Lawsuit seeks EPA pesticide data
Jane Kay, Chronicle Environment Writer
Tuesday, August 19, 2008
(08-18) 18:37 PDT -- The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency is
refusing to disclose records about a new class of pesticides that
could be playing a role in the disappearance of millions of honeybees
in the United States, a lawsuit filed Monday charges.
The Natural Resources Defense Council wants to see the studies that
the EPA required when it approved a pesticide made by Bayer
CropScience five years ago.
The environmental group filed the suit as part of an effort to find
out how diligently the EPA is protecting honeybees from dangerous
pesticides, said Aaron Colangelo, a lawyer for the group in
In the last two years, beekeepers have reported unexplained losses of
hives - 30 percent and upward - leading to a phenomenon called colony
collapse disorder. Scientists believe that the decline in bees is
linked to an onslaught of pesticides, mites, parasites and viruses, as
well as a loss of habitat and food.
$15 billion in crops
Bees pollinate about one-third of the human diet, $15 billion worth of
U.S. crops, including almonds in California, blueberries in Maine,
cucumbers in North Carolina and 85 other commercial crops, according
to the U.S. Department of Agriculture. Not finding a cause of the
collapse could prove costly, scientists warn.
Representatives of the EPA said they hadn't seen the suit and couldn't
Clothianidin is the pesticide at the center of controversy. It is used
to coat corn, sugar beet and sorghum seeds and is part of a class of
pesticides called neonicotinoids. The pesticide was blamed for bee
deaths in France and Germany, which also is dealing with a colony
collapse. Those two countries have suspended its use until further
study. An EPA fact sheet from 2003 says clothianidin has the potential
for toxic chronic exposure to honey bees, as well as other
pollinators, through residues in nectar and pollen.
The EPA granted conditional registration for clothianidin in 2003 and
at the same time required that Bayer CropScience submit studies on
chronic exposure to honeybees, including a complete worker bee
lifecycle study as well as an evaluation of exposure and effects to
the queen, the group said. The queen, necessary for a colony, lives a
few years; the workers live only six weeks, but there is no honey
"The public has no idea whether those studies have been submitted
to the EPA or not and, if so, what they show. Maybe they never came
in. Maybe they came in, and they show a real problem for bees. Maybe
they're poorly conducted studies that don't satisfy EPA's
requirement," Colangelo said.
Request for records
On July 17, after getting no response from the EPA about securing the
studies, the environmental group filed a request under the Freedom of
Information Act, which requires the records within 20 business days
absent unusual circumstances.
When the federal agency missed the August deadline, the group filed
the lawsuit, asking the U.S. District Court in Washington, D.C., to
force the EPA to turn over the records.
Greg Coffey, a spokesman for Bayer CropScience in Research Triangle
Park, N.C., said controlled field studies have demonstrated that
clothianidin, when used correctly, will not harm bees. He added that
all of EPA's requirements for conditional registration of clothianidin
have been submitted to the agency.
An EPA spokesman, Dale Kemery, said the agency couldn't comment on the
documents required under the conditional registration because the
matter is the subject of litigation.
Generally, the EPA has taken the position that the bee deaths occurred
under unusual circumstances. In Germany, the corn lacked a seed
coating that ensured that the pesticide stuck to the seed, and
equipment blew the pesticide into a nearby canola field where bees
The EPA is "reasonably confident" that a bee kill similar to
Germany's wouldn't happen in the United States because use is
restricted to commercial applicators who use stickier coatings,
according to Kemery.
But because the stickier coatings aren't required, Kemery said, the
EPA will review its policies on seed-treatment labels.
In California, according to the 2006 Pesticide Use Report Summary,
about 3 pounds of clothianidin was used, all on corn. Other members of
the neonicotinoid class, registered for a longer period of time, have
been used more frequently, including 127,000 pounds on broccoli,
grapes, lettuce and oranges. Some pesticides were used in
"We've been monitoring the bee die-off situation for a couple of
years, and it's a complex puzzle that may also involve mites, viruses
and other factors," said Glenn Brank, communications director for
the state Department of Pesticide Regulation.
The agency is conducting its own review of environmental data from
registered neonicotinoid pesticides as well as watching enforcement
reports from counties for any unusual environmental incidents
involving bees, he said. None was noted, Brank said.
Scientists presenting at the American Chemical Society national
meeting Monday reported that dozens of pesticides had been found in
samples of adult bees, broods, pollen and wax collected from honeybee
colonies suspected to have died from symptoms of colony collapse
disorder, including some neonicotinoids.
Entomologist Gabriela Chavarria, director of Natural Resources Defense
Council's Science Center, said over the years bees have had to
withstand devastating problems.
Bees pick up deadly farm and home chemicals when they visit flowers,
or encounter chemical drift from aerial and other applications.
Fifteen years ago, queen bees imported from China brought varroa mites
that attacked broods of worker bees. Microscopic tracheal mites invade
And now the new pesticide, clothianidin, is another problem, Chavarria
said. Scientists must find out whether the toxicity has been
sufficiently studied, she said.
"We want this information now. We cannot continue to wait. Bees
are disappearing. Our whole existence depends on them because we eat.
The flowers need to be pollinated, and the only ones to do it are the
Honeybees, which pollinate everything from almonds to apples to
avocados, began abandoning their colonies in 2006, destroying about a
third of their hives.
Since then, their numbers have not improved. A survey of beekeepers in
the fall and winter 2007 by the Bee Research Lab and the Apiary
Inspectors of America showed that beekeepers lost about 35 percent of
their hives compared with 31 percent in 2006.
Scientists have not pinpointed the cause.
In 2007, Congress recognized colony collapse disorder as a threat and
gave the U.S. Department of Agriculture emergency funds to study
honeybee disappearances. In addition, the 2008 Farm Bill grants the
USDA $20 million each year to support bee research and related work.
And earlier this year, ice cream maker Haagen-Dazs, who relies on
honeybees for 40 percent of its flavors, awarded a $250,000 research
grant to UC Davis and Pennsylvania State University to research
-- The Environmental Protection Agency: links.sfgate.com/ZEOF
-- U.S. EPA fact sheet on the pesticide clothianidin:
-- The Natural Resources Defense Council: