Long Island: Report Finds Neonic Pesticides in Your Water

Whether or not you’ve heard of neonics—the wildly popular neurotoxic insecticides killing bees from coast to coast—if you live on Long Island, chances are you’ve drank them.*

The Montauk Lighthouse.

Photo by Beth Alice

As a new report (commissioned by NRDC) by pesticide risk assessment expert Dr. Pierre Mineau reveals, recent federal government water testing detects the neonic chemical imidacloprid in roughly three out of ten of Long Island groundwater samples. Worse yet, since regulators largely haven’t been testing for the other four EPA-approved neonic chemicals, this is likely an underestimate.

So, is this a big deal? It very well could be because neonics—thought to be toxic mainly to insects—may have more of an impact on people than previously believed. While more human health studies are needed, emerging research links exposure to neonics in the womb or early in life to developmental and neurological harms, including autism, heart deformations, muscle tremors, and memory loss (see, e.g., here).

Additionally, research by the U.S. Geological Survey or “USGS” shows neonics and their byproducts in drinking water may be more common and more toxic than people realize. In 2017, USGS detected neonics “ubiquitously” in Iowa City tap water, also finding that conventional drinking water treatment didn’t remove most neonic chemicals. Then, in a 2019 follow up study, USGS found Iowa City drinking water also contained neonic breakdown products that are over 300 times more toxic to mammals (e.g., us) than the “parent” compounds alone.

The Nissequogue River as it washes into the Long Island Sound. It likely is contaminated with neonics.

So, are federal or state regulators paying enough attention to these risks? The short answer is “no.” As revealed in Dr. Mineau’s report, most water tests look only for imidacloprid, not the other four widely popular EPA-approved neonic chemicals—and none look for the toxic neonic byproducts that may be of greatest concern.

While the report’s findings are most concerning to Long Islanders, results showing imidacloprid frequently in surface waters may also be a worry for people that get their drinking water from those types of waters (e.g., most of New York City). On top of that, many New Yorkers are being exposed to low (but consistent) levels of neonics in food every day. These food and water exposures likely explain new research by the U.S. Center for Disease Control finding neonics in half the U.S. population (specifically, their urine).

Put all together, this new scientific information continues to strengthen the case for action to push the “pause button” on widespread neonic use, such as the state Birds and Bees Protection Act, introduced this year by Assemblyman Steve Englebright and Senator Brad Hoylman—up for consideration when the state legislature reconvenes in January. DEC can take action too by enacting needed neonic restrictions through agency rules.

And if you live on Long Island—or anywhere else in the great state of New York—you can make your voice heard too. Let your representatives know—it’s time to get harmful chemicals out of the state's waterways.

*NRDC generally recommends against bottled water, as it is poorly regulated, can be contaminated, expensive, and contributes to waste plastic. See details here. For those concerned about their tap water quality, we recommend using a water filter that is NSF certified to meet ANSI Standard 53 for contaminants linked to health effects; this includes most activated carbon filters. There is evidence that this is effective for neonics, as well as other pesticides. Be sure you follow the manufacturer’s instructions to maintain the filter and change as needed.

About the Authors

Daniel Raichel

Staff Attorney, Pollinator Initiative, Wildlife Division, Nature Program

Join Us

When you sign up you'll become a member of NRDC's Activist Network. We will keep you informed with the latest alerts and progress reports.