EPA and Clothianidin

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The 29th National Pesticide Forum convenes this week in Colorado. The forum will address numerous health and environmental concerns, including the pesticide clothianidin. Clothianidin has been banned in Europe, but is used extensively in the United States. As of 2007, 80 percent of corn seed sold by market leader Pioneer Hi-Bred (DuPont) contained either 0.25 or 1.25 mg per seed of clothianidin.

Tom Theobald is one of the Pesticide Forum's keynote speakers. As a beekeeper and researcher, Theobald is concerned about the hazards of clothianidin. Theobald wrote the following essay shortly after last summer's oil spill.

As I’ve listened to the news and read the articles describing events leading up to the explosion I’m struck by the parallel to what has been occurring in the beekeeping world over the past several years.

In May of 2008 there were massive bee kills in the Baden-Wurttemberg region of Germany, with two thirds of the colonies there killed. The damage was quickly traced to one of the pesticides in the controversial family of neonicotinoids produced by the German corporation Bayer. Planting of corn seed coated with clothianidin, by way of pneumatic planters, supposedly resulted in fugitive clothianidin dust which caused the disaster. Within two weeks Germany banned clothianidin on corn and several other crops, but the damage was done.

Clothianidin is just one of a number of pesticides in the family of neonicotinoids. Neonicotinoids are systemic pesticides, which means that they become incorporated into the system of the plant when the seed germinates. In the United States clothianidin was given a conditional registration by the EPA in 2003. Originally approved for use as a seed coating on corn and canola, it is now being approved for a growing list of other crops as well.

It appears that two years later we have now had a repeat of this "rare event," this time here in the United States. This bee kill occured in Indiana in April (2010), reported by two entomologists at Purdue University in an article written for the Indiana Beekeepers Association newsletter and circulated widely. Titled "Pesticide Kill at the Purdue Bee Lab?," it reports a significant bee kill across Indiana, again believed to have come from fugitive dust from pneumatic corn planters.

According to these two entomologists, "Every corn seed that goes into the ground in Indiana these days has a coating of clothianidin on it. It has been a dry spring. We have had very warm, windy weather this week. As I watched my neighbor planting, I could see huge clouds of dust being stirred up." As researchers at a major university, the authors had the resources to do some immediate analysis that would have been beyond the reach of most beekeepers, and they found high levels of clothianidin in the dead bees and the incoming pollen.

Along with other beekeepers, I have been concerned about clothianidin for some time, in part because it is not the first neonicotinoid to cause problems. Imidacloprid, the first, was registered in the U.S. in 1994 and was soon implicated in widespread bee kills. Several commercial beekeepers in North Dakota filed suit because of damage from imidacloprid used on sunflowers, and similar damage in France from use on sunflowers led to a ban there in 1999. However it is still used without change in the U.S. France declined to even register clothianidin.

. . .

Further concerns are emerging as a consequence of the Indiana bee kill. High levels of atrazine were found in the dead bees and pollen along with clothianidin. This suggests that dust alone may be a vector, with the atrazine contamination coming from airborne soil. We now find evidence, again from the EPA’s own documents, that clothianidin can be persistent in the soil, remaining for years in some cases, and that it may accumulate from successive uses of treated seed, a common practice in the corn belt. Has the soil itself become a source of toxicity as a consequence of clothianidin use? Only further tests will give us answers to those questions.

Theobald concludes,

The bees are telling us something. We need to start listening before it’s too late.

To which I add, chronic illness is rising dramatically. The cancers, autism, diabetes, and other chronic conditions are telling us something. How long before we connect the water we drink, the air we breathe, and the food we eat to our health and the health of our children?