salad, and ladle the gravy all over your plate, there is a moment of pause. Be it in the form of prayer, song, or simple sharing, it is a moment honoring the purpose for this great celebration. It is a moment to stop and be grateful for the bounty before you and the friends surrounding you. It is a moment to give thanks for the hard work of those who prepared the great feast.

In this moment of thanks, however, the gratitude towards those responsible for the plentiful spread often falls short. The hard work is not confined to the kitchen walls and grandmothers’ hands. And while some individuals and families may take a moment to think beyond the kitchen and thank all the multitude of hands responsible for growing, harvesting, and transporting the food behind each bite, most will not think to thank one of the smallest workers: bees.

That’s right. Bees. One in three bites of food rely on the tireless pollinating efforts of this small but mighty insect. Combine that with recent U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) assessments that pollination contributes between $20 and $30 billion in economic value to agriculture each year and you have not only a necessary link of the food production chain, but an economically valuable one as well.
Imagine if you will your Thanksgiving dinner without the help of this small but invaluable worker. That tangy and sweet cranberry sauce? Gone. Those crispy morsels of onion on top of the green bean casserole? History. Those honey-sweetened carrots? Extinct. And last but not least, the pumpkin pie and cup of coffee you somehow make room for in your stomach? A figment of your imagination.

As strange as a Thanksgiving without pumpkin pie or any of these staples might seem, it is an all-too-real scenario we might face in the coming years. See much like the Pilgrims—the very individuals to whom our Thanksgiving Holiday pays homage—bees are facing a significant challenge of survival. Each winter since 2006, one-third of the U.S. honey bee population has died off or disappeared, which is more than twice the normal rate. Just this past summer, bumblebees suffered the single largest known incident of death in this country.

Unlike the Pilgrims, however, the decline and mass die-offs of these pollinators are not attributed to natural elements, disease, or a lack of understanding how to find or produce food in a new environment. Instead, the decline has been linked to the excessive and unnecessary use of pesticides at both the residential and commercial levels. Classes of pesticides commonly found in lawn and garden products and used in agriculture, such as neonicotinoids and synthetic pyrethroids, threaten bees existence by weakening immune systems, impairing reproduction, and killing off foragers. Even worse is that little is being done at the federal regulatory level to reverse this decline and take steps to protect bees and other pollinators.

Offer a Helping Hand to the Bee Colonies

The bees need help and they need it now. In the spirit of Thanksgiving, Beyond Pesticides along with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and other environmental groups, urge you to not only stop and thank the smallest workers for the marvelous feast spread out before you, but to take a page from Pilgrim’s history and offer a helping hand so that such a feast can continue for your family and friends in the future.

At Beyond Pesticide’s BEE Protective campaign website, you will find a host of resources, information, and advocacy tools that can be used to stop the decline of pollinators and strengthen protective regulations. Become a backyard beekeeper, establish a “Pesticide Free Zone” in your yard or local park, choose organic produce (starting with that mouth-watering Thanksgiving spread), and most importantly, let Congress and other regulators know that bees and other pollinators deserve our protection, help, and thanks.

Happy Thanksgiving!

All unattributed positions and opinions in this piece are those of Beyond Pesticides.



EPA Appoints Public Interest Scientist to Oversee Scientific Integrity

(Beyond Pesticides, November 27, 2013) The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has tapped a senior scientist at a nonprofit watchdog group to head the agency’s internal scientific integrity program. Francesca Grifo, PhD, former senior scientist and director of the Union of Concerned Scientists’ (UCS) scientific integrity program, is becoming EPA’s new scientific integrity official, tasked with overseeing the agency’s transparency and ethical policy standards.Environmental_Protection_Agency_logo

In her new post, Dr. Grifo will be working in the agency’s Office of Research and Development, where her duties include ensuring that EPA complies with scientific integrity standards and overseeing the agency’s scientific integrity committee. EPA recently developed an agency-wide policy  that addresses the promotion of scientific ethical standards, including quality standards, public communications, advisory committees and peer review. Many believe this appointment is a boon for the agency, helping it stay ahead of the curve in upholding the science, which plays a critical role in the agency’s stewardship of public and environmental health.

Dr. Grifo has been critical of political interference in the agency’s scientific work and co-authored a UCS report in 2008, “Interference at EPA: Science and Policies at the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency,” which found that over 50 percent of staff scientists reported that they experienced political interference in their work. This report also revealed that EPA scientists cannot freely communicate their findings to the media, public or colleagues, and that political interference is most pronounced in offices where scientists write regulations and conduct risk assessments that could lead to strengthened regulations. According to UCS’ report, while EPA has one of the strongest scientific integrity policies among federal agencies and departments, improved standards can help scientists speak freely and ensure transparency in how science is used to inform policymaking especially at EPA, which faces significant scrutiny and political pressure. According to Dr. Grifo on the publication of her 2008 report, “[D]istorting science to accommodate a narrow political agenda threatens our environment, our health, and our democracy itself.” Similarly, a 2009 Government Accountability Office (GAO) report also criticized transparency at EPA in its High Risk Series update.  This followed congressional testimony on the issue where the GAO testified before the Senate Committee on Environment and Public Works in 2008 that EPA’s science is politicized, outdated, secret, and threatens the protection of people and the environment from harmful chemical exposures.

In 2009, the Obama administration pledged to restore scientific integrity to federal policymaking, but UCS and other watchdog groups have kept up pressure on the White House and agencies, citing remaining weaknesses in federal programs. Beyond Pesticides’ “Transforming Government’s Approach to Regulating Pesticides to Protect Public Health and the Environment,” urged the Obama administration to increase protections for human health and environment through improved scientific integrity and transparency.

“Science is, and continues, to be the backbone of this agency and the integrity of our science is central to the identity and credibility of our work,” EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy said in a statement. “Dr. Grifo brings a wealth of experience and knowledge to EPA that will help continue our work to implement the agency’s scientific integrity policy.”

Dr. Grifo is now charged with overseeing and improving the process for four main areas of EPA’s policy: creating and maintaining a culture of scientific integrity within the agency; communicating openly to the public; ensuring rigorous peer review; and encouraging the professional development of agency scientists. Dr. Grifo will be EPA’s focal point on scientific integrity and will provide strategic vision and leadership to inform agency decisions. She will also oversee annual employee training on scientific integrity and work with the senior counsel for ethics and the Office of Inspector General to ensure collaboration on issues pertaining to ethics and scientific misconduct. Last week, EPA launched an online training guide for its staff members to make them aware of the policy and its protections.

“Having someone like Dr. Grifo with experience within and outside government is a good opportunity for EPA to show that it’s serious about making these changes persist beyond the current administration,” said UCS’s Michael Halpern, who worked with Dr. Grifo for more than eight years on scientific integrity issues. He noted that the job is a civil service post, not a political appointment.

Dr. Grifo joined UCS in 2005, according to a spokesman for the group. She was previously the director of the Center for Biodiversity and Conservation at the American Museum of Natural History in New York, where she was also a curator of the Hall of Biodiversity. Before that, she was a fellow at the American Association for the Advancement of Science.

All unattributed positions and opinions in this piece are those of Beyond Pesticides.

Source: Union of Concerned Scientists, AAAS News



Close Results on GE Labeling in Washington State Raises Public Awareness of the Trouble with Modified Crops

(Beyond Pesticides, November 25, 2013) With nearly all the votes counted for Washington State’s Initiative 522, results show the measure defeated by a razor thin margin. After somber reports on Election Day had the measure trailing by 11%, supporters of I-522 urged patience as ballots continued to stream in (Washington runs an all-mail voting system). The race tightened up significantly, but ultimately succumbed to a 49%Y-51%N margin. Despite the results, Washington State’s initiative made incredible progress at raising awareness of the adverse health and environmental impacts associated with genetically engineered (GE) agriculture.justlabelit

A number of factors also worked against the Yes campaign during the final weeks leading up to Election Day, including an enormous influx of money from agrichemical companies and food manufacturers, which financed an advertising blitz claiming the initiative would raise the cost of food. The placement of the measure on an “off-year” election also drove down voter turnout. Yeson522 co-chair Trudy Bialic explains, “There was lower than expected voter turnout this year. Despite being outspent 3-to-1, we are projecting winning 49% of the vote. We are disappointed with the results, but the polling is clear that Washingtonians support labeling and believe they have a right to know. This fight isn’t over. We will be back in 2016 to challenge and defeat the out-of-state corporations standing in the way of our right to know. “

The campaign to label GE foods is far from over, and consumer and environmental groups are vowing to continue the fight until consumers have the facts on whether the food they are purchasing contains GE ingredients. Upcoming battlegrounds for GE labeling includes possible legislation in Vermont, Hawaii, and New York, and a ballot measure in Oregon for the 2014 mid-term elections, where turn-out will be higher. However, these efforts assume inaction on the part of the federal government, as Senator Barbra Boxer (D-CA) and Representative Peter Defazio (D-OR) have introduced companion legislation that would require the U.S. Food and Drug Administration to “clearly label” all GE ingredients. The bills, the Genetically Engineered Food Right-to-Know Act, H.R. 1699 and S. 809, have 48 cosponsors in the House and 14 in the Senate.

