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Pollinators and Pesticides - A look at modern Neurotoxins

Pesticides and Pollinators - A look at Modern Neurotoxins (ppt file)- Slide presentation by Gary Rondeau prepared for 2014 SAVE the BEES event.  ppt file has comment for many slides that will aid in understanding the presentation.  PDF version does not have comments.

New Publication on Preventing Pesticide Poisonings in Bees

October 25, 2013

In the wake of the pesticide poisoning of 50,000 bumblebees, The Pacific Northwest Extension Service has just published a revised edition of a pamphlet with information on protecting honeybees and wild bees from pesticide poisonings.

As we see from the excerpt below, there are a number of other ways bees can be poisoned by pesticides besides the obvious way of ingesting pesticides recently applied to blooms they pollinate.

The prevention of poisonings entails alertness, knowledge and care not only on the part of agricultural growers, but on the part of  lawn care professionals and home gardeners.

My personal favorite (as you might guess!) on the list of ways growers can protect the bees essential to their crops is “Consider alternatives to pesticides.”

Below is some material from this publication:

Causes of Bee Poisoning in Pacific Northwest and California

Highly toxic insecticides with residual toxicity longer than 8 hours are responsible for most bee poisoning incidents reported on the West Coast, primarily those in the following chemical families:

■■Organophosphates (such as acephate, azinphosmethyl, chlorpyrifos, diazinon, dimethoate, malathion, and methamidophos)

■■N-methyl carbamates (such as carbaryl (or Sevin)

■■Neonicotinoids (such as clothianidin, imidacloprid, and thiamethoxam)

■■Pyrethroids (such as deltamethrin, cyfluthrin and Lambda-cyhalothrin).

Most bee poisoning incidents occur when:

■■Insecticides are applied when bees are foraging

■■Insecticides are applied to bee-pollinated crops  during bloom

■■Insecticides are applied to blooming weeds in  orchards or field margins

■■Insecticides drift onto blooming plants adjacent  to the target crop

■■Bees collect insecticide-contaminated pollen (such as corn), nectar (such as cotton or  mint), or other materials from treated crops that do not  require bee pollination

■■Bees collect insecticide-contaminated nectar from plants treated with systemic pesticides

■■Bees collect insecticide-contaminated nesting  materials, such as leaf pieces collected by  alfalfa  leafcutting bees

■■Bees collect insecticide-contaminated water (from drip tape or chemigation, for example)

■■Beekeepers and growers do not adequately  communicate

Pesticide poisoning isn’t always obvious

Delayed and chronic effects, such as poor brood development, are difficult to link to  specific agrochemicals, but are possible when stored pollen, nectar, or wax comb become contaminated with pesticides. Severely weakened or queenless colonies may not survive  the winter.

Beekeepers may request a laboratory analysis of dead bees to determine if pesticides were responsible for an incident. State agriculture departments in Oregon, Washington, and Idaho, and the pesticide regulation department in California, investigate suspected bee poisoning incidents (see original document for contact information).

Thanks to all of you who are helping care for our pollinators with your personal choices!

Neonics in supposedly “bee-friendly” plants in big box stores

August 26, 2013

A recent study found that half the plants in big box stories such as Lowe’s and Home Depot contained “neonics”

Though they are sometimes sold that way, these are not “bee-friendly” products– especially when the highly bee-toxic pesticide application is systemic and persistent– which means that the neonics disperse throughout the plant and persist there.

We need our retailers to follow the example of those in the UK that stopped selling neonics and plants containing them.

Meanwhile, as a consumer, the only way to be sure you are buying plants that are feeding rather than poisoning bees is to buy organic plant starts.

Thanks for helping to protect our pollinators by avoiding neonic saturated flowering plants!

Fungicides and Colony Collapse Disorder

August 21, 2013

Research from the US Department of Agriculture and the University of Maryland indicates that bees collecting pollen exposed to common fungicides are three times more susceptible to nosema infections, which are implicated in Colony Collapse Disorder.

