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EPA does not regulate seeds coated in pesticides that kill pollinators

The Environmental Protection Agency rejected a petition Wednesday asking the federal agency to more closely regulate a group of chemicals used in pesticide-coated seeds, which are linked to the deaths of pollinators such as hummingbirds and bumblebees.

the petitionpresented in 2017 by non-profit organizations Food Safety Center, North American Pesticide Action NetworkY Pollinator Stewardship Councilamong other groups, asserted that the EPA’s lack of regulation of seeds “could precipitate economic and ecological disaster.”

“We gave the EPA a golden opportunity and plan to fix a problem that has caused significant harm to people, bees, birds and the environment, and it stubbornly refused,” said Amy van Saun, lead attorney. of the Center for Food Safety. in a statements. “It is extremely disappointing and we will explore all possible next steps to protect communities and the environment from the danger of pesticide-coated seeds, including filing a lawsuit challenging this decision.”

The seeds in question are coated in a class of chemicals known as neonicotinoids, or “neonics,” and have been cited in mass die-offs of various pollinators, including bees and birds. The seeds are coated with chemicals that damage the nervous system of pollinators, causing paralysis and death. The chemists forbidden in the European Union, they are not regulated by the EPA’s pesticide application rulings, prompting environmental and green groups to take legal action. In the agricultural industry, seeds are treated with pesticides before they are put into the ground to protect plants from pests and diseases.

in your reply letterThe EPA said it disagrees with the petitioners’ request to “categorically exclude seeds treated with systemic pesticides” from the Federal Law on Insecticides, Fungicides and Rodenticides. This EPA legislation limits the use of pesticides that “generally present unreasonable risks to people, including farm workers, or the environment.”

In addition to killing bees, the class of chemicals has also been cited as a public health concern and has been directly linked to nearly 2,000 pet deaths, caused by flea and tick collars, which have also caused seizures in humans. The federal agency has not issued a formal warning against these collars.

Mead, Nebraska, a rural town outside of Omaha, has been embroiled in a battle with a neighboring ethanol plant linked to these pesticide-coated seeds. The now-closed plant produced ethanol from coated seeds and created a mature byproduct with neonicotinoids. Village residents reported the loss of bee and bird colonies when the plant was still in operation. More trouble, these chemicals have been detected at least 40 feet below groundwater wells downstream of the closed site. Efforts are also underway to clean up a by-product sludge, called “wet cake,” that contains trace amounts of toxic chemicals roughly 85 times higher than the legal limit. Last year, the state of Nebraska south AltEn, the Kansas company that owns the plant.

Pollinators like the bumblebee, shown here, have been wiped out by a class of chemicals known as neonicotinoids.
Paula French/EyeEm/Getty Images

Jody Weible, a Mead resident whose home is less than a mile from the closed plant, told Grist that the EPA was “dead wrong” in its decision not to increase regulations for these chemicals. Weible said cleanup efforts led by her and others have made slow progress since the plant closed last year, but being scrapped by government agencies, state or federal, has been a familiar part of her journey as an affected resident. .

Weible, who has lived in his home for nearly four decades, said that while the ethanol plant was active, it was hard to be outside. She recounted that children were experiencing nosebleeds, family members had severely itchy eyes, and opening windows was a risk. She collected the byproduct in a jar for three years and said that, to this day, the “sweet, dead, acidic” smell will still “bring you to your knees.”

She said that since the plant closed, investigators have visited her home and found high levels of neonicotinoids in the house dust. Since the plant closed, there have been notable changes, but cleanup efforts continue. “Now we have mosquitoes back,” Weible said. “We had almost no birds, no butterflies. Everything is coming back.”

The practice of burning pesticide-coated seeds was lucrative for ethanol plants and other big players in the agriculture industry. The AltEn plant opened in 2015 and closed in 2021. At the time, it produced approximately 24 million gallons of ethanol a year, presenting itself as a place for large pesticide companies, such as Bayer and Syngenta, to recycle their leftover seeds safely. free. Ethanol is a powerful industry in Nebraska and other Corn Belt states. Following these findings, Nebraska has banned the practice, but it is the only state to do so in the country where there are more 200 other ethanol refineries.

The EPA has been monitoring the Nebraska plant for ongoing contamination, but neighboring residents say efforts have been unsuccessful. Last year, the agency conducted air monitoring around the facility and said they have not detected contaminants considered “immediate health threat.”

In 2020, the EPA Provisional proposals published to regulate this class of chemicals. The agency suggested growers wear more protective gear when handling chemicals, limiting the times chemicals can be sprayed on flowering plants that attract pollinators and adding packaging language advising homeowners not use neonicotinoids. In the decision letter released this week, the agency said it intends to continue seeking comment and information about how these chemicals and the seeds they are coated with may violate public health and industrial use.


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