As the debate continues, the adverse impacts of GE agriculture are not going away, but instead continuing to make headlines:

  • A new report from the Institute from Responsible Technology implicates GE food as a contributing factor to the rise of gluten intolerance.
  • Following the discovery of illegal GE wheat in Oregon in May, and GE contamination of non-GE alfalfa in Washington State in September, Reuters reports that China has rejected a shipment of GE corn because it was contaminated with a variety, Sygenta AG’s Agrisure Viptera corn, not approved for import into the county.
  • After the recent passage of Bill 2491 in Kauai County, Hawaii, which restricts pesticide use and requires public disclosure of GE crop production areas, the “Big Island” of Hawaii County moved to prevent the hardships many in Kauai have suffered by enacting Bill 113. This legislation bans agrichemical companies from operating on the island, and prohibits the growing of all GE crops except for the GE papaya.
  • The New York Times published an analysis of the decline and near absence of Monarch butterflies at their end migration destination in the mountains of Mexico this fall, noting that the use of Roundup on GE herbicide-resistant crops has devastated Monarch habitat by nearly eliminating milkweed from rural agricultural landscapes.

While the fight over labeling continues in the United States, Germany, which already labels products that contain GE ingredients, is moving the debate forward by considering whether to also include labels on the meat of animals that have eaten GE-based feed. According to Reuters, a draft of a new grand coalition German government policy document states, “The coalition would seek an EU labeling duty for products from animals which have been fed with genetically-modified plants.” Much of the GE feedstock imported to Germany is grown in the United States.

The impacts of GE intensive agriculture on wildlife, local environments, and human health, in addition to the on-going problems of seed contamination leading to economic harm, are all compelling arguments that underscore the fact that consumers should have the chance to vote with their food dollars and not purchase products that promote these hazardous outcomes. In the absence of mandatory labeling, consumers can still purchase foods that have the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) Certified Organic Seal. Under organic certification standards, genetically modified organisms and their byproducts are prohibited. For many other reasons, organic products are the right choice for consumers.

All unattributed positions and opinions in this piece are those of Beyond Pesticides.

Source: Yeson522, Institute for Responsible Technology, Huffington Post, Reuters (1), Reuters (2), The New York Times




Oregon Restricts Some Neonicotinoid Pesticide Uses after Bee Kills

(Beyond Pesticides, November 25, 2013) The Oregon Department of Agriculture (ODA) has restricted two pesticide products linked to massive bee die offs experienced in Oregon earlier this year. Both pesticides are neonicotinoid chemicals that are extremely harmful to bees. Though these restrictions are an important step in protecting bee health, the new rules will still not limit all of the uses of these chemicals that can harm pollinators.Photo by Motoya Nakamura/The Oregonian

ODA placed restrictions on dinotefuran and imidacloprid, banning their use on linden trees, basswood and other trees of the Tilia genus. Pesticide products that contain these active ingredients are now required to have Oregon-specific labels. This is only the second time in the past ten years that ODA has regulated pesticides more strictly than federal standards. These new restriction comes after ODA adopted a temporary rule in June that limited the use of 18 pesticide products that contained diontefuran. That rule was set to expire next month.

States and local jurisdictions have authority under the nation’s pesticide registration law, the Federal Insecticide, Fungicide and Rodenticide Act (FIFRA), to adopt more stringent pesticide use restrictions than the federal government. However, after the U.S. Congress rejected proposals to preempt local authority and the Supreme Court upheld the rights of localities in a 1991 decision, 43 states adopted some form of preemption of local authority. Seven states have clear authority without restriction, including the state of Maryland, where in July the City of Takoma Park adopted a ban on cosmetic lawn pesticides identified by the City Council as an unnecessary hazard to community residents and the environment. Local jurisdictions in 19 of the 43 states with preemption can appeal to their state government to adopt local restrictions; five of these have a clear process. Beyond Pesticides advocates that states and localities must have the authority, as in the case of protecting  bees and beneficial organisms, to restrict pesticides when it is determined that federal restrictions do not meet state and local concerns about the health and environmental protections in place.

Dinotefuran and imidacloprid are both neonicotinoid pesticides that are highly toxic to bees. Neonicotinoids can be broadly applied as a spray, soil drench, or seed treatment, however, the ability of these chemicals to translocate through a plant as it grows has led to the creation of a large market within chemical-intensive landscaping and agriculture. Once these systemic pesticides are taken up by a plant’s vascular system, they are expressed through pollen, nectar and guttation droplets from which pollinators, such as bees, then forage and drink. Neonicotinoids kill sucking and chewing insects by disrupting their nervous systems.

This new regulation is a response to an incident earlier this year where an estimated 50,000 bumblebees, likely representing over 300 colonies, were found dead or dying in Wilsonville. According to the Xerces Society, this was the largest known incident of bumblebee deaths ever recorded in the country. After a preliminary investigation, ODA confirmed that the massive bee die-off was caused by the use of the insecticide dinotefuran. Then, it was reported by The Oregonian that hundreds of bees were found dead after the same pesticide was used in the neighboring town of Hillsboro. Dan Hilburn, director of plant programs at the Oregon Department of Agriculture (ODA), told Oregon Live that he had “never encountered anything quite like it in 30 years in the business.”

Regulators initially responded to this incident by prohibiting the use of dinotefuran on any plant. According to the temporary rule, “This includes, but is not limited to, applications on landscape trees and shrubs, nursery and greenhouse plants, turfgrass, forests and agricultural crops.” Products containing dinotefuran were taken off shelves and making an application of dinotefuran would result in the revocation of an applicator’s license. Before the new restrictions, these temporary rules were set to expire in December.

Though these new restrictions are an important step for state regulators trying to protect bees and other pollinators, these new regulations are extremely limited in their scope. Neonicotinoid pesticides used  on plants that are attractive to that are not listed in the new restrictions can still be harmful to bees. These new regulations also does not regulate all forms of pesticide applications even to trees of the Tilia genus. These trees may have been planted using neonicotinoid treated seeds. A pilot study, co-authored by the Pesticide Research Institute, found that 7 of 13 samples of garden plants purchased at top retailers in Washington DC, the San Francisco Bay Area and Minneapolis contain neurotoxic pesticides known as neonicotinoids that studies show harm or kill bees and other pollinators.

Due to the absence of strong regulatory safeguards for pollinators, it is important for the public to become engaged in pollinator protection. Join Beyond Pesticides’ BEE Protective campaign and support a shift away from the use of these toxic chemicals by encouraging organic methods and sustainable land management practices in your home, campus, or community, and in food production.

Source: Oregon Live

All unattributed positions and opinions in this piece are those of Beyond Pesticides.



EPA Reluctant to Endorse Chemical Safety Improvement Act

(Beyond Pesticides, November 22, 2013) The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) Assistant Administrator of the Office of Chemical Safety and Pollution Prevention, James Jones, testified before the House Subcommittee on Environment and the Economy last week. The subject of Jones’ testimony: EPA’s informal observations on the proposed Chemical Safety Improvement Act (CSIA).

Introduced this past April, the CSIA seeks to reform the severely outdated and ineffective Toxics Substances Control Act (TSCA), the nation’s primary chemical safety law. Adopted in 1976, TSCA established an inventory and notification framework to monitor and assess the commercial production and importation of chemicals. Excluding large swaths of chemicals (such as pesticides and drugs) and placing the burden on EPA to demonstrate unreasonable risks to health or the environment, TSCA has done little to protect the public from or enable EPA to restrict the uses of the more than 84,000 chemicals in the marketplace today.

As one 2009 Government Accountability Office (GAO) report noted, “Since 1976, EPA has issued regulations to control only five existing chemicals.” Assistant Administrator Jones’s testimony was quick to point out TSCA’s many flaws, including the grandfathering in of 60,000+ chemicals without any kind of testing and EPA’s inability to require testing in the 37 years since the laws inception on little more than 200 of the more than 84,000 chemicals listed in the TSCA inventory.

Despite the recognition of these severe flaws and the need for reform, Assistant Administrator Jones was not prepared to offer EPA’s formal position on the proposed CSIA. Instead, he referred the Subcommittee to EPA’s “Essential Principles for Reform of Chemicals Management Legislation” and urged cautious consideration. Among other points, the main principles call for sound-science reviews based on risk-based criteria, manufacturer provided conclusions that new and existing chemicals are safe, risk-management decisions that account for sensitive subpopulations and availability of substitutes, timely priority chemicals assessments, green chemistry encouragement, increased transparency and public access to information, and sustained program funding.

Beyond Pesticides has long criticized the risk assessment methodology used by EPA under pesticide law, encouraging instead an alternatives assessment methodology with regulatory triggers to adopt alternatives and drive green-market solutions. While the EPA’s principles communicate support for improvement standards and consideration of several important issues –like accounting for sensitive subpopulations and encouraging green chemistry, they are too reliant on the failed risk-assessment methodologies and economic considerations to offer any meaningful progress.

The Preemption Divide

The principles also avoid the most pressing issue surrounding the CSIA: preemption. Environmental groups, including Beyond Pesticides, have raised serious concerns over the CSIA’s provisions that would prohibit judicial review of EPA’s designation of a chemical as “high” or “low priority.” Because of this provision, states would be unable to challenge EPA’s designation of a chemical in federal court and adopt and enforce new laws regulating these chemicals. CSIA would prevent states from regulating chemicals months or even years before a single protective federal regulation becomes effective, leaving an enormous gap in chemical safety protections and exposing human health and the environment to undue harm. The proposed legislation would also impose stricter waiver requirements, removing state’s abilities to impose bans or stricter regulations on specific chemicals without applying for and receiving a waiver from EPA.

