Protecting Vermonters from Harmful Pesticides
Each year hundreds of thousands of pounds of different pesticides are used in Vermont. While some pesticides have shown minimal impacts on public health, others are extremely toxic and need further regulation. Over the years we have worked on a variety of pesticide issues to protect both human health and our natural environment.
Some key pesticides we focus on include:
Chlorpyrifos is primarily used to control foliage and soil-borne insect pests and has been widely utilized throughout the United States since 1965. Chlorpyrifos is used for many different purposes. Apart from use on food crops, Chlorpyrifos is also sprayed on golf courses and turfs, in green houses, and on wood treatments such as utility poles and fence posts. Some areas of the United States spray it as a mosquito repellent and, more concerning, use it in child safe packaging to prevent insect infestation.
In 2015, the Obama administration announced it would ban chlorpyrifos due to growing concern and evidence around its impact on human health. The pesticide chlorpyrifos can overstimulate the nervous system, causing nausea, dizziness, confusion, and in extreme cases respiratory paralysis and death. Children are at the highest risk from exposure to chlorpyrifos. The EPA’s 2016 Health Risk Assessment for the pesticide liked its exposure to neurodevelopmental effects in fetuses and children.
Additionally, Columbia University published a study in 2012 linking prenatal exposure to chlorpyrifos to alterations in children’s brain structure and cognition. Results showed that even low levels of exposure during pregnancy may lead to long-term, potentially irreversible changes in the brain structure of the child. Despite all of these health concerns, in 2017 the Trump Administration rolled back the Obama era EPA ban on chlorpyrifos.
Apart from toxicity to human health, chlorpyrifos is also destructive to the environment. It attaches easily to soil particles, and studies have shown it may take years to break down. This soil can then contaminate water sources as well. This pesticide has also been proven to cause harm to various bird species. We are working hard to pass a legislative ban on chlorpyrifos in the state this year.
Neonicotinoid insecticides have a wide range of uses. In terms of agriculture, they can be applied to foliage and soil, but are most often used to treat seeds. Due to this, these insecticides can often be found in the pollen or nectar of plants and often drift to neighboring plants and grass, regardless of how they are initially applied. Neonicotinoids can also be found in neighboring waterways, wetlands, and remain in soil for long periods of time, sometimes causing irreparable environmental contamination.
Numerous studies have shown that these pesticides are extremely toxic to bees upon exposure. Their effects on bees include, but are not limited to:
- Impaired locomotion and foraging
- Increased mortality rates
- Decreased immunity
- Impaired feeding
- Decreased nest construction
- Decreased brood production
Both bumble bees and honey bees have the critical function of pollinating plants. In fact, the majority of plant species rely on pollinators for reproduction. Some plants require these bees in order to flower, which means a decline of bees greatly threatens our biodiversity. A decline of bee populations, as well as biodiversity, has a wide range of repercussions that we should not take lightly.
When bee populations decline, it has dramatic and often immediate effects on various industries as plants serve very wide ranging purposes. In terms of agriculture, bees are crucial not only for crops themselves, but also as a means to pollinate alfalfa and other sources of animal feed – which is particularly important for the dairy industry. The decline of plants threatens our food supply, certain medicines, air quality, animal habitats, various recreational activities, and a variety of other sectors in the state.
Apart from their effects on bees, neonicotinoids have been shown to have adverse effects on both vertebrates and invertebrates. Direct application, as well as the drift associated with neonicotinoid-contaminated pollen pose threats to animal and human health. These chemicals continue to be found in higher volumes in various sources of drinking water, as well as in habitable areas where they were not intended to be applied. Exposure to these chemicals has been associated with memory loss and other neurological abnormalities in humans.
In 2019 we successfully advocated to make neonicotinoids classified as a restricted use pesticide so that those who are not trained and certified applicators would not be able to use these products.
Unfortunately, many seeds are treated with these chemicals prior to being planted. We are advocating to ban the use of these treated seeds in Vermont in the future.