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article imageNew report says pesticide threat goes far beyond birds, bees

By Martin Laine     Jun 24, 2014 in Science
More than 50 years after Rachel Carson’s book Silent Spring sounded the alarm on the dangers of pesticides and their effect on birds, a new report shows the problem is worldwide, and threatens a broad range of species.
“We are witnessing a threat to the productivity of our natural and farmed environment,” said Jean-Marc Bonmatin of France’s National Center for Scientific Research, a co-author of the report Worldwide Integrated Assessment, in an article on the website.
An international panel of 29 scientists spent four years poring through 20 years of reports, 800 in all, and concluded there was “clear evidence of harm” cause by two types of pesticides — neonicotinoids and fipronil.
These insecticides target the nervous system and are widely used in agricultural pest management, as well as such domestic uses as pet flea control.
The problem is their effect goes far beyond their intended targets. They were recently identified as being the cause of a rapid decline in bee populations, crucial pollinators in the human food chain.
It’s not just that many species may be exposed to direct application. As these chemicals are absorbed in the soil and water, they are then absorbed by plants and eventually by the species that feed on those plants.
“If you use them every year, they accumulate, they get into the soild water and hence into streams,” said David Goulson, professor of biology at Sussex University and a co-author, in an article in The Independent “So essentially we are contaminating the global environment with highly toxic, highly persistent chemicals.”
The list of species affected is a long one, from birds, bees, and butterflies, to earthworms, freshwater snails, amphibians, and waterfleas. Each of these plays some important part in their ecosystem, whether as pollinators, soil-enrichers, or decomposers.
“The combination of their [the insecticides] widescale use and inherent use, has resulted in widespread contamination of agricultural soils, freshwater resources, wetlands,” the authors wrote. “This means that many organisms inhabiting these habitats are being repeatedly and chronically exposed to effective concentrations of these insecticides.”
“The findings are gravely worrying,” said Maarten Bijleveld van Lexmond who chaired the panel. “We can now clearly see that neonic and fibronil pose a risk to ecosystem functioning and services which go far beyond concerns for one species and which must really warrant government and regulatory attention.”
The report called for increased regiulation of the use of these two types of insecticides. Currently, they account for about 40 percent of all insecticides used worldwide, with worldwide sales of $2.63 billion.
More about Pesticides, National Center for Scientific Research, worldwide integrated assessment