agriculture, Environment, Legislature

Neonic pesticides shorten bees’ lives in newly discovered way — with consequences for our drinking water

These public water systems have granular activated charcoal systems that can filter neonic pesticides from drinking water. (Map courtesy ToxicFree NC, using NC DEQ data)

A new study confirms that honeybees exposed to neonic pesticides, long implicated in their illness and death, send them to an early grave– putting the health of entire hive at risk.

Canadian researchers used “field realistic” exposure levels to study the bees’ health. Skeptics of neonics’ toxicity — the very companies that manufacture the chemicals — often complained that previous studies exposed bees’ to unusually high levels of the pesticide. The “field realistic” study, however, likewise showed neonics, as bees might encounter them in the wild, harm the insects’ health.

Even more surprising, though, is a finding which has implications for human health.

First, the bees in the Canadian study appear to have ingested neonics in a roundabout way: During irrigation or rain, neonic pesticides run off the corn and soybean fields in the water. Other plants in adjacent fields then take up that water as they grow, and honeybees ingest the pesticide via their pollen.

Healthy bee hive at American Tobacco Campus, Durham (Photo: Lisa Sorg)

This same mechanism likely means that neonics are entering the drinking water supply via fields runoff. Unfortunately, state environmental regulators don’t test for the pesticide in surface, ground or drinking water. Last year, the NC Department of Environmental Quality told the state pesticide board that because of a lack of funding and equipment, it does not monitor for neonics in waterways, including drinking water supplies.

Conventional methods used at water treatment plants don’t remove the neonics, according to a University of Iowa study. Granular activated charcoal systems do appear to remove the pesticide.

Preston Peck of Toxic Free NC, a nonprofit based in Raleigh, used DEQ data to create a map of public water supplies in the state that use granular activated charcoal systems. Some, but not all of North Carolina’s major cities have these systems: Raleigh, Greensboro, Durham, Charlotte and Fayetteville, for example. However Winston-Salem does not; nor do most of the smaller towns and cities.

Peck has repeatedly petitioned the state pesticide board to restrict the use of neonics to only licensed applicators. Despite a half dozen or more presentations from scientists over many months, the board failed to enact a rule to do so.

Peck took his concerns to the legislature. Earlier in the session, Democrat Reps. Pricey Harrison and Grier Martin, and Republican Reps. Chuck McGrady and Mitchell Setzer co-sponsored House Bill 363, which would have accomplished what the pesticide board failed to do. The bill stalled in the House Rules Committee.

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