State authorities, public health groups, and environmental advocates alike have cause for concern. Lobbying for preemption laws is a tried and true practice of the chemical industry. Arguing under the guise of coherence and a unified national approach, chemical industry leaders would prefer weaker, uniform standards that fail to account for localized needs and sensitive populations.

Although the EPA principles are mum on preemption, the Assistant Administrator’s testimony did seem to raise a neutral flag on the issue in his closing remarks: “We understand the concerns raised by many stakeholders regarding the appropriate role for states in addressing the risks of chemicals to which their citizens are exposed, and the EPA stands ready to provide technical assistance on this important issue.”

Beyond Pesticides continues to fight for strong, public protections against chemicals in our homes and environment and any form of legislation that would diminish the right of communities and individuals alike to establish protective laws, regulations, and standards.

Sources: Politico

All unattributed positions and opinions in this piece are those of Beyond Pesticides.






Synthetic Nitrogen Fertilizer Leaches from Soils to Groundwater over Decades

(Beyond Pesticides, November 21, 2013) Scientists in France and at the University of Calgary say that nitrogen fertilizer applied to crops lingers in the soil and for decades leaches toward groundwater –much longer than previously thought. The study was led by researcher Mathieu Sebilo, Ph.D. at the UniversitĂ© Pierre et Marie Currie in Paris, France, and by Bernhard Mayer, Ph.D. in the U of C’s Department of Geoscience, and included several research organizations in France. The study, Long-term fate of nitrate fertilizer in agricultural soils, was published in the Proceeding of the National Academy of Sciences in the U.S. in October.

The study shows that the loss of synthetic nitrogen (N) fertilizer in groundwater occurs at low rates over many decades, which means it could take years to reduce nitrate contamination in groundwater, including in aquifers that supply drinking water. The researchers recommend that as a result of the “legacies of past applications of synthetic fertilizers in agricultural systems,” mitigation or restoration measures must take into account this delay.

In fact, the scientists found that three decades after application of isotopically labeled fertilizer N to agricultural soils in 1982 12–15% of the fertilizer-derived N is still residing in the soil organic matter, while 8–12% of the fertilizer N had already leached toward the groundwater. The scientists estimate that it will continue to leach in low amounts for at least another 50 years, much longer than previously thought.

“There’s a lot of fertilizer nitrogen that has accumulated in agricultural soils over the last few decades which will continue to leak as nitrate towards groundwater,” Dr. Mayer says.

Nitrate is a common contaminant of drinking water, particularly in agricultural areas where nitrogen fertilizers are used. High rates of fertilizer application may also increase the natural nitrate levels found in certain vegetables, such as lettuce and root crops. Research has indicated that long-term exposure to nitrates through food and water may increase risk of thyroid disease. In the body, nitrate competes with uptake of iodide by the thyroid, thus potentially affecting thyroid function.

The researchers advocate that farmers apply the right fertilizer source at the right rate, the right time, and the right place in order to reduce nitrate contamination. Beyond Pesticides has long supported “feed-the-soil” approaches to lawn and landscape management. Understanding the role of healthy soils in creating healthy landscapes and plants, Beyond Pesticides promotes a systems approach that centers on management of soil health and proper fertilization that eliminates synthetic fertilizers and focuses on building the soil food web and nurturing soil microorganisms. Experience demonstrates that this approach will build a soil environment rich in microbiology that will produce a strong, healthy lawn that is able to withstand many of the stresses that affect lawns and landscape. For more information lawn and landscape management, visit Beyond Pesticides’ issues page.

Organic farming and land management uses natural, less soluble sources of nitrogen, phosphorous and magnesium, including cover crops, compost, manure and mineralized rock, in order to promote increases in soil organic matter and a healthy soil structure. For more information on the importance of an organic systems approach as a solution to pesticide use, see Beyond Pesticides’ article Increasing Biodiversity As If Life Depends on It. For more information on water quality and organic farming, see the fact sheet, “Organic Land Management and the Protection of Water Quality.”

Source: University of Calgary Press Release

All unattributed positions and opinions in this piece are those of Beyond Pesticides.



Illinois Ramps Up Effort to Enforce Pesticide Restrictions in Public Schools

(Beyond Pesticides, November 20, 2013) Illinois public health officials say that more than 200 Illinois schools and day care centers have failed to comply with the most basic of the state’s pest management regulations, and for the first time could face fines if they do not comply. According to the Illinois Department of Public Health (IDPH), the state’s IPM regulations, including the requirements for reporting how pests are managed, are designed to protect children in day care centers and schools from unnecessary applications of pesticides.school class4

Last Friday, the Illinois Department of Public Health announced that it is ramping up its efforts to educate day care centers and schools about the rules aimed at reducing and managing pests in light of widespread non-compliance with pest management regulations in public schools and day care centers. State law requires public schools and licensed day care centers to file an Integrated Pest Management (IPM) form with the department to document how school officials plan to implement IPM. The state’s Structural Pest Control Act (Act), [225 ILCS 235] requires public schools and licensed day care centers to, when economically feasible, develop and implement an IPM program and resubmit their plans every 5 years. Additionally, all parents, guardians, and employees must be notified at least once each school year that requirements have been met.

According to Beyond Pesticides, a strong IPM definition and policy is one of the best ways to minimize or eliminate children’s exposure to pesticides while at school. IPM is a term that is used loosely with many different definitions and methods of implementation. Generally, IPM is a program of prevention, monitoring, and control that offers the opportunity to eliminate or drastically reduce pesticides in schools, and minimize the toxicity of and exposure to any products that are used. Education, in the form of workshops, training sessions and written materials, is an essential component of an IPM program -for everyone from administrators, maintenance personnel, cafeteria staff and nurses, to parents and students. According to IDPH, over time, an IPM program can cost less than conventional pest management practices by reducing the school’s or day care center’s dependency on pesticides.

“Integrated Pest Management is a means of managing pests that doesn’t rely on a single method, such as the routine and often unnecessary application of pesticides,” said Illinois Department of Public Health Director LaMar Hasbrouck, M.D.  According to Dr. Hasbrouck, “It combines methods such as improved sanitation, monitoring, physical barriers and maintenance to reduce the likelihood of pest infestations. Facilities that practice IPM often see a reduction in the number of pests and pesticides applied, as well as a reduction in pest control costs.”

An investigation found that school districts in Arlington Heights, Elmhurst, Oak Park and Harvey –along with special education districts in Highland Park, St. Charles, and Crescent City– are among those cited by the IDPH report for not filing IPM forms to document how the school or daycare center plan to control pests and the use of any pesticides.  According to the IDPH, an IPM program  “greatly reduces the chance of accidental exposure of pesticides to children and staff,” and can help reduce the use of pesticides overall by promoting non-chemical methods – like better sanitation –to control bugs and animals. More than 90 day care centers in Chicago alone have been cited as non-complaint, along with another 124 day care centers located in the Chicago suburbs. A total 295 school districts and day care centers are cited by the state, with 242 in the greater Chicago area. The agency is now geared up to work to ensure schools and day care centers comply by sending mass mailings, holding seminars, and working with the Illinois Department of Children and Family Services, which licenses Illinois day cares.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), children between the ages of six and eleven have the highest levels of pesticides in their bodies when compared to any other age category. Some specific pesticides have been found at levels 200% higher in children than adults.  The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), National Academy of Sciences, and the American Public Health Association, among others, have voiced concerns about the dangers that pesticides pose to children. The body of evidence in the scientific literature shows that pesticide exposure can adversely affect a child’s neurological, respiratory, immune, and endocrine system, even at low levels. Recently, the American Academy of Pediatrics published a report, which concluded that, “Children encounter pesticides daily and have unique susceptibilities to their potential toxicity.”

Pesticides on home lawns and in schools are significant pathways of childhood exposures. Of the 30 most commonly used lawn pesticides, 19 can cause cancer, 13 are linked to birth defects, 21 can affect reproduction and 15 are nervous system toxicants. Pesticide exposure is known to cause acute symptoms, such as nausea, headache, dizziness, asthma attacks, and respiratory irritation, which are often diagnosed as flu symptoms. Studies have reported that pesticides are also linked to chronic effects such as developmental problems and learning disabilities, like ADHD and autism, nervous system disorders, immune deficiency, and cancer. Visit Beyond Pesticides’ Pesticide Induced Disease Database for more information on pesticides and disease.

Many other school districts are turning away from managing grounds with toxic chemicals. Connecticut currently has a statewide prohibition on the use of toxic pesticides on school grounds. The state of New York also acted to protect children by passing the Child Safe Playing Field Act in 2010, which requires that all schools, preschools, and day care centers stop using pesticides on any playgrounds or playing field. In Boulder, CO, children led a rally to protest the approval of two pesticides on city parks. In spite of this, many schools across the country continue to use toxic pesticides. On the other hand, many school districts are lagging behind. A 2013 survey on pesticide use on public school grounds across the state of Maine found that 51% of schools surveyed spray pesticides, many of which have been linked to human health impacts, including kidney disease and links to non-Hodgkin’s Lymphoma.

