WASHINGTON, May 3, 2017—Center for Food Safety (CFS) today released Water Hazards 2.0: Continued Aquatic Contamination by Neonicotinoid Insecticides in the United States, an update to the 2015 report, “Water Hazard: Aquatic Contamination by Neonicotinoid Insecticides in the United States,” which shows continued widespread water contamination from neonicotinoid insecticides. Neonicotinoids are a class of insecticides known to have acute and chronic effects on honey bees and other pollinator species and are considered a major factor in overall bee population declines and poor health. In particular, the report draws attention to new research that shows a presence of these pesticides in water bodies across the country at levels known to be toxic to several aquatic invertebrates. The report also highlights a preliminary study that found detectable levels of neonicotinoids in 100% of tap water samples in Iowa. Neonicotiniod seed coatings, the largest use of these chemicals, are still not regulated by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).

“It is critical that regulators wake-up to the fact that harmful impacts from the rampant use of neonicotinoids extend well beyond bees and other pollinators. As this report update makes clear, the scientific evidence continues to mount, yet so far, the EPA has taken no mitigation measures to deal with this growing crisis in our environment,” said Larissa Walker, pollinator program director at Center for Food Safety.

In the time since the Water Hazard report was released, EPA published an aquatic risk assessment for the neonicotinoid chemical imidacloprid as part of its ongoing registration review of the neonicotinoid class. However, despite its findings indicating risk to aquatic environments at field realistic levels, the agency has refused to implement stronger regulations, restrict neonicotinoid uses, or enforce more comprehensive water quality monitoring. This is concerning as representative studies highlighted in this year’s follow-up report show that continued exposure to neonicotinoid chemicals may cause irreparable neural damage to species impacted, leading to rippling negative effects throughout the food web. In addition to harms to aquatic ecosystems and species, a 2017 study from the University of Iowa which finds neonicotinoids in drinking water, and in which the authors conclude “neonicotinoids are likely present in other drinking water systems across the United States,” draws attention to the large data gaps in safety testing and the potential risk to human health.

“It is unacceptable that EPA continues to ignore these known harms to aquatic environments from neonicotiniods. Other countries that have evaluated the same breadth of scientific literature have deemed these threats serious enough to warrant protective action. Most recently, Canada’s PMRA proposed a complete agricultural phase-out of imidacloprid, while EPA continues to drag its feet on any meaningful action,” said Madeleine Carnemark, pollinator program coordinator at Center for Food Safety, and co-author of the report.

In light of new science and EPA’s inaction in the face of continued contamination, the report makes numerous additional policy recommendations to EPA to stem this ongoing crisis, especially in relation to shortcomings in the agency’s Preliminary Aquatic Risk Assessment to Support the Registration Review of Imidacloprid:

  • EPA in the final risk assessment should more accurately portray the risk posed by seed-coatings.
  • EPA should formally update aquatic life benchmarks for the neonicotinoid imidacloprid and enforce routine water quality monitoring.
  • EPA’s final risk assessment should include a comprehensive examination of the threats from additive and synergistic effects of combined exposure to multiple pesticides.
  • EPA should fully determine the risk to fish, amphibian, and bird species, as well as complete a thorough analysis of potential threats to endangered species.
  • EPA needs to enact strong mitigation measures and restrict uses of imidacloprid and other neonicotinoid insecticides to prevent continued and potentially irreparable damages to vulnerable ecosystems.

Based on the wealth of independent, peer reviewed research highlighting the dangers of neonicotinoids, the EPA’s delay and failure to act is a threat to our aquatic ecosystems and by extension our water supply and the country’s long term environmental health and economic prosperity.


Neonicotinoid products are applied on more than 150 million acres of crop land annually, with seed coatings being the most common form of application. The runoff from these products flows, both above and below ground, far beyond the agricultural fields, gardens, trees, lawns, and other areas where they are first applied. This leads to unintended effects on non-target species across a vast array of wetlands and water bodies. Neonicotinoids are slow to break down and are water soluble, causing them to build up in the environment and transport easily far from the areas where they first applied, endangering a wide range of beneficial species. Peer-reviewed studies from Holland already show that neonicotinoid contamination correlates significantly with bird population declines and numerous other species are thought be at risk. There is also new science suggesting that sub-lethal exposure in agricultural landscapes is damaging to wild bees and could have long term repercussions on populations.

The cost-effectiveness of neonicotinoid seed coatings has been challenged in recent years, indicating that their frequent use pushed by chemical companies is unnecessary. The influential 2014 CFS report “Heavy Costs” revealed that neonicotinoid coatings typically offer little, if any, benefit to farmers as far as crop yields, and cause widespread environmental and economic damage. Other recent studies – including by EPA itself – have reinforced CFS’s report.

Center for Food Safety’s mission is to empower people, support farmers, and protect the earth from the harmful impacts of industrial agriculture. Through groundbreaking legal, scientific, and grassroots action, we protect and promote your right to safe food and the environment. www.centerforfoodsafety.org. Twitter: @CFSTrueFood