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Insecticides found in about 30% of Long Island groundwater samples, report says

Certain insecticides commonly used for gardening are responsible

Certain insecticides commonly used for gardening are responsible for the deaths of bees in record numbers in New York State, according to a report released Tuesday. Credit: Getty Images / iStockphoto

One of the most common insecticides used for landscaping, lawn care and agriculture has been found in Long Island groundwater — and scientists don’t know whether the chemical is dangerous to humans, according to the Natural Resources Defense Council.

The insecticide is imidacloprid, one of the neonicotinoid chemicals that’s the subject of “Bigger than Bees: How Neonics Contaminate Water, Threaten Ecosystems, and Cause Human Health Concerns in New York,” a 15-page report released Tuesday by the council, a nonprofit environmental organization.

Some scientists have said that insecticide neonics, used for decades, have resulted in bees "dying in record numbers in New York State and around the globe,” according to the report. Neonics are “a leading culprit,” the report said.

“[A] new class of pesticides went from unknown to ubiquitous in a generation, contaminating New York’s soil and water on an unprecedented scale and hollowing out ecosystems from the bottom up,” the report said. “Today, neonics contaminate not only New York’s environment, but also New Yorkers themselves.”

Imidacloprid — sold at stores like Home Depot and Lowe’s as well as on Amazon — is a neonicotinoid, or neonic, which kills insects by destroying their nerve cells, according to the report. Upon exposure, the report said, poisoned insects will often twitch, then become paralyzed and die.

Imidacloprid is one of six neonic chemicals approved for outdoor use in the United States. The others are acetamiprid, clothianidin, dinotefuran, sulfoxaflor and thiamethoxam.

“While more testing needs to be conducted in New York, results suggest that the risk of contaminated drinking water may be highest on Long Island (where imidacloprid alone showed up in nearly a third of recent samples) and in areas that get their drinking water from surface water, such as New York City,” the report said.

Chris Tutino, a spokesman for thiamethoxam manufacturer Syngenta, said there have been more than 1,600 studies "to establish its safety” and noted that the pesticides are approved by the Environmental Protection Agency.

Testing of Long Island groundwater detected imidacloprid in about 30% of samples, “making it one of the most commonly detected pesticides on the island,” according to the report, by the council’s Daniel Raichel, an attorney, and Jennifer Sass, a chemicals policy expert with a PhD in anatomy and cell biology.

Asked whether the chemicals are harmful to humans, Raichel said: "It's really too early to say. It's sort of one big science experiment. We're all exposed.”

Bayer discovered imidacloprid in 1985 and still manufactures the chemical. Company spokeswoman Susan Luke said Wednesday in an email that Bayer hadn't seen the report until the company was contacted by Newsday and she would aim to respond soon, but she hadn't as of Friday afternoon.

The council wants New York State to consider curbing or banning neonics, empower regulators "to take swift protective action" for new pesticides if they’re discovered to be toxic and invest in "better agricultural practices."

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