Groups sue EPA for approving insecticide despite threat to endangered species
By Kelly House
Conservationists who argue a newly approved insecticide is a known killer of bees and other pollinators plan to sue the federal government for letting it go to market.
The groups, including West Linn-based Defenders of Wildlife, the Center for Biological Diversity and the Center for Food Safety, notified the Environmental Protection Agency of their intent to sue over flupyradifurone, a compound manufactured by Bayer CropScience.
The plaintiffs allege EPA regulators disobeyed federal rules requiring them to consult with federal wildlife agencies before approving a substance known to kill endangered animals.
Flupyradifurone is part of a growing class of insecticides engineered to seep into a plant’s system, rather than simply coating the outside. These so-called systemic insecticides include neonicotinoids, chemicals that have been implicated for playing a role in mass bee die-offs in Oregon and other states.
The Oregon Department of Agriculture this month banned the use four types of neonicotinoids on linden trees after identifying the chemicals as culprits in a series of mass bee die-offs in recent months. An agency spokeswoman said ODA is looking to the federal government for further guidance on pesticide regulations.
The EPA announced its decision to approve flupyradifurone Jan. 21 with a press release promoting the chemical as “safer for bees.”
“Laboratory-based studies indicate that the compound is practically non-toxic to adult honeybees,” the release stated. “Studies show no adverse effect on overall bee colony performance.”
The plaintiffs disagree with that characterization. EPA researchers concluded the compound was safer for colonies because it kills individual bees on site, preventing them from carrying the chemical back to the hive where it could sicken other bees.
“Having the bees drop dead in the field rather than poisoning their whole hive is not something you want to write home about,” said Lori Ann Burd, a Portland-based environmental health director for the Center for Biological Diversity.
Plus, Burd said, the EPA’s statements about colony safety fail to account for the thousands of solitary bee species that don’t live in hives.
The label accompanying containers of flupyradifurone acknowledges the substance “may have effects on endangered species.” Plaintiffs say because of that, the agency was legally obligated to consult with federal wildlife agencies before approving the insecticide. It didn’t.
“EPA cannot absolve its responsibilities to comply with the Endangered Species Act merely by acknowledging the harm to endangered species that exposure to Flupyradifurone will cause,” the group told EPA administrator Gina McCarthy in a letter notifying her of their plans to sue.
The EPA has 60 days to respond, or the matter goes to court.