Neonic Pesticide Reform Bill deserves support

(Louise Washer)

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I am writing on behalf of the Norwalk River Watershed Association (NRWA) and the Pollinator Pathway to thank Norwalk representative, Lucy Dathan, for submitting a crucial bill this legislative session in support of reforming the state’s restrictions on wasteful uses of neonicotinoid pesticides—neonics for short.

The growth of the Pollinator Pathway, which began in Wilton and Norwalk in 2017 and is now in 96 Connecticut towns, has been spurred by reports from the scientific community warning of an “insect apocalypse.” Most of us know, for example that monarch butterfly populations are down 90% in the last 20 years and that the bees are in big trouble. The rusty patch bumblebee, for example, which used to be common in Connecticut, has been in the headlines recently because it was added to the endangered species list.

We all also know from listening to reports from COP15, the recent UN World meeting to address biodiversity loss, that, “The global rate of species extinction occurring now is at least tens to hundreds of times higher than the average over the past 10 million years.” Reports out of COP15 helped us all understand how climate change and biodiversity loss are interlinked, and that, as one New York Times reporter summed it up, “Biodiversity loss and extinction are just as grave a threat to the survival of our species as climate change, if not a greater threat in the long term.” One way to think about this was illustrated by the sculpture of a Jenga game outside of the COP15 meeting.  Each of the blocks that are pulled out represent the loss of a species. We never know when these losses will lead to a complete collapse of the ecosystems we depend on.

So, we all know, at this point, that it’s past time for us to take direct action to address this issue—we need to respond to biodiversity loss with the seriousness and creativity we are using to try to solve climate change.  And part of the solution will involve pesticide reform.

Luckily in Connecticut there is some very low hanging fruit when it comes to common sense action we can take.  Representative Dathan, NRWA and the Pollinator Pathway are supporting a ban on the use of neonics on lawns and ornamental landscaping, in other words cosmetic uses, and on the use of neonic-coated seeds.

We have over two decades of science on the effects of neonics. They are neurotoxic insecticides linked to massive bee and insect losses around the globe. They are systemic pesticides, so they permeate the plant, making the pollen, fruit, leaves, and even the dew on a leaf poisonous to insects. Insects are keystone species that form the base of complex ecological food webs upon which we depend.

Increasingly, neonics are also linked to vast water and soil contamination and human health concerns. Cornell University research shows that the neonic uses that pose the greatest threats to bees are also those that provide little-to-no benefits to users or are easily replaceable with safer alternatives. (Study available at Pollinator-Pathway.org/advocacy). This bill seeks to limit those uses.

In addition to harming pollinators, research links neonics to large declines in bird species—contributing to the 30% decline in North American birds seen in the last 50 years. Eating just one neonic-treated seed is enough to kill some songbirds, and even at low doses, neonics can harm birds’ immune systems, fertility, and navigation, and cause rapid weight loss. As neonics kill insect populations, birds also starve. In Europe, for example, declining bird populations were linked to neonics in water. Neonics hollow out ecosystems by eradicating aquatic insect populations that birds, fish, amphibians, and other animals depend on for food.

Neonics also Harm Endangered Species – the EPA recently released Endangered Species Act evaluations for neonic chemicals which found they were likely to adversely affect between ~70% to 80% of all listed species.

Neonics frequently show up in state water testing — including recently, for example, ~30% of Long Island’s groundwater samples. In Norwalk there is concern in the Oyster industry, that declines they are seeing in marine larvae over the last 20 years may be linked to pesticide, and specifically neonic use. We know from recent core samples done in Darien at Pear Tree Point Beach that there are large concentrations of pesticides in the coastal sediment. So large that the planned dredging in Darien had to be postponed because the dredge was too toxic to be easily disposed of.

And finally, monitoring by the CDC shows that half the U.S. population is regularly exposed to neonics — with the highest levels found in children. This is particularly concerning given human and animal research linking neonics to potential neurological, developmental, and reproductive harms, including malformations of the developing heart and brain.

The EPA has consistently failed to act on this issue. In fact, in September, the agency issued a decision to continue to let stand a loophole that exempts pesticide-coated seeds from even being classified as a pesticide. States need to step in and restrict uses of neonics, the way the European and Canadian governments have done. In passing legislation to prohibit the wasteful uses of these chemicals on residential and commercial landscapes such as lawns and golf courses, Connecticut will join several other states, including neighbors New Jersey and Maine, which have passed such bills.

The agriculture industry is ahead of the lawn care industry in terms of having a blueprint for an  organic future.  Currently, on a per-acre basis, American homeowners use 10 times more pesticides than what is used on U.S. farms. We need the landscaping industry to catch up, and for that we need to start by addressing the neonic crisis.

Norwalk became a leader in pesticide reform last year when we banned pesticide use on city property, with a few exceptions for emergencies. Thank you Representative Dathan for continuing that leadership role in Hartford.

Louise Washer

Norwalk River Watershed Association

Pollinator Pathway

Norwalk Mayor’s Water Quality Committee

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Kenneth Werner February 2, 2023 at 12:34 pm

Louise, thank you for this article. When I was a kid (which was more than 60 years ago), a family drive on a summer weekend would produce such a heavy coating of squashed bugs on the windshield that my father had to stop the car periodically and scrape them off. Now, a similar drive only rarely results in a bug-windshield collision. Lucy Dathan and NRWA should be praised for your efforts in banning the cosmetic use of neonics, and that’s what I’m doing now.

Kenneth Werner
Member, Board of Directors
Mianus Chapter, Trout Unlimited

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