Neonic Pesticides Are Killing Endangered Bees and Butterflies—but the EPA Keeps Approving Them Anyway

NRDC is suing the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency for greenlighting the use of neonics without first considering their harm to endangered species.
Credit: Richard Crossley

NRDC is suing the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency for greenlighting the use of neonics without first considering their harm to endangered species.

Despite study after study showing that neonic pesticides are harmful to bees and other pollinators, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency continues to allow products containing these toxic chemicals to enter the market. In its approvals, however, the EPA has failed to consult with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service on the insecticides’ impact on threatened or endangered species—a clear violation of the federal Endangered Species Act.

In response, NRDC filed a lawsuit today that seeks to cancel the registrations of nearly 100 products containing three widely used neonic pesticides—acetamiprid, dinotefuran, and imidacloprid—until the EPA complies with the law. “The EPA ignored endangered bees, butterflies, and birds when it approved the widespread use of neonics,” said Rebecca Riley, a senior attorney in NRDC’s Land & Wildlife program. “Massive pollinator die-offs across the country show that these pesticides cause serious harm to wildlife.”

The use of neonic pesticides has soared in recent years, and populations of bees and other critical pollinators have experienced sharp decline. As of 2011, 3.5 million pounds of neonics were applied to 127 million acres of crops, double the amount five years earlier. And unlike traditional pesticides, neonics are completely absorbed by a plant, becoming part of its pollen, nectar, leaves, and roots—making the entire thing toxic. And because neonics can stick around in soil and water for years, they are essentially uncontainable and are pervasive throughout the United States.

In the complaint filed today, NRDC identified 26 species listed under the Endangered Species Act that are at risk from neonic pesticides. They include the federally endangered rusty patched bumblebee, Karner blue butterfly, Hines’ emerald dragonfly, black-capped vireo, and pallid sturgeon, as well as the federally threatened vernal pool fairy shrimp.

Riley urged swift action from the EPA. “It’s time for the agency to do its job and make sure our most vulnerable species are protected from the products it approves,” she said.


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