Recent wet weather in the midwest US has bolstered the use of fungicides– but they are commonly used in many climates like ours in Eugene, Oregon.  Current testing by citizen volunteers in cooperation with Oregon Department of Environmental Quality has found levels of fungicide presence in the Amazon Creek in outlfows from the southeast Eugene residential neighborhood as high as those from industrial areas.

We cannot afford to keep our ornamentals pretty at the cost of killing off our pollinators!

As the list of research-substantiated honeybee hazards in pesticides grows in the wake of record pollinator declines globally, we need alternatives not only in agriculture but in lawn and garden  care, as developed by the organic lawncare initiative for professional landscapers and homeowners.

And here is the link to the Northwest Alternatives to Pesticides’ fact sheet for  “Pesticide-Free Techniques for Managing Common Rose Diseases”— which focuses on avoiding fungus problems.

Fibronil banned in EU to protect bees

July 17, 2013

The destructive effects of nerve toxin fibronil on honeybees has caused it to be banned in the European Union along with the “neonics”.

US Environmental Protection Agency, are you paying attention?

Here is another one our local home and garden stores should attend to.

Less Dramatic Bee Kills Just as Bad

June 23, 2013

A few days ago, 50,000 bumblebees were poisoned by pesticides applied to linden trees outside a Target store in Wilsonville, effectively wiping out hundreds of bumblebee colonies. The Oregon Department of Agriculture determined that Safari, a neonicotinoid insecticide containing dinotefuran, was responsible for the poisoning. Application of pesticides to blooming plants visited by bees is contrary to product labeling, and hence an illegal activity. This incident exemplifies the problems that honeybees and native pollinators face in the age of neonicotinoid insecticides. In this case, the trees were sprayed on a Saturday and bees were still dying almost a week later. Neonicotinoids are designed to trans-locate into plant tissue and cause the plant itself to become toxic. Frequently these pesticides are applied as tree injections or applied in the soil so that tree will take up the toxin from its roots. These methods also kill bees just as dead, but without the drama of them dropping out of the branches into a parking lot. Instead they fly back home and spread the toxin to others in the colony before succumbing to its effects, dying without notice. When professional pesticide applicators don’t obey label instructions they should be prosecuted. The rest of us should not be able to buy these extraordinarily toxic compounds at retail outlets. Increasing popularity of neonicotinoid insecticides for home and ornamental use is making our urban areas unfit habitat for honeybees and native pollinators, where once they had a refuge from the chemicals in agricultural areas.

Honey in the making: a photo essay

June 8, 2013

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Bees are working everywhere.  Please don’t spray!  Especially when a plant is blooming. And don’t use insidious granules or injections of “neonics” on trees that will continue to poison pollinators for years. 

Did you know spraying a blooming honey plant is also against the law?  Help protect the pollinators that are necessary to the majority of human food crops– not to mention the health of our ecosystems.

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Bee covered in dandelion pollen

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         Bee busy on butterfly lavender: they love regular lavender too

bee on bluebell

Bee sipping nectar from a bluebell: note the pollen packet on her leg.


Continuing a partnership began over a hundred million years ago

Bees on mountain blue

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Bee sipping from an English ivy bloom: photo taken in November when other nectar crops are sparse

bee on the way to pollinate clematis


Bee heading for a clematis flower and working it



Bees on mint blooms: one of their favorites

native bee posing for the camera?

stuffing pollen baskete

             bee on fennel                                     

Fennel is another favorite

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Bee on rosemary: herb nectar helps keeps bees healthy

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Love that rosemary!



Bee on boxwood:  bees work tiny closed buds to get them to open.  Bees will encourage blossoms of other plants to bloom in the same way.




When the blackberry bloom is on in May and early June, the honey flow is abundant.