Visit Beyond Pesticides’ Children and Schools program page as well as our factsheet, Children and Pesticides Don’t Mix.

All unattributed positions and opinions in this piece are those of Beyond Pesticides.

Source:: NBC Chicago



White Paper Outlines New Approach to Endangered Species Act Pesticide Review

(Beyond Pesticides, November 19, 2013) Last week, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), the U .S. Department of Agriculture (USDA), Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS), and National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS) released a white paper identifying how they plan to reconfigure the pesticide review process to meet the pesticide approval requirements for the Endangered Species Act (ESA). The new approach outlined in the white paper incorporates suggestions from the National Academy of Sciences’ Research Council (NRC) report released last May. The white paper is a step towards overhauling a deeply flawed process, though there will be several challenges to implementing this new approach for the agencies moving forward.

Under the Federal Insecticide, Fungicide, and Rodenticide Act (FIFRA), before a pesticide can be sold, distributed, or used in the U.S., EPA is required to determine that the pesticide does not cause unreasonable adverse effects on the environment. However, in the case of species listed as endangered or threatened under the ESA, all federal agencies, including EPA, are required to ensure that their actions will not jeopardize the continued existence of a listed species by diminishing the species’ numbers and reproduction. To do this, in its pesticide registration process, EPA is required to consult with FWS and NMFS when a federal action may adversely affect a listed species or its habitat. Over the last decade, questions have been raised regarding the best approaches or methods for determining the risks pesticides pose to listed species and their habitats. EPA, FWS, and NMFS have developed different approaches to evaluating environmental risks because their legal mandates, responsibilities, institutional cultures, and expertise vary. As a result, NRC was asked to examine the scientific and technical issues related to determining risks posed to listed species by pesticides.

After reviewing the NRC’s report, Evaluating Risks That Pesticides Pose to Endangered, Threatened Species – New Report, the agencies worked together to develop a shared scientific approach that reflects the advice provided by the NRC. The interim approach, designed to guide the consultation process, uses a three step risk assessment process to determine whether a pesticide is likely to pose a threat to listed species. Each step assesses risk through problem formulation, exposure analysis, affect analysis, and risk characterization.

Step one of the proposed risk assessment process is to determine whether pesticide use “may affect” a listed species by determining if pesticide use and off-site transport areas overlap geographically with listed species ranges and their critical habitats. These use pattern sties will be mapped out by using the National USDA National Agricultural Statistics Service (NASS) Census of Agriculture data, The National Land Cover Database (NLCD), and The Cropland Data Layer (CDL). The Agricultural Dispersal Model (AGDISP), and the Variable Volume Pond Model will be used to evaluate off-site pesticide transport.

If it is determined through the first step that pesticides may affect listed species, the pesticide is then evaluated by step two. The purpose of step two is to determine if pesticide use is “likely to adversely affect” listed species or their designated critical habitats. This step examines if species are exposed to thresholds of the direct effects, indirect effects, and sub-lethal effects of pesticides. These determinations will utilize a weight-of-evidence approach that considers pesticide tank mixtures, formulations (including adjuvants, other active and inert ingredients), and environmental mixtures. The weight-of-evidence approach will also consider the ECOTOXicology database along with data submitted by pesticide registrations as a source for “best available” toxicity data.

If there is agreement between agencies that the pesticide is “likely to adversely affect” species or if there is disagreement between agencies the pesticides moves to step three of the interim risk assessment process. This step determines if pesticide labels for an active ingredient do not cause “jeopardy” to listed species and their designated critical habitat is not modified. This step builds off of steps one and two, and reconsiders the weight-of-evidence and population effects pesticides can have on species. If there is agreement between agencies that a pesticide causes jeopardy or adverse modification EPA must decide whether and under what conditions to register the pesticide so it complies with ESA.

The white paper acknowledges that there are several followup tasks, such as sharing information and developing a common approach to weight of evidence analyses, to define and improve techniques over time. A presentation put together by the agencies for a stake holder workshop, held last Friday, also outlines several challenges the agencies will face while implementing this interim plan. In terms of step one, some pesticide use sites are not well represented with existing data such as the use of pesticides on right-of-ways. Another important challenge is how the agencies will incorporate formulations and mixtures in the weight-of-evidence. Currently, inert ingredients are minimally tested and the EPA does not test for synergistic effects of pesticide mixtures.

Though this proposed risk assessment process is an important step forward toward greater cooperation between agencies, EPA’s risk assessment process does not function to protect the most vulnerable in biological systems, but institutes restrictions intended to mitigate risks. The mandated consultations with FWS and NMFS could present the opportunity to evaluate alternative practices that would avoid harm to listed species, but is largely limited to the risk management framework that has so long dominated EPA’s approach to regulating pesticides.


Prior to 2004, EPA believed the extensive environmental risk assessments required in the registration process also would include impacts on listed species. However, represented by the public interest law group Earthjustice, several stakeholder organizations including the Northwest Coalition for Alternatives to Pesticides (NCAP) and the Pacific Coast Federation of Fishermen’s Associations (PCFFA), filed suit in January 2001 to force EPA to fulfill the distinct ESA requirements. Specifically, the lawsuit challenged EPA’s decision to register 54 pesticides without first consulting with federal fish biologists regarding the potential impact on protected salmon and steelhead species in the Northwest. The judge, in a lawsuit initiated in 2002, called EPA’s “wholesale non-compliance” with its ESA obligations “patently unlawful” and ordered the agency to consult with NMFS regarding adverse impacts on the Northwest runs. More recently, EPA’s failure to consult with FWS on the impacts of hundreds of pesticides known to be harmful to more than 200 listed species prompted a 2011 lawsuit.

All unattributed positions and opinions in this piece are those of Beyond Pesticides

Source: Politico



GE Restrictions Become Law, Kauai Council Overrides Mayor’s Veto

(Beyond Pesticides, November 18, 2013) Kauai made history in Hawaii and worldwide on Saturday when it enacted a law to force public disclosure of large scale production of experimental genetically engineered organisms and pesticide use. Using the authority vested in local political subdivisions by the state’s constitution, the law seeks to “to establish provisions to inform the public, and protect the public from any direct, indirect, or cumulative negative impacts on the health and the natural environment of the people and place of the County of Kaua‘i, by governing the use of pesticides and genetically modified organisms.” The Council, with an outpouring of community support, voted 5-2 to override the Mayor’s veto of Bill 2491, introduced by Council Member Gary Hooser. The bill was originally passed by the Council on October 16, 2013 by a 6-1 vote.

According to the Honolulu Star Advertiser newspaper, a Syngerta attorney said, “There will definitely be a lawsuit.” The newspaper cites Syngenta, DuPont Pioneer, Dow AgroSciences, BASF, and Kauai Coffee, the largest coffee grower in the state, as being affected by the legislation.

In addition to the public disclosure provisions that take effect in nine months, the law requires an Environmental and Public Health Impact Study (EPHIS) “to address key environmental and public health questions related to large-scale commercial agricultural entities utilizing pesticides and genetically modified organisms” to determine the need for possible actions that may be needed in the County “to address any significant effects, public health impacts, or both.” This assessment and recommendation phase could take up to 30 months to complete.

The disclosure provisions, in summary, require the following:

1. Posting of warning signs in the area in which pesticides are to be applied no sooner than twenty-four (24) hours before the scheduled application of any pesticide.

2. Pesticide pre-application notification must be provided to any of the following requesting persons within 1,500 feet from the property line of the commercial agricultural entity where any pesticide is anticipated to be applied: registered beekeeper, property owner, lessee, or person otherwise occupying property within 1,500 feet.

3. A mass notification list shall be established and maintained by each commercial agricultural entity, and shall include access to a legible map showing all field numbers and any key, legend, or other necessary map descriptions.

4. Each commercial agricultural entity shall establish an emergency response hotline to be made available to any licensed physician or nurse practitioner practicing in association with a clinic, medical facility, or emergency center. Treating medical practitioners will  be given detailed information on chemicals used.

5. All commercial agricultural entities that intentionally or knowingly possess any genetically modified organism must disclose that information. Detailed reports must be filed that include a general description of each genetically modified organism (e.g., “GMO Corn” or “GMO Soy”), a general description of the geographic location including at minimum the Tax Map Key and ahupua‘a where each genetically modified organism is being grown or developed, and dates that each genetically modified organism was initially introduced to the land in  question.

6. Growing of crops and all pesticide use is restricted within required distances within 500 feet of homes, schools, health care facilities and 100 feet of waterways and roadways.

7. Violators of the new law may be assessed fines up to $25,000 a day.

Genetically engineered crops, raising controversy across the country in state legislatures and through referendums, have been contributing to increased pest resistance, leaving farmers to turn to more potent pesticides and biotech companies to develop engineered genes resistant to a wider array of pesticides. Claims of biotech companies that the use of genetically engineered organisms would result in less pesticide dependency on herbicides have not panned out with glyphosate-tolerant (Roundup ReadyTM) corn. Last year, EPA granted an emergency exemption for the unregistered use of the herbicide fluridone on cotton in order to control glyphosate-resistant weeds. Insects are showing resistance to Bt-incorporated plants. EPA and the manufacturers have argued that there would never be insect resistance and yet we are seeing more and more examples of resistance. This is all translating into increased insecticide use of older hazardous chemicals.

