NRDC Report Reveals Rampant Contamination from Toxic Pesticides in New York State

New York Water Testing Indicates Very High Probability of Ecosystem-Wide Damage Advocates, Lawmakers Rally at the New York State Capitol Demanding Action on Neonics


ALBANY, N.Y. – A new report from the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC) issued today illuminates how a new class of toxic pesticides known as neonicotinoids, or as “neonics,” has become widespread across New York State, with likely devastating impacts to the state’s wildlife, waterways and food systems. The report underscores that neonics, which are responsible for killing birds, bees, and other pollinators across the country, are contaminating New York’s water supply at alarming levels. It also highlights how pervasive human exposure raises public health concerns.

“The rampant contamination of toxic neonic pesticides in New York devastates bees and other pollinators and threatens nearly every aspect of our ecosystem,” said Rich Schrader, New York Policy Director at the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC). “Just as Rachel Carson waged a valiant battle against DDT, we are fighting against the harmful and pervasive scourge of neonics. We urge lawmakers to heed this warning for the sake of our wildlife, betterment of small farmers, protection of our waters, and the wellbeing of all New Yorkers. The unnecessary and widespread use of neonics must come to a full-stop.”

The report was released at a rally held at the New York State Capitol with advocates and legislators, including Senator Brad Hoylman and Assemblyman Steve Englebright, urging lawmakers to pass the “Birds and Bees Protection Act” this legislative session, which would impose a five-year moratorium on the outdoor use of the bee-killing pesticides. The rally also coincided with the unveiling of a honeybee-themed mural in the state Capitol by artist Matthew Willey, founder of “The Good of the Hive,” which will head to the Smithsonian following its Albany debut.

“New Yorkers are buzzing with excitement about the Birds and the Bees Act, a transformative piece of legislation that would protect birds, bees and humans from deadly neonicotinoid pesticides. At a time when scientists are seeing enormous drops in the population of pollinator species like birds and bees, New York should take the lead and protect these living creatures that are vital to our ecosystem. I'm proud to be sponsoring the Birds and the Bees Act with my colleague Steve Englebright, and am committed to working with advocates like the NRDC and artist Matt Willey to pass this bill and protect our natural environment,” said Senator Brad Hoylman.

“There is strong evidence that neonicotinoids and fipronil have adverse impacts on pollinators like honeybees and birds, and may also have human health impacts . This legislation prohibits the use of these pesticides while a thorough assessment is conducted. Far too often human health and the environment are secondary to short-term goals. Pest prevention that results in harm to our communities and pollinators is counterproductive, dis-economic, and simply unacceptable; this must stop,” said Assemblyman Steve Englebright.

“As a beekeeper, I know it’s not just about bees. Bees are a bell-whether bug. When something’s wrong with the environment, bees know it first. We need to listen carefully to what’s happening to them because it affects us next. We — farmers, society, all of us — need pollinators to thrive and we need our soil and our water to be protected so that we can thrive too,” said Dana DiPrima of Catskill Mountain Honey.

“What is happening to our pollinators is happening to all of us,” said artist Matthew Willey, Founder of The Good of the Hive. “We need to look at what the bees are showing us and change our behaviors and practices accordingly. When the human population is challenged to change, we are at our most uncomfortable, but also our best. This change we are fighting for matters for the good of nature and for our wellbeing.”

While scientists increasingly identify neonics as a leading culprit of staggering declines in bee-populations, these findings have failed to examine the full picture of their harms. Neonics are toxic, persistent, and everywhere, appearing in law and garden bug sprays, fertilizers, flea and tick treatments for pets and livestock, and agricultural pesticides. NRDC’s new report shows how these systemic pesticides are contaminating New York waterways at levels capable of hollowing out aquatic ecosystems.

"In the Catskills, our communities and economy rely on delicious local food, and our entire food web relies on pollinators,” said Ramsay Adams, Executive Director of Catskill Mountainkeeper. “The Birds & Bees Protection Act will help protect the species we depend upon. Protecting pollinators must be a top priority and Catskill Mountainkeeper calls on the legislature to pass the Act this year--we can't afford to wait."