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Lunara blooms in early spring to bring in the bees

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And bees don’t forget the forget-me-nots

These photos represent only a very small portion of the diversity of honey plants utilized by bees. For instance, there are our fruit and nut trees.   I didn’t get any pictures of bees working twenty or thirty feet in the air, but my burgeoning backyard fruit crop indicates their presence. There are also our ornamentals:  such as linden, locust, maple and poplar utliized for nectar, pollen, and propolis (the bee “antibiotic”).  They will also work single-petaled roses such as Nootka and Darwin’s Enigma and join native pollinators on mock orange and ceanothus.  Bees could compose their own plant encyclopedia– likely far more extensive than the ones humans put together!

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We can’t say it too often!  Don’t poison bees that do so much for us–and don’t poison other wildlife, pets and children along with them!

These photos are protected by copyright (Madronna Holden 2013).  But feel free to link here or to use these photos with credit in any way that supports our pollinator populations.

Will Jerry’s Stop Selling Neonics? With your Help!

June 6, 2013

Our group has bee attempting to get retailers in our community to stop selling the worst neonicotinoid insecticides.  Probably the largest retailer of these products in Lane county is Jerry’s Home Improvement Centers, with two large and popular stores in Eugene and Springfield.  Our estimates, from observed store traffic, number of retailers in the county, and shelf-space devoted to the chemicals is that Jerry’s is responsible for at least a third of these chemicals sold in the Eugene-Springfield area.

Jerry’s is a local, employee-owned company, so we felt that they could be approached and would be responsive to an issue which effects their customers, employees, friends and neighbors.  Philip, in our group, established a convivial relationship with the Jerry’s garden center manger, Jeffery Choat, and we were eventually given VP of operations Scott Lindstrom as our point contact at Jerry’s for this issue.

Below you can see the e-mail dialog that we had with Jerry’s about this issue.  Unfortunately, The Jerry’s management decided not to take any constructive action, despite our efforts to find common ground.  It has been several months now, with no movement from Jerry’s.  However the world has become even more aware of the problem and people everywhere are voicing their concern.  In May the European Union instituted a ban on products we would like to see Jerry’s stop selling for all of Europe.  Locally, the word is getting out that these chemicals are a problem.  Last week’s march against Monsanto had a large contingent of beekeepers and concerned citizens demonstrating against the use of neonicotinoid insecticides.

Our online petition is close to the 500 signature mark, and we have gathered hundreds more signatures the old fashioned way.  With such strong community support we expect that local companies will soon not be able to ignore their customers and will have to listen to us.  Thanks to all that have signed our petition, and stay tuned for the fun to come.  We need everyone to help stop the tide of chemicals flowing into the community from local retailers, poisoning all manner of beneficial insects and bees.

What follows is the e-mail dialog with links to the materials we presented to Jerry’s.


Dear Mr. Rondeau,

I am writing in response to your concerns related to neonicotinoid.  I am your contact and will look into this matter. Please forward me any credible information from reliable sources including EPA, university or independent studies confirming your concerns.  Our company has made no decision with respect to these chemicals at this time, but look forward to receiving valid scientific data on the issue. 

I have gone to your web site and noticed you have taken a photo of our store.  I am asking you respectfully to remove our name (as shown on the pricing labels) down from your web site.  With three major retailers in our area selling these exact chemicals (Home Depot, Lowe’s, Wal-Mart), and two large regional chains(Bi Mart and Fred Meyer) selling these exact chemicals in our geographic area,  I feel you are unjustly targeting us. 

Scott Lindstrom
VP Operations
Jerry’s Home Improvement


Hi Scott,

Sorry you don’t appreciate my photo 🙂  I was careful NOT to single out Jerry’s when I identified it as a “local garden center” because it is not just you, as you point out.  If I go though the trouble of blocking out your name on all of the price labels, it will probably just draw attention to where the picture was taken by those curious to know.  But if you wish, I will do so.

