Washington Secrets

First bees, now birds seen dying from EPA-approved pesticides

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Politics,Paul Bedard,Washington Secrets

The nation's endangered beekeepers, who have been complaining that new EPA-approved pesticides will wipe out the honeybee industry by 2018, are being joined by bird conservationists who charge that just one corn seed covered with advanced pesticides can kill a blue jay.

"These products are much more dangerous than we expected to birds and wildlife," said the American Bird Conservancy's Cynthia Palmer of the insecticides known as "neonicotinoids," which commercial beekeepers blame for killing off thousands of hives.

The new concerns about the plight of the birds and the bees is prompting two lawmakers, Sens. Mark Udall of Colorado and Barbara Boxer of California, to look into the impact of the Environmental Protection Agency's approval of the bug killers.

The EPA, which is on the verge of approving another one of the pesticides, claims that its studies show minimal impact on bees. But, just to be sure, the agency plans to demand that farmers, mostly cotton, nut and berry growers, use less than the recommended amounts.

EPA told Secrets that the studies weren't all conclusive on how the new pesticide, sulfoxaflor, will affect bees. "At the requested higher application rate, evidence regarding long-term effects on the developing brood proved to be inconclusive due to some issues with the study designs. To address this uncertainty, the EPA has proposed reduced application rates and other mitigation measures."

Bee and bird advocates are trying to enlist Congress' help because they lack the clout of the agro-chemical industry and want further studies of the new chemicals.

Steve Ellis, one of the nation's biggest commercial beekeepers, told Secrets that getting other conservationists to complain could slow the pesticide approval process. If more pesticides are OK'd, he said, "by 2018, commercial beekeeping will be extinct." He said that there are just 2 million hives in the nation now, down from 5 million in 1960.

Among the issues cited in a new American Bird Conservancy report on the pesticides is the lethality of new bug killers and indications that the chemicals remain effective in soil and water for years. Palmer, for example, said one kernel of pesticide-coated corn can kill a bird as big as a blue jay.

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