Additionally, genetic contamination of crops by pollen has been documented and proves costly to farmers raising organic and non-genetically engineered crops whose loads are rejected by buyers when trace levels of contamination are detected. In August 2011, USDA convened AC21 and charged it with identifying compensation mechanisms to address GE contamination. The underlying assumption of USDA’s work plan for the committee was that as long as farmers are adequately compensated, GE contamination is a permissible and acceptable cost of doing business for organic and non-GE farmers. Beyond Pesticides has rejected this assumption, as did several members of the AC21. True to its charge, the committee’s final report failed to make a single recommendation holding the patent holders of genetic engineering technologies responsible and liable for damages caused by its use.

For more information on Genetic Engineering visit Beyond Pesticides’ program page.

All unattributed positions and opinions in this piece are those of Beyond Pesticides.

Source: Honolulu Star Advertiser



Task Force Provides Recommendations to Halt Lake Erie’s Algal Blooms

(Beyond Pesticides, November 15, 2013) Recommended measures to reduce Lake Erie’s phosphorous, a fertilizer ingredient that feeds algae and steals aquatic oxygen, was released Wednesday by the Lake Erie Task Force II. The collaboration of officials, scientists, and interest groups identified agriculture as the primary contributor to phosphorous loading in Lake Erie, recommending that the nutrient runoff into northwestern Ohio tributaries and to the lake be cut by 40 percent.

Fertilizer runoff not only causes unsightly and odiferous algal blooms, it can also severely harm aquatic wildlife. Once algae dies off, aerobic bacteria consume the dead algae resulting in lake eeriedangerously low oxygen “dead zones.” Lake Erie is particularly prone to algal blooms in part because it is the southern-most, shallowest and warmest of the Great Lakes, but also because surrounded by prime agricultural land.

The task force’s report contains 20 recommendations for reducing phosphorous inputs into Lake Erie, including continued nutrient monitoring, developing dedicated funds for research, updating the phosphorous index farmers use to guide their fertilizer applications, promoting management practices that support living roots year round, and avoiding fertilizer application on frozen ground or before rainy weather.

Unfortunately, the task force is recommending strictly voluntary measures and many environmental advocacy groups have voiced their concern that they will not be enough to produce visible changes in agricultural practices. On the other hand, David Daniels, the director of the Ohio Department of Agriculture, supports the approach, and said, “Ohio farmers understand the problem and they certainly want to be part of the solution.”

The Ohio Department of Agriculture has already worked with 350 farmers in the Maumee River watershed —the largest contributor to phosphorous loading in the region, covering parts of Ohio, Michigan, and Indiana— to implement conservation practices, says James Zehringer, director of the Ohio Department of Natural Resources. “One farmer told me that he’ll continue these practices on his own without state funds because these practices saved him money,” says Mr. Zehringer.

Legislation to regulate nutrient application was introduced in the state legislature in June and referred to the Ohio Senate Agriculture Committee, where it is awaiting action. One of the bill’s sponsors, Ohio Senator Bob Peterson, says that, “It’s a starting point [for Ohio state agencies] to define what a nutrient bill would look like.”

Despite the slow legislative progress, there are several innovative tactics that have been recommended to reduce phosphorous runoff and have already been implemented on the small scale. Some strategies include water control devices that restrict tile drainage, planting of cover crops to hold in soil nutrients after crops have been harvested, wetland restoration to capture excess runoff, and providing unplanted grassy areas which act as a filter and barrier between fields and drainage structures.

The report provides an update on the 2010 Task Force Report, which concluded “that there are multiple contributors of phosphorous in Lake Erie, but agriculture is the leading source.”

Agricultural practices are not the only source of excessive phosphorous pollution. Residential use of lawn care fertilizers represents a significant portion of the phosphorous load that runs into local water bodies in the U.S. For information on steps you can take to reduce the phosphorous contamination coming from your community, see Beyond Pesticides article, Maintaining a Delicate Balance.

Organic farming and land management uses natural, less soluble sources of nitrogen, phosphorous and magnesium, including cover crops, compost, manure and mineralized rock,  in order to promote increases in soil organic matter and a healthy soil structure. Healthy soil structure allows water to infiltrate the ground slowly, rather than escaping across the surface and carrying soil particles, nutrients, and other inputs with it. Healthy soil structure also allows plants to establish vibrant root systems that resist erosion. For more information on the importance of an organic systems approach as a solution to pesticide use, see Beyond Pesticides’ article Increasing Biodiversity As If Life Depends on It.

For additional information on the Lake Erie algae bloom, visit our Threatened Waters: What the Science Shows page. For additional information water quality, please visit Beyond Pesticides’ Threatened Waters page.

Sources: Columbia Dispatch, Bucyrus Telegraph Forum

Photo Source: Great Lakes Echo

All unattributed positions and opinions in this piece are those of Beyond Pesticides.




Court Suspends Nanosilver Pesticide Use in Clothing, Cites EPA’s Improper Approval

(Beyond Pesticides, November 14, 2013) The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit on November 7 said that the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) had improperly approved the use of nanosilver by one U.S. textile manufacturer. The decision came in response to Natural Resource Defense Council’s (NRDC) lawsuit against EPA to limit the use of nanosilver out of a concern for public health. The court agreed with a key point NRDC raised –EPA did not follow its own rules for determining whether the pesticide’s use in products is safe. The court vacated the approval and sent it back to the agency for reevaluation.

“The court’s ruling puts us a step closer toward removing nanosilver from textiles,” said Mae Wu, an attorney in NRDC’s Health Program. “EPA shouldn’t have approved nanosilver in the first place. This is just one of a long line of decisions by the agency treating people and our environment as guinea pigs and laboratories for these untested pesticides.”

Beginning in December 2011, EPA issued a registration to HeiQ Materials for  nanosilver used in fabrics and required the company to provide data on toxicity for human health and aquatic organisms within four years. In early 2012, NRDC filed a lawsuit against EPA seeking to block nanosilver’s use, contending, among several points, that the agency ignored its own rules for determining the safety of nanosilver. The antimicrobial pesticide product, HeiQ AGS-20, contains microscopic particles of silver and has been applied to textiles such as clothes, blankets, and pillowcases, in an attempt to suppress odor and bacterial growth.

According to NRDC, the lawsuit is a test case that challenges the growing use of nanotechnology in consumer products. In fact, silver nanoparticles are used as antimicrobials in an abundance of consumer market, including cosmetics, socks, food containers, detergents, sprays, and a wide range of other products.

The key part of the Ninth Circuit’s ruling addressed EPA’s determination that there is no risk concern for toddlers exposed to nanosilver-treated textiles. However, the agency’s rules state that if there’s an aggregate exposure to the skin or through ingestion at or below a specific level, there is a risk of health concerns. The Ninth Circuit found that EPA had data showing that nanosilver was right at the level that should have triggered a finding of potential risk, but approved the pesticide anyway. This led to the Ninth Circuit vacating EPA’s approval and sending it back down to the agency for reevaluation.

Federal regulation of nanoparticles has thus far been lacking. Researchers have debated the mechanisms by which nanosilver particles exert toxicity to bacteria and other organisms. They have long known that silver ions, which flow from nanoparticles when oxidized, are deadly to bacteria. A study conducted in 2008 and confirmed by another study in 2009 shows that washing nano-silver textiles releases substantial amounts of the nanosilver into the laundry discharge water, which will ultimately reach natural waterways and potentially poison fish and other aquatic organisms. Another study found nanosilver to cause malformations and to be lethal to small fish at various stages of development since they are able to cross the egg membranes and move into the fish embryos. A 2010 study by scientists at Oregon State University and in the European Union highlights the major regulatory and educational issues that they believe should be considered before nanoparticles are used in pesticides.

In October 2010, the National Organic Standards Board (NOSB) passed a recommendation directing the USDA National Organic Program (NOP) to prohibit engineered nanomaterials from certified organic products as expeditiously as possible. The recommendation deals specifically with engineered nanomaterials and purposefully omits those that are naturally occurring. Further it would block petitions seeking an exemption and keep nanomaterials out of food packaging and contact surfaces.

For more information on nanosilver and nanotechnology, please visit Beyond Pesticides Nanosilver webpage.

Source: NRDC Press Release

All unattributed positions and opinions in this piece are those of Beyond Pesticides.



Climate Change Increases Storm Severity and Toxic Chemical Hazards

(Beyond Pesticides, November 13, 2013) As the world sheds tears from reading the reports of human suffering and looks on in horror at the pictures of devastation caused by Typhoon Haiyan, the debate of whether increased occurrences of super-storms like Haiyan are just over the horizon because of man-made climate change have also taken up residence in the headlines. Coupled by coverage of the 19th session of the Conference of the Parties to the U.N. Framework Convention on Climate Change and the leak of a draft summary of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change’s latest report on the impacts of global warming, the world is clearly paying attention.

As the wide array of demonstrated effects and impacts of climate change are discussed on the world stage and world leaders attempt, once again, to create a meaningful plan to mitigate risks and even potentially avoid some of the most extreme threats, an important and even more deadly consequence of climate change lurks in the background: increased toxic chemical exposure.

In a collection of studies and scientific reviews released earlier this year in Environmental Toxicology and Chemistry, scientists investigated a wide range of global climate change issues and toxicological impacts on the environment and health and the findings raise some serious questions and concerns.