In the mean time let me start to send you a rather large compendium of scientific and policy papers on this issue.  The scientific papers are from various journels published over the last decade or so. The policy statements are mostly involving the European process now taking place.  The EPA is behind in this.  I am also in touch with Oregon Dept. Agriculture people on this issue, and may have info from them as well.  The issue beekeepers are facing is that the EPA has been slow to react and the  devastation to honey bee colonies and native pollinator continues.  Hence, our emphasis is now to look to where the policy debate HAS been moving forward, Europe, and to try to use that example to influence both private companies, such as Jerry’s and our state officials.

A good place to start is:  December 2012, the European Parliament issued a report, Existing Scientific Evidence of the Effects of Neonicotinoid Pesticides on Bees also attached as a PDF.  This is a shorter summary of the much larger EFSA report.  It references many scientific papers.  I am still going over all of this material my self, but I can point to a couple of things that I find worthy of consideration.  Please look over section 6 of the above report.  The issue of how we even think about low doses of extremely toxic chemicals is addressed, especially regards scientific articles by Tennekes,  Attached is the one article I’ve had time to get to, but I found its implications profoundly troubling.

I also attached a paper that makes the connection between low levels of neonics and disease susceptibility.  This is just one example of many, but lets start here.  I can send you much more, but I would rather tailor the paper toward punch and not bulk.  I can’t read it all in one sitting either!

I look forward to your comments.

Best regards,


Existing Scientific Evidence of the Effects of Neonicotinoid Pesticides on Bees

Time-Dependent Toxicity of Neonicotinoids and Other Toxicants:
Implications for a New Approach to Risk Assessment

Pesticide exposure in honey bees results in increased
levels of the gut pathogen Nosema

Dear Mr. Rondeau,
Thank you for graying out our logo from the photo on your web site.  Our expert here at Jerry’s is in the process of reviewing the documents both you and Mr. Smith sent.  We have been in contact with the ODA, our contact at UC, Davis, and Oregon State University.  Once our research is complete, I will send you our conclusions and decision.
 Scott Lindstrom
 VP Operations
Jerry’s Home Improvement
Hi Scott,
I’d actually like to “make the case” in a more formal written form.  This will take me longer than I have right now, but I will be sending you a little more stuff in the near future.  We really appreciate your thoughtful consideration of this matter.Thanks,
Dear Scott,

I’ve run across a few materials that provide a more succinct view of pertainant information aimed for a non-expert audience.  The first item is a power point presentation by a graduate student in Dr. Vera Krischik’s lab at the University of Minnesota.  Dr. Krichik made headlines last year when she reported that residential application of insecticides frequently resulted that much higher levels of residual chemical in pollen and nectar than is acceptable, or occurs in agricultural crops where applicators are more knowledgeable and the chemical levels needed for specific crops are better codified. Unfortunately, Dr. Krischik’s work has not yet been published in journals.  The power point by one of her grad students, however, is good in that it includes a nice tabulation of levels of exposure that are problematic and some of the levels seen in pollen and nectar of treated plants.   It follows with the interesting experimental results with bumblebees.  This is a large file that failed to mail… please find it here:

Link to UM bumble bee PPT file

I also attach another article by Tennekes.  This is a review article that looks beyond just honeybees at the larger implications of these toxic chemicals.  He forcefully makes the case that the toxic effects of these chemicals extend beyond insects.

One problem I have had in attempting to better understand this issue is lack of good data on the amount of these chemicals actually being used, especially in homes, gardens and other suburban and urban applications (golf courses, parks, etc.)  The chemical manufacturer (Bayer most often in this case) has trade marked or named consumer products that they supply for a particular use.  For example, “Bayer Rose and Flower Care,” contains imidicloprid now, but has in always?  Was there a Bayer Rose care product before imidocloprid was introduce (1996)?  What is the sales pattern for these chemicals for residential uses over the years?
I’m wondering if you have sales information on these products you would be willing to share?  Obviously Jerry’s is just one outlet, but any information is better than none, when it comes to what is happening locally.
My own observation is that the problems with crashing bee colonies in the suburban/urban areas around here have gotten significantly worse in the last couple of years.  CCD hit the news in ~2006 for beekeepers with colonies placed on agricultural crops.  The last couple of years we have had more problems locally.  So one question I have is, when did this stuff really hit the market here?  Any answer – since you folks sell it?

