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My View: EPA shields chemical firms, not environment

As a keeper of bees for more than 40 years, I am appalled at the misinformation, denial and pure ignorance displayed by Scott Dahlman, director of Oregonians for Food & Shelter, and Jeff Stone, executive director of the Oregon Association of Nurseries (Look past pesticides to study pollinator health, guest column, June 26), who offered a rebuttal to Scott Hoffman Black and Aimee Code of the Xerces Society (Protect pollinators like our lives depend on it, guest column, June 19).

It is unfortunate that Dahlman and Stone were chosen to be members of the Governor’s Task Force on Pollinator Health because of their obvious disdain of the research that clearly shows the high toxicity of systemic neonicotinoid pesticides (neonics). If their fundamental argument is, as they stated “We should let science be our guide,” why do they deny the numerous peer-reviewed international scientific studies elucidating how neonics are killing off pollinators and other life forms?

Just a few weeks ago the Task Force on Systemic Pesticides — a group of more than 50 independent scientists from more than four continents affiliated with the International Union for Conservation of Nature — reviewed evidence from more than 800 worldwide scientific publications done the past five years.

In process are seven papers that will be published in the journal Environmental Science & Pollution Research. The first is out and the rest will be appearing soon. What these studies are addressing is that these poisons are harming/killing not only pollinators, but also the birds, butterflies, bats, earthworms and soil microbes — essentially the entire environment. Neonics are easily translocated through water and persist over time, making them exceptionally toxic.

Is Dahlman’s organization receiving funds from chemical companies? Are Stone and OAN aware of how widespread the use of soils pre-treated with neonics is in Oregon’s nurseries? Consumers would very much like to know. These are questions people should be asking.

The Pesticide Research Institute and Friends of the Earth released a study that tested plants from Lowe’s, Home Depot and Walmart from 18 locations in the United States and Canada, and found more than 50 percent treated with neonics. This means some of these bee-friendly plants could actually be bee-killing plants.

What bitter irony. In the days since Dahlman and Stone’s column came out, arguing that neonics were not deadly to pollinators, bees were raining down and dying under the linden trees at the Jacobs Lane Apartments in Eugene where neonics were applied. Thousands died on site, others will die returning to their colonies, and still others will infect their colonies.

This follows four other tragic incidents last summer near Portland, when tens of thousands of bumblebees and honeybees were killed after trees were sprayed with neonics. The sprayings were performed by licensed professional applicators.

Clearly, this demonstrates the fallacy of these products’ label restrictions. Bayer, Syngenta and Ortho are getting away with producing and mislabeling their neonic products, with the Environmental Protection Agency’s blessings. There are no safe application levels!

Unfortunately, the Bee Informed Partnership survey of U.S. winter bee losses at 23.2 percent is very misleading. This makes it seem that the problem is dissipating when, in fact, it’s getting worse. Very few large commercial beekeepers responded to the survey (the majority were backyarders with higher survival rates), according to The Center for Food Safety.

The CFS’s loss survey numbers were revised to 45.2 percent, and it is likely much higher, given that many beekeepers are having to split their surviving colonies into two or three new colonies to recoup losses. Additionally, there are now late summer and autumn crashes that are not reflected in these surveys. Many large outfits have had more than 50 percent colony losses, some nearly wiped out and others that have given up.

In the past few years, I have seen many bees crawling aimlessly and then convulsing around hives that I maintain in Eugene. This is a clear sign of exposure to neurotoxins and coincides with the huge increase of these systemics produced for urban use. Beekeepers should be watching their bees for these symptoms.

Of course, beekeepers are experiencing many threats to the bees besides pesticides — varoa mites, nosema ceranae viruses, lack of nutrition, loss of forage and more. These are challenges we can deal with, but we can’t deal with the constant and increasing poisons being thrown into the environment, especially neonics.

While the European Union has imposed a two-year ban on neonics, the EPA is procrastinating. Not only has it illegally given unconditional registration to neonic chlothianidin (presently in widespread use and the subject of a pending lawsuit), it also has allowed a new systemic pesticide, sufloxaphor, onto the market, and the EPA’s own scientists have acknowledged its high toxicity to pollinators. There is a separate lawsuit to this as well.

I believe the agency designed to protect the environment and human health is now essentially a chemical company protection agency. This is documented in a new book, “Poison Spring,” by E. G. Vallianatos, who as a scientist employed by the EPA for 25 years was in a key position to uncover the real direction of this agency, especially since the Reagan years.

This nonsense must stop. We must step up to the plate and demand change or there will not be enough pollinators to pollinate our food supply. It’s time for us to wake up and protect the environment and the health of all life forms from these

poisons. Seek organic solutions.

Philip Smith is a Eugene beekeeper.