One study, The toxicology of climate change: Environmental contaminants in a warming world, highlighted how global warming may affect the movement and levels of chemicals, such as organochlorine pesticides (common ones includes DDT, DDE, hexachlorobenzene (HCB)) in the environment. The study also evaluated how a changing climate might weaken the ability of animals and humans to tolerate those chemicals.

Another study, Combined and interactive effects of global climate change and toxicants on populations and communities, posited that the opposite problem could occur. As chemical exposures climb, sensitive populations of animals and humans alike (such as a polar bears or human babies) could experience reduced ability to handle extreme temperatures, severe storms, lack of food, or other hazards of climate change. Thus, when future Typhoon Haiyans, food shortages, and rising temperatures connected to climate change do occur, the ability to adapt and survive, will potentially be impaired, increasing hardship and fatalities.

In an interview with the Huffington Post, Michael Hooper, Ph.D., a research biologist at U.S. Geological Survey’s Columbia Environmental Research Center in Missouri and one of the scientists involved in the studies, notes, “Climate change could also make these compounds available in a more toxic form, for a longer period of time or at a higher concentration in the body.” The connection between climate change and increased toxic chemical risks is not a new concept, but Dr. Hooper added in his discussion with the Huffington Post, “This stuff is just starting to get some traction.”

Indeed, the Stockholm Convention, an international treaty established in 2001 to eliminate or reduce the release of persistent organic pollutants (POPs) into the environment, adopted new guidance in October. The guidance outlined the need to account for climate change in its work and is based on the group’s 2011 review of global warming’s effects on the dynamics and toxicity of POPs. POPs are organic compounds that are resistant to environmental degradation through chemical, biological, and photolytic processes. Because of this, they have been observed to persist in the environment, are capable of long-range transport, bioaccumulate in human and animal tissue, and biomagnify in food chains.

While many of the POPs and organochlorine pesticides that pose the greatest concerns have been banned from use for decades, both at the international and national levels, additional quantities are still being added in some places, previous uses of these chemicals continue to threaten both human and animal populations, and chemicals with similar persistent qualities enter the environment daily.

It isn’t one or the other.

Environmental groups often face a conundrum between advocating for carbon-reduction strategies to address climate change and advocating for stricter safeguards against chemicals in our foods, bodies, and the environment. When it comes to pesticides, the lines become even more blurred as human health advocates seek to advance effective ways to protect human populations in developing regions from insect-borne diseases like malaria (which are also predicted to increase with climate change) and reduce exposure to the dangerous effects of pesticides.

The emerging connection between increased toxic chemical exposure and risks associated with climate change point to the undeniable fact that it isn’t a case of choosing one disaster or the other—they are one in the same. Toxic chemicals will only make events like Typhoon Haiyan worse and increase the odds of additional sickness and destruction as the effects of climate change proceed.

Beyond Pesticides advocates for solutions that look to the future impacts of chemical use on both the environment and human health and that offer sustainable solutions that address the conditions that give rise to insect and pest control problems.

All unattributed positions and opinions in this piece are those of Beyond Pesticides.

Sources: Huffington Post



BASF Sues EU Commission for Restricting Pesticides Harmful to Bees

(Beyond Pesticides, November 12, 2013) On November 6 BASF, a German agrochemical company, took legal action in the General Court of the European Union (EU) to challenge the EU Commission’s decision to restrict seed treatment uses of the insecticide fipronil. BASF joins chemical companies Bayer and Syngenta in challenging the EU’s decision to restrict the use of certain pesticides that are harmful to pollinators.

The EU Commission’s decision to restrict the use of fipronil in July came after the Commission’s landmark decision announcing a two-year continent-wide ban on the neonicotinoid pesticides clothianidin, imidacloprid and thiamethoxam. The pesticides have been linked to the decline in bee populations. Twenty-three European Union Member States supported the fipronil restriction, two Member States voted against, and three Member States abstained during the standing committee vote. BASF argued that its legal action against the EU is based on a disproportionate application of the precautionary principle. However, overwhelming scientific evidence supports the position that fipronil is highly toxic to bees.

Fipronil, a phenyl pyrazole broad-spectrum insecticide, was first introduced in the U.S. in 1996 for commercial turf and indoor pest control and is highly toxic to bees. A recent investigation reveals that fipronil is responsible for the death of  thousands of bees in Minnesota. Fipronil also has been shown to reduce behavioral function and learning performances in honey bees. A 2011 French study reported that newly emerged honey bees exposed to low doses of fipronil and thiacloprid succumbed more readily to the parasite Nosema ceranae compared to healthy bees, supporting the hypothesis that the synergistic combination of parasitic infection and high pesticide exposures in beehives may contribute to colony decline.

Fipronil is also harmful to humans and has been linked to hormone disruption, thyroid cancer, neurotoxicity, and reproductive effects in mammals. Recently, a federal grand jury in Macon, Georgia alleged that a pest company wrongly applied fipronil in multiple nursing homes in Georgia.

By challenging the EU commission’s decision to ban pesticides that are suspected to be harmful to bee health, BASF joins Bayer and Sygenta, which are also challenging the new restrictions. This past August, Syngenta filed a legal challenge to the European Union’s suspension of one of its insecticides, thiamethoxan. In a press release, Syngenta claims that the European Commission made its decision on the basis of a flawed process. Bayer Crop Science filed a similar legal challenge with the Court of Justice of the European Union in mid-August. Bayer claims that its pesticides, imidacloprid and clothianidin, have been on the market for many years and have been extensively tested and approved. According to EU guidelines, approved products can only be banned if there is new evidence of their negative effects, Bayer Crop Science said. These actions taken by the agrochemical industry that challenge the ban on neonicotinoids ignore the increasing body of new science that documents neonicotinoid toxicity to bees and other pollinators.

As Europe has moved toward creating stronger regulations designed to protect declining bee health, the U.S. has remained woefully behind. Recently, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) acknowledged that current pesticide labels do not adequately protect honey bees and announced new label language to prohibit the use of neonicotinoid pesticides when bees are present. The new labels will also include a “bee advisory box” and icon with information on routes of exposure and spray drift precautions. However, beekeepers and environmental groups question the efficacy and enforceability of the new label changes in curtailing systemic pesticides that result in long-term residues in the environment, contaminating nectar and pollen, and poisoning wild bees that EPA seems to ignore in its decision-making process.

Because of this lack of protection, Beyond Pesticides joined beekeepers, environmental and consumer groups in filing a lawsuit in Federal District Court against the EPA for its failure to protect pollinators from dangerous pesticides.

Due to the absence of strong regulatory safeguards for pollinators in the U.S., it is important for the public to become engaged in pollinator protection. Join Beyond Pesticides’ BEE Protective campaign and support a shift away from the use of these toxic chemicals by encouraging organic methods and sustainable land management practices in your home, campus, or community, and in food production.

All unattributed positions and opinions in this piece are those of Beyond Pesticides.

Source: AG Professional




Study Sheds Light On Soil Microbes as Key to Ecosystem Health

(Beyond Pesticides, November 8, 2013) In a new study on ecosystems in the Midwest, scientists suggest that once-fertile landscapes dominated by tall grass prairies and supported by microbial biodiversity have been destroyed due to decades of agricultural production. The study, Reconstructing the Microbial Diversity and Function of Pre-Agricultural Tall Grass Prairie Soils in the United States, published in the journal Science, demonstrates the crucial role soil microbial diversity plays in ecosystem stability and health.1.14069_NEWSCOM-cmsbiology005328

Although soil microbes are inherently important for the breakdown of organic matter, the cycling of nutrients, as well as plant productivity, previous research has narrowly focused on the role of nitrogen fixing root fungi, rather than broader aspects of soil microbial diversity. Thus, this new study represents one of the first to delve into the importance of soil microorganisms in ecosystem restoration projects.

By comparing soil samples from 31 uncultivated prairie sites, such as cemeteries and national parks, lead author Noah Fierer, PhD., at University of Colorado at Boulder and colleagues were able to identify microbes that likely inhabited the prairies prior to agricultural production. The study found that small changes to the abundance of Verrucomicrobia —until now a poorly researched soil bacterium— were the primary driving force behind changes to the ecosystem processes. The bacterium is thought to play a crucial role in carbon cycling. Researchers found that the bacteria seemed to thrive in soils with poor nutrients, which would certainly explain why they tend to be less common on agricultural land that has been over-fertilized with chemical inputs.

“They were the most fertile soils that existed in North America,” says Dr. Fierer. “Problem is, those soils don’t exist anymore. They’ve been ploughed under and subjected to centuries of growing corn.”

The research builds upon a mounting body of evidence demonstrating that conventional farming methods not only destroy habitat, they also destroy soil structure and affect plant health and crop production. One recent study, published in Proceedings from the National Academy of Sciences, found that pesticide use on farms severely reduced the efficiency of nitrogen-fixing plants, impacting soil fertility and ultimately reducing crop yields by over a third over the past 25 years. Other recent research on genetically engineered (GE) crops, dominating the landscape in the Midwest, found that corn genetically engineered to express the insecticidal bacterial Bacillus thuringiensis (Bt) reduced the functioning of beneficial soil fungi.

The study opens up a range of further research possibilities for soil science, demonstrates the importance of soil microbial communities and provides guidance on sustainable soil management.