Best regards,


Dear Mr. Rondeau,

Attached you will find our summary.  There is no clear cause of Colony Collapse Disorder (CCD).  Most of the research points to needing more research.

We believe we have a very pro environmental president with President Obama.  We feel if CCD is in fact linked to neonicotinoids, banning them would have the best chance under this administration. Banning them would even the playing field for all retailers selling this product.  We feel at this time we will continue selling this product until such time the EPA bans these chemicals.

Scott Lindstrom
VP Operations
Jerry’s Home Improvement


Jerry’s findings on Neonicotinoids

Dear Scott,

Needless to say, I’m disappointed by your decision.  The reason why our group approached Jerry’s with our request is that your company is locally owned and operated.  Your owners, employees and their friends and neighbors live with the chemicals you sell, so you have reason not to foul your own nest.  In this country we rely on the EPA to protect us from harmful chemicals and pesticides.  To a large extent they do a good job, but they are not infallible and are subject to pressure from a spectrum of special interests.  As your decision illustrates, it is much easier to do nothing than to rock the boat.  Human nature is to defend a bad decision to the end rather than change one’s mind.  The EPA and its leadership are in this position, making a rational assessment of the risks less likely.  With these insecticides already on the market, adding restrictions at this time is a much harder decision than was the permitting process in the first place.

The EU process illustrates what is required:  first, a careful look at the scientific evidence, and then the application of the precautionary principle.  As you point out in your survey of the current state of our knowledge, the issue of blame for the neonics is far from clear, and there is an almost universal call for more research to get to the bottom of the issue.  I think we agree on the facts.  The real question is whether to apply the precautionary principle or not.  This is where we have to look to our community values.  The EU tends to be more concerned about environmental effects than we do in the US.  For example GMO’s are much more severely restricted in the EU.  Our community is a little northwest of normal compared to the rest of the US.  We seem to enjoy “process” here, be it over highway projects or backyard chickens and bees.  We value our natural spaces, our forest lands, our gardens.  We are not wont to inadvertently destroy them with toxic chemicals and we are generally willing to apply the precautionary principle.  This really is the heart of our request, and is in keeping with our local community values.

I would like to stress that there is a spectrum of actions that Jerry’s could take short of removing all neonicotinoid insecticides from the shelves that would be helpful.  For example, just removing products containing imidacloprid would significantly reduce the worst toxic substance the bees are exposed to in our community.   Recognizing the difference in toxicity between imidacloprid and acetamiprid is reasonable, and would allow keeping quite a number of Ortho products on the shelf and provide customers who feel they need chemicals with an effective insecticide while reducing the use of the more long-lived and more toxic imidacloprid.

Other actions Jerry’s could take that fall short of voluntarily removing the problematic chemicals would be just to not actively promote them.  Reduce shelf space devoted to the imidicloprid products.  Instruct staff about the alternatives and promote safer products.  Remove impulse-buy displays located in high-traffic store locations.  Compared to other big-box stores in the area Jerry’s devotes more display space to these chemicals than any other retailer.

Finally, help us to understand the problem better.  Jerry’s is one of the bigger retailers of these products in the area.  Sales history of products containing imidacloprid could help us understand how much recent bee colony losses in the urban community are related to insecticide use or NOT.

We are not asking Jerry’s to be the most environmentally friendly store in our community, but we certainly hope you won’t be among the worst.  Jerry’s business relies on good community relationships.  Many of us choose to shop at Jerry’s because we value our local employee-owned company over national big box chains.  The flip-side, however, is that Jerry’s needs to be attuned to our community values or there is little reason for our loyalty.

I certainly hope that there is still progress to be made on this issue, and would welcome a meeting in person if that would be helpful.

Best regards,


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