Rep. Steve Englebright and State Senator Brad Hoylman’s New York Bird and Bee Protection Act (A7429/S699B) would build on recent momentum to curb harmful neon pesticides, including by the state Environmental Protection Agency. New Yorkers can TAKE ACTION by signing the petition HERE.
People are becoming familiar with neonicotinoids (AKA “neonics”) — the neurotoxic pesticides linked to mass losses in bees, birds, and fish; large water pollution; and increasing risks to human health. In June, Maine became the first state to ban harmful pesticides in residential areas. In January, New Jersey went a step further, banning nearly all nonagricultural outdoor uses (which are responsible for the vast majority of neon pollution in the largely urban/suburban state).
Now New York seems poised to take the next step with the Birds and Bees Protection Act (A7429/S699B) – a bill based on findings from a recent massive Cornell University report – that will eliminate 80-90% of neonates enter the New York environment each year by banning only those uses that bring little to no benefit to users or that can be easily replaced with safer alternatives. The bill passed the Senate last June and is gaining momentum following an Assembly hearing on neonics in September. The bill would also complement a recent move by the State Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC) to restrict some uses of neon to “protect public health and the environment.”
Today, a group of advocates from public health, agriculture and the environment descended on the electronic halls of the Capitol for a virtual lobbying day in support of the law and the urgent need to curb neon pesticide contamination.
Neonics: Bad news for bees, bad news for everyone
For those who have heard of neonics, this is likely due to their leading role in the massive loss of honey bees and wild bees, both of which are vital to food production. Recent research shows that many top crops – like apples, blueberries and cherries – are “pollinator limited,” meaning a lack of bees and other pollinators is already reducing yields. As neon pollution continues to fuel these losses, the situation is only going to get worse. In fact, last year was the second-worst on record for honey bee losses, both in New York and nationally.
The crucial role of bees in food production – responsible for one in three bites of our food – as well as in the health of the ecosystem would be reason enough to be concerned about neonics. If current trends continue, some of our most delicious and nutritious foods would become scarcer and much more expensive, hitting underserved communities hardest. But we also know now that the problems with neonics are much bigger.
Neonics are among the most insect toxic pesticides ever made. Designed to permeate plants – rendering their fruits, leaves, pollen, nectar, etc. poisonous – neonica are often literally painted onto plant seeds, which the growing plant is designed to suck up through its roots. Just one such corn seed usually has enough chemical agents to kill a quarter of a million bees. And only 2-5% of these make it into the target plant, while the other 95+% remain in the environment, where they easily migrate with rainwater and contaminate other soils, plants, and water supplies.
Widespread overuse of neonics has led to widespread, chronic pollution of large areas of our environment – declining bird and fish populations by wiping out their insect and invertebrate food sources. Eating a neon-treated seed can kill a small songbird, and even in non-lethal doses, neons impair the birds’ immune systems, fertility and navigation, and cause rapid weight loss—reducing their chances of surviving in the wild. The research also links levels of neon, commonly found in white-tailed deer in the wild, to birth defects and higher mortality rates in fawns.
This research — along with other animal studies, EPA reports of neon poisoning, and early human health studies — is increasingly worrying health experts. Earlier this month, more than three dozen New York health researchers, doctors and nurses sent a letter to Gov. Hochul and state legislators to limit the use of neonics to protect the health of New Yorkers, especially children.
Neonic pollution is no stranger to New York
In New York, evidence of massive neon contamination is emerging in the water and among New Yorkers themselves. Testing found neonics commonly in surface waters — as well as in a third of Long Island’s groundwater samples — at concentrations expected to cause “ecosystem-wide damage.” Monitoring by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention also found that on any given day, neonics or their breakdown products are in the bodies of about half of the US population.
New Yorkers may also be more likely to see neonics in their tap water than anywhere else. Activated carbon filtration can remove neons from water that traditional chlorine treatment doesn’t — a problem for the notoriously unfiltered water supplies of New York City and Syracuse, as well as others who don’t use the newer technology. Neonics are also commonly found in foods – including baby formula – which, because they penetrate foods, cannot be washed off.
Of course, New Yorkers can reduce their risk of exposure to neon by installing filtration systems on their faucet and only buying organic groceries. However, these options aren’t available to all New York families, especially those struggling to make ends meet.
The Birds and Bees Protection Act – a sensible, science-based solution for New York
Fortunately, New York now has an opportunity to lead in a smart and targeted way to significantly curb neon pollution, like the Cornell Report reported shows are also the least beneficial.
Specifically, it notes that neon-treated corn, soybean and wheat seeds — which account for about three-quarters of all neon use in New York’s agriculture and cover well over a million acres — pose “significant” risks to bees, but ” no total net income benefits farmers.” Neonic treatments of these seeds rarely benefit agricultural yields. But even if they do, the added cost of the pesticide on the seed negates the benefit.
Likewise, most nonagricultural uses of neonics — such as those banned in Maine and New Jersey — are generally best left unsubstituted, but even where insecticides might be safer, effective alternatives abound.
The Birds and Bees Protection Act bans both of these unnecessary and harmful uses, which account for 80-90% of all neon uses in New York, without banning other agricultural neon uses or treatments against invasive species. It also builds on DEC’s recent action to ban “over-the-counter” consumer neon products to protect bee and human health.
As neonic damage continues to mount up year after year, we will fight with our coalition partners to ensure New York takes the next step in neonic protection by passing this sensible and much-needed law. If you live in New York and would like to take action, please sign the online petition.