Beyond Pesticides has long supported “feed-the-soil” approaches to lawn and landscape management. Understanding the role of healthy soils in creating healthy landscapes, we promote a systems approach that centers on management of soil health and proper fertilization that eliminates synthetic fertilizers and focuses on building the soil food web and nurturing soil microorganisms. Experience demonstrates that this approach will build a soil environment rich in microbiology that will produce a strong, healthy lawn that is able to withstand many of the stresses that affect lawns and landscape. For more information lawn and landscape management, visit our issues page.

Sources: Science, Nature

Image Source: Nature

All unattributed positions and opinions in this piece are those of Beyond Pesticides.



Increased Risk of Endometriosis Linked to Persistent Pesticides

(Beyond Pesticides, November 7, 2013) A study released this week established a strong connection between endometriosis and exposure to two dangerous pesticides: lindane and mirex. While the results are not surprising given past connections between these pesticides and their endocrine-disrupting effects, this new study, Organochlorine Pesticides and Risk of Endometriosis: Findings from a Population-Based Case-Control Study, is one of the first to examine the association between organochlorine pesticides (OCPs) and endometriosis, one of the most common gynecological diseases, in women in the general population.

The study’s authors, Kristen Upson, Ph.D. et al,  explained to Environmental Health Perspectives, “Our study suggests that exposure from extensive past use of environmentally persistent OCPs in the United States, or present use in other countries may impact the health of the current generation of reproductive-age women with regard to a hormonally-mediated disease.”

In conducting the study, researchers selected a group of women with surgically-confirmed cases of endometriosis from the greater Pacific Northwest area. This group of women was then divided into four groups, based on the level of pesticide in each woman’s blood. Women in the second-highest exposure group for beta-hexacyclochlorohexane (beta-HCH), a byproduct of lindane, had a 70 percent greater risk of endometriosis than women with the lowest levels. Women with the highest levels of mirex had a 50 percent greater risk of endometriosis than women with the lowest levels.

Endometriosis is a disease in which tissue that normally grows inside the uterus grows outside the uterus. Patches of endometriosis, or the uterine tissue, respond to hormones in a similar way as the lining of the uterus. These tissues may bleed or have evidence of inflammation every month, similar to a regular menstrual period. However, the blood and tissue shed from endometriosis patches stay in the body and are irritants, which can cause pain. In some cases, inflammation and chemicals produced by the endometriosis areas can cause the pelvic organs to adhere, or stick together, causing scar tissue. Over time, some endometriosis areas may form nodules or bumps as they create lesions on the surface of pelvic organs or can become cysts (fluid-filled sacs) on the ovaries.  These potential physical effects and symptoms generally result in pain and often infertility.

Current estimates from the Center for Disease Control (CDC) suggest that six to ten percent of women of reproductive age have endometriosis. This amounts to approximately 5 million women in the U.S. The CDC also notes that a 2011 National Institute of Child Health and Human Development (NIHCD) study indicates that these estimates are most likely low and that numbers may well exceed 5 million.

Endometriosis is only one of a potential range of endocrine-disrupting effects and diseases known to both national and world health organizations. Earlier this year, Beyond Pesticides reported on the State of the Science of Endocrine Disrupting Chemicals, a joint study by the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) and the World Health Organization (WHO), which emphasized that endocrine disrupting chemicals (EDCs) are important environmental risk factors for endocrine diseases. Exposures during critical phases of development play an important role in the onset of many diseases, such as endometriosis, affecting future generations. The UN study, one of the most comprehensive reports on EDCs to date, highlights some association between exposure to the full-range of EDCs and health problems.

While this latest study from Washington State adds to the pile of mounting evidence of endocrine-disrupting effects and risks associated with pesticides, it also adds to the pile of known health and environmental threats surrounding these two dangerous pesticides. Both lindane and mirex have been identified as persistent organic pollutants (POPs) by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and by the parties of the Stockholm Convention, an international treaty established in 2001 to eliminate or reduce the release of POPs into the environment, with lindane being added to the list in 2009. EPA banned all uses of mirex in 1978 and canceled all pesticide registrations of lindane in 2006.

As demonstrated by the presence of mirex in the women’s bodies in this latest study (over two decades after the EPA’s ban) and other recent environmental assessments, banning all uses and production of a POP or “bioaccumulative” chemical will not prevent its presence in the environment or harmful effects for decades to come. This troubling fact means that every effort to stop all additional introductions of these dangerous chemicals into the environment should be made.

Unfortunately, women, children, and the U.S. population in general cannot take comfort in the fact that while much of the world has made these efforts, all sectors of the U.S. government charged with regulating these chemicals have not. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) still permits lindane to be used in prescribed shampoos and lotions for head-lice and scabies treatment.

Pleas through an official petition from the environmental health community and advocacy organizations (initiated by the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC) and supported by Beyond Pesticides) and requests concerning this issue from Congressmen have fallen on deaf ears. Arguing that lindane is needed as a third-line stop gap for head-lice and scabies treatment, FDA chose to continue its approval of lindane as a pharmaceutical.  In doing so, FDA continues to support the additional introduction of a pesticide that will impact future generations and the environment for decades to come.

To prevent the environmental and health impacts of pesticides like lindane and other EDCs, Beyond Pesticides advocates for the use of non- and least-toxic methods to control diseases like head lice and scabies. One of the safest methods to combat lice is to coat one’s hair with coconut oil and carefully pick through the hair with a nit comb, remembering to place the lice in hot soapy water after they have been removed from the hair. Another method is to use hot air, which desiccates the insects and eggs, ultimately killing them. A study from the University of Utah found this method outperformed insecticidal shampoos at killing adult lice and their eggs.  These methods prove to be both safer and more effective.

For more information on controlling head lice without toxic chemicals, see Beyond Pesticides’ alternatives webpage and our fact sheets on Head Lice and Scabies and Getting Nit Picky about Head Lice.

All unattributed positions and opinions in this piece are those of Beyond Pesticides.

Sources: Environmental Health News; CDC



Settlement Will Safeguard Endangered California Frog from Harmful Pesticides

(Beyond Pesticides, November 6, 2013) A federal district court approved a settlement Monday requiring the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to better protect California red-legged frogs from seven common pesticides known to be highly toxic to amphibians. The settlement gives the agency two years to prepare “biological opinions” under the Endangered Species Act (ESA) to analyze pesticide use in and near the frog’s aquatic and upland habitats.


A 2006 legal settlement secured by the Center for Biological Diversity (CBD) required the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to assess pesticide impacts on red-legged frogs and to then formally consult with the Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) under the ESA. The EPA’s assessments found that widespread use of pesticides is likely harming red-legged frogs and the court ordered temporary pesticide use restrictions that remain in effect today. EPA determined that 64 other pesticides are “likely to adversely affect” or “may affect” red-legged frogs. Despite the EPA’s findings, however, FWS and EPA failed to complete the required consultation, resulting in the litigation by CBD that culminated in Monday’s settlement.

The court order gives FWS two years to complete biological opinions for seven pesticides: glyphosate, malathion, simazine, pendimethalin, permethrin, methomyl and myclobutanil. This consultation process could lead to permanent restrictions on some of the most harmful pesticide uses. Many of the pesticides are endocrine disruptors that have been observed to interfere with natural hormone functions, damage reproductive function and offspring, and cause developmental, neurological, and immune problems in wildlife and humans. While not listed in this action, atrazine for instance, causes complete sex reversal in frogs, even in low concentrations. Similarly, a recent study found levels of pesticide contamination from agricultural drift in Pacific Tree frogs in remote mountain areas in California, including national parks. According to this study, chemical concentrations are often higher in the frog tissue than the environment.

“We’re hopeful the analysis required by this agreement will stop the use of harmful pesticide in the red-legged frog’s most vulnerable habitats and open the door to its recovery,” said Justin Augustine, an attorney at the Center for Biological Diversity. “It’s long overdue.”

ESA requires EPA to consult with federal wildlife agencies to ensure that the agency avoids authorizing pesticide uses that jeopardize endangered species. If FWS determines EPA registration of a pesticide is likely to harm listed species, it may specify use restrictions to mitigate adverse effects. Conservation groups have filed a series of lawsuits over the years attempting to force such consultations, which have resulted in restrictions on pesticide use near endangered species habitats, particularly for the endangered salmon and steelhead. In a similar lawsuit in 2002, fishermen, environmental groups and other salmon advocates, with legal representation from Earthjustice, obtained a federal court order declaring that EPA violated ESA by failing to consult on the impacts that certain pesticides have on salmon and steelhead in the Pacific Northwest and California. In 2007, salmon advocates filed a second lawsuit and entered into a settlement agreement that establishes a schedule for issuing the required biological opinions. Thus far, several biological opinions have been published with respect to salmon and steelhead, calling for the restriction of certain pesticides near vulnerable habitat.

In June 2013, CBD and Pesticide Action Network filed an amended complaint in their ongoing efforts to protect the nation’s most vulnerable wildlife from toxic pesticides. The lawsuit seeks to compel EPA to evaluate the impacts of dozens of pesticides known to be toxic to more than 100 endangered and threatened species, including Florida panthers, California condors, piping plovers, black-footed ferrets, arroyo toads, Indiana bats and Alabama sturgeon. Documents from FWS and EPA, as well as peer-reviewed scientific studies, indicate that these species are harmed by pesticides.

