EPA restricts pesticide that could harm bees

The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) is restricting new products and uses of neonicotinoid pesticides that have been blamed for declines in bee populations.

The agency sent letters Thursday to companies that have applied to use neonicotinoids outdoors to say that it is not likely to issue new use permits until it has a better understanding of the threat the pesticides pose to young and developing bees.

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“EPA believes that until the data on pollinator health have been received and appropriate risk assessments completed, it is unlikely to be in a position to determine that such uses would avoid ‘unreasonable adverse effects on the environment,’ ” the agency wrote, quoting requirements under the law concerning pesticide regulation.

Scientists and environmentalists have said for years that neonicotinoids are linked to massive declines in bee populations, through harms to developing bees and interference with reproduction.

Dropped bee populations pose risks to agricultural operations that rely on them for pollinating and to birds.

A coalition of environmental and wildlife groups said Thursday that it supports the EPA’s action, but it needs to do much more.

“If EPA is unable to assess the safety of new uses, the agency similarly is not able to assess the safety of the close to 100 outdoor uses already approved,” Peter Jenkins, an attorney for the Center for Food Safety, said in a statement. “In view of its admissions, EPA has no option ... other than to suspend the existing uses, as well as follow through with its moratorium on the proposed new uses.”