“The excessive use of neonicotinoids has decimated pollinator populations, contributed to water contamination, and poses an unacceptable risk to human health. Industry interests and profits should not come at the expense of our pollinators and the public's right to safe drinking water. It has long been documented that neonics are one of the top three pesticides found in Long Island drinking water. Now we need the State Legislature to pass legislation this session that would ban the use of neonicotinoid pesticides and protect pollinators. Thank you Senator Hoylman and Assemblyman Englebright for introducing this critical legislation,” said Hanna Ring, CNY Program Coordinator for Citizens Campaign for the Environment

Neonics are frequently found in New York surface waters. And recent testing of Long Island groundwater, which tested for just one of more than a handful of neonics used in New York, detected the chemical imidacloprid in roughly 30 percent of samples, making it one of the most commonly detected pesticides on the island. The results suggest that the risk of contaminated drinking water may be highest on Long Island, and in areas that get their drinking water from surface water, including New York City. More than 90 percent of detections exceeded the EPA’s long-term exposure benchmark for harm to aquatic invertebrates, and overall, indicate a very high probability that neonics are causing ecosystem-wide damage.

“Toxic neonic pesticides have been linked to devastating impacts to our wildlife, waterways, and food systems,” said Caitlin Ferrante, Sierra Club Atlantic Chapter. “New York cannot afford to lose our pollinators, much less the thousands of other species interconnected with these essential insects. This new report indicates a high probability that neonics are contaminating New York’s water supply at alarming levels, and contributing to wide scale ecosystem damage. It is time for us to take meaningful action against neonics by supporting strong pollinator protections.”

“Toxic neonics pose an increasing danger across the state, causing horrific rates of pollinator die offs, threatening many of our core agricultural crops, and finding a way into our streams, ponds, and even our drinking water. It’s time for New York to safeguard our water, food, and health by banning neonics, following the lead of other states and the European Union,” said Maureen Cunningham, Senior Director for Clean Water at Environmental Advocates of New York.

“As we take necessary steps to protect wildlife and the public from the unnecessary health risks posed by toxic pesticides, we need to help farmers transition to practices that are less dependent on these chemical inputs in the first place,” said Peter Lehner, Managing Attorney of the Sustainable Food and Farming Program at Earthjustice.  “We cannot put farmers in the position of simply choosing among poisons or forcing public health advocates to play whack-a-mole with pesticide bans.  A shift to more sustainable farming practices is the key to long-term farmer profitability, public health, and environmental protection.” 

New Yorkers are also commonly exposed to neonics, likely through contaminated food and water. Studies suggest that neonics may increase the risk of developmental or neurological damage in humans, including malformations of the developing heart and brain, memory loss, and finger tremors. A five-year moratorium would reduce New Yorkers' exposure while potential risks are investigated.

Riverkeeper's legislative advocacy manager, Jeremy Cherson said, "The evidence is piling up that neonics cause catastrophic damage across the natural world. The public may be aware of the damage caused to honey bees but the damage to life in our rivers and lakes is just coming into focus. Riverkeeper's water quality sampling has found concerning levels of neonics in the Hudson. We are calling for our state leaders to place a moratorium on outdoor use immediately."

“This bill is necessary to combat the widespread decline of birds, bees and other essential pollinators,” said Jason Davidson, food and agriculture campaigner with Friends of the Earth. “Neonicotinoids have devastated ecosystems for years. By passing the Birds and Bees Protection Act, New York would show leadership in prioritizing protection for our most vulnerable species.”

What’s more, most of the neonics that contaminate New York’s environment provide little to no economic benefits – more than 70 percent of all agricultural neonic use in New York is used on corn and soybean seeds. However, these neonics treat for pests that rarely reach damaging levels in climates like New York’s. At the same time, they provide little to no protection against greater pest threats. As such, farmers using neonics may be paying more money, seeing more pests, and enjoying fewer profits as a result.


The Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC) is an international nonprofit environmental organization with more than 3 million members and online activists. Since 1970, our lawyers, scientists, and other environmental specialists have worked to protect the world's natural resources, public health, and the environment. NRDC has offices in New York City, Washington, D.C., Los Angeles, San Francisco, Chicago, Bozeman, MT, and Beijing. Visit us at and follow us on Twitter @NRDC.​