A committee of the National Academy of Sciences’ Research Council (NRC) issued a report this year that outlined steps to improve regulatory problems associated with pesticides that harm endangered and threatened species. The report suggests the need to overhaul EPA’s deeply flawed pesticide approval process and recommends better coordination and agreement between the agencies that would facilitate an integrated approach to examining risks to listed species and their habitats. EPA, FWS, and other agencies plan to roll out new guidelines under which they will conduct consultations.

Amphibians are declining at alarming rates around the globe and scientists believe pesticides may be partly to blame. More than 200 million pounds of pesticides are applied each year in California. Most of these chemicals have not been evaluated for impacts on wildlife, as required under ESA. Agricultural pesticides introduced into wetlands, ponds and streams are particularly harmful to frogs, whose permeable skins readily absorb toxins from their aquatic environments. Once abundant throughout California, California red-legged frogs were listed as threatened under ESA in 1996. Their numbers have declined more than 90 percent; the species is no longer found in 70 percent of its former range. The most severe declines have been observed in the Sierra Nevada Mountains east of California’s central valley, where frogs are exposed to pesticides from the intensively farmed San Joaquin valley. The pesticides of concern for red-legged frogs include several controversial chemicals that public health, sustainable-farming, farmworker and conservation groups advocate banning due to unacceptable hazards to humans and wildlife.

All unattributed positions and opinions in this piece are those of Beyond Pesticides

Source: Center for Biological Diversity

Image: Save the Frogs



Fate of GE Labeling in Washington State To Be Decided Today

(Beyond Pesticides, November 5, 2013) Today residents of Washington State will vote on ballot measure I-522, to determine whether food sold on supermarket shelves will be required to disclose the presence of genetically engineered (GE) ingredients. The simple premise of labeling GE food has been fueled by a growing grassroots movement demanding a right to know the ingredients in the food they consume. Opposition to the ballot measure has been propped up by a moneyed cadre of chemical and food corporations that claim labeling would confuse consumers and lead to higher prices at the check-out line.dr-bronners630

Funding behind I-522 has tracked a similar trajectory to Proposition 37 on the ballot in California last year, with food and chemical corporations pouring tens of millions of dollars into advertising against the measure in the run-up to Election Day.  However, while proponents of labeling were outspent 6 to 1 in California, the gap in spending for I-522 narrowed to about 3 to 1 ($22 million to $7.8 million) in Washington State. The largest single donor on the “No” side comes from agrichemical giant Monsanto, which alone contributed over $5 million dollars in attempts to defeat the initiative. The “Yes” campaign saw a large influx of support from the organic castile soap company Dr. Bronner’s Magic Soaps, which contributed $2.3 million to the campaign and even changed the label on its products to reflect support for I-522 and show how easy it is for companies to modify their label.

Prior to California’s election last year, the “No” campaign was leading in the polls. Though the “Yes” campaign has, as expected from the onslaught of negative advertisements, fallen a bit in Washington State polls, the most recent survey shows the “Yes” campaign ahead but within the margin of error, and thus still too close to call.

This year, a prominent contributor to the “No” campaign, the conventional food industry’s umbrella group the Grocery Manufacturer’s Association (GMA), was also marred by scandal and sued by Washington State’s attorney general over, interestingly, nondisclosure of the companies that are funding opposition to the measure.  The attorney general’s charge came after the grassroots group Moms for Labeling brought attention to the violation by filing a suit against GMA (only to have its initial lawsuit tossed out and face a  countersuit).

Though large companies have had short-term success pouring money into state level campaigns, over time this strategy may backfire, and help feed public opinion that these companies have something to hide. GE labeling activists started legislative campaigns in states other than Washington and have won several high profile victories. In Connecticut, Gov. Dannel Malloy signed House Bill 6527- An Act Concerning Genetically-Engineered Food. This bill will require GE ingredients to be labeled when similar legislation is passed by other states in the New England region with an aggregate population of 20 million. The Maine legislature also passed a similar law. Whole Foods Market announced in March that within five years it would label GE ingredients sold in its stores, making it the first national chain to do so. Several other state legislatures have also introduced bills that would require GE ingredients to be labeled. In Minnesota, H.F. 850 and S.F. 821 were introduced in February of 2013 and are still being considered by the legislature.  In Vermont, the House of Representatives passed H.112, a GE labeling law, on May 10. The bill is expected to be taken up by the state Senate in January when the legislature reconvenes.

Whatever the outcome of I-522, activism around GE labeling will continue to grow around the country, as a recent New York Times poll shows national support for GE labeling reaching 93%, a number consistent with past polls showing broad support that cuts across race, gender, socio-economic class and party affiliation. On the federal level, Senator Barbra Boxer (D-CA) and Representative Peter Defazio (D-OR) introduced companion legislation that would require the U.S. Food and Drug Administration to “clearly label” all GE ingredients. The bills, the Genetically Engineered Food Right-to-Know Act, H.R. 1699 and S. 809, have 22 cosponsors in the House and 10 in the Senate. On the campaign trail in 2007, President Barack Obama endorsed the idea that Americans have a right to know what’s in the food they’re buying, but he has yet to act on that pledge.

A victory in Washington State would set the stage for national mandatory labeling, providing consumers with information they need to make informed decisions for themselves and their family. To support Washington State’s labeling efforts, help get out the vote today with the Yes on 522 campaign, and see a list of businesses, organizations, elected officials and more who endorse 522. National GE labeling efforts are being spearheaded by the Just Label It! campaign.  For more information on GE foods and labeling issues, see Beyond Pesticides’ Genetic Engineering website.

All unattributed positions and opinions in this piece are those of Beyond Pesticides

 Source: Politico

Image Source: Mother Jones




Update: Kauai Mayor Vetoes Pesticide Use Disclosure Bill; Fight for Protections Not Over

(Beyond Pesticides, November 4, 2013)  The hard-fought victory of Kauai residents to protect their homes, children, and natural environment from the chemical and agricultural industry’s excessive and secretive applications of pesticides was threatened last week. Bill 2491,  passed earlier this month and crafted to rein in the ecosystem-threatening development of genetically engineered crops with their excessive reliance on pesticides, has been vetoed by Kauai’s Mayor Bernard Carvalho.

The bill established much-needed disclosure, notice, and reporting mandates for commercial-scale pesticide applications, required pesticide application buffer zones for schools, hospitals, residences, public spaces, waterways, and parks, and mandated that the County perform and Environmental and Public Health Impacts Study (EPHIS). (See previous Daily News coverage for a more expanded history and discussion of the evolution of the bill.)

A critical component of the bill is the inclusion of a penalties provision. Acting as a strong industry- incentive to comply with the bill’s mandates and protective measures, the penalties provision permitted civil fines of between $10,000 and $25,000 per day per violation and potential misdemeanor criminal sanctions.

Mayor Carvalho defended his veto decision by saying that the bill ran afoul of a number of laws, including the Right to Farm Act, according to an interview with the Honolulu Civil Beat. Mr. Carvalho went on to argue that the bill preempted the state’s role in regulating pesticides and genetically altered crops and violated the county charter by allowing the county council to assign new functions to his department.

Emphasizing his belief that a collaborative approach would better achieve the goals of the bill, Mayor Carvalho urged the Kauai Council to move forward in the Hawaiian spirit of cooperation. Hawaii’s Governor has also called for a similar approach and proposed voluntary guidelines as an alternative means of getting seed and diversified agricultural companies to voluntarily comply with certain health and safety requests of the Kauai community.

While collaboration can yield protections, attempts to reach agreement with the industry’s chemical use and encourage disclosure have been tried and failed.

Applications of restricted use pesticides on Kauai has affected children and their teachers directly in the classroom. After a number of incidents at Waimea Canyon Middle School in 2006 and 2007, administrators and teachers sat down with Syngenta and secured an agreement from the company not to spray before school was out at 3:30 pm. Syngenta broke that promise, according to Maluhia Group, a coalition of Waimea Canyon Middle School staff, parents and community members. There’s even a YouTube video showing the event. Hawaii’s Department of Agriculture investigated the incidents, but came to the conclusion that Cleome gynandra, known on the islands as “stinkweed,” was the main culprit. However concerned residents are not convinced, as there have never been any recorded medical incidents of widespread poisoning by stinkweed.

Fortunately for the residents of Kauai, who remain concerned about known negative and health and environmental impacts of the pesticide and GMO related activities of industry giants such as Monsanto, Dow, BASF, DuPont Pioneer and Syngenta, the fight is not over.

Kauai’s Mayor will not have the final word as the vetoed bill can still be reinstated through a revote of the Kauai Council. Five votes of the Kauai County Council are needed to overturn Mayor Carvalho’s veto. The decision of the Council will most likely be even more contentious than first vote. Should the Council override the Mayor’s veto, legal battles will inevitably follow. Whatever the battle, there is little question in the minds of the bill’s supporters that it is a fight worth continuing.

Beyond Pesticides has been a fervent supporter of Bill 2491 and believes that every community in the United States should have a right to protect itself from chemicals that are applied in and around where they live, work and play. Read Beyond Pesticides testimony on Bill 2491 for additional information. If you’d like to become involved in a campaign in your community, send an email to info@beyondpesticides.org, or call 202-543-5450.

Sources: Civil Beat; New York Times

All unattributed positions and opinions in this piece are those of Beyond Pesticides