Yesterday, the North Carolina Pesticide Board, the authority on pesticide regulation in North Carolina, unanimously approved the creation of a task force to investigate the harmful effects of a class of systemic insecticides called neonicotinoids that have been implicated in pollinator decline and aquatic ecosystem disruption. This decision comes after a number of presentations, one from North Carolina Department of Environmental Quality’s Ambient Monitoring System Coordinator, Brian Pointer, who discussed the Random Ambient Monitoring System (RAMS) and explained that the state is not currently monitoring for neonicotinoid insecticides. The RAMS program currently selects 30 sites across the state then tests for pesticides on a bimonthly basis at these sites for two years for a total of 12 times. Mr. Pointer explained that currently NCDEQ does not have the funding that could enable them to purchase the equipment to test for this relatively new class of pesticides, so they are primarily testing for legacy pesticides that have been banned in the Unites States.
Another presentation was given by Elisa Lazzarino and Preston Peck, policy advocates from Toxic Free NC, who described the known research on recent pollinator declines and aquatic species disruption. According to the Bee Informed Partnership, a group that conducts a national survey on pollinator decline, beekeepers lost 44% of their bees during 2015. However, according to Ms. Lazzarino and Mr. Peck, these numbers may be underestimating the problem due to self-reporting and the cost for beekeepers to have their bees tested for pesticides exposure, which is $840. They also described a recent study by Morrissey et. al. that was published inEnvironmental International, which reviewed 214 toxicity tests for six different neonicotinoids and their impact on 49 species of aquatic invertebrates. This review showed that threshold levels set by the EPA for water contamination could be set too high given certain species sensitivity to these insecticides and their importance to aquatic ecosystems.
As Mr. Peck described, “North Carolina has a $30 million blue crab industry that depends on the stability of aquatic ecosystems. If we are not testing for these contaminants that have known effects on crucial species, including blue crab, then we have no idea what the impact could be on that industry or a number of others, including the state’s pollination services.”
The task force developed by the Pesticide Board will be made up of scientists that have contributed to the growing body of research on neonicotinoids. There will be nominations made by the Board members and non-profits, like Toxic Free NC, and other stakeholders. The Board will then review these nominations and vote on the members at their September meeting. This task force is one of a few, but growing number of groups, that have been commissioned by state regulators to thoroughly examine the impact of neonicotinoids on their respective state’s ecosystems.