Pesticides Widespread In Great Lakes Streams

Jan 30, 2018

USGS scientist collecting a water-quality sample from Zollner Creek, Oregon for a national-scale investigation of the environmental occurrence of neonicotinoid insecticides in agricultural and urban settings.
Credit Hank Johnson, USGS

Pesticides thought to harm some kinds of bees are turning up in Great Lakes tributaries at unexpected times of the year. Neonicotinoids — or neonics for short — are used on crops, in gardens, and in pet flea medicine. 

A recent study by the U.S. Geological Survey found at least one such chemical in more than 70 percent of samples from Great Lakes streams. That could hurt aquatic insects — and the fish and birds that eat them.

Co-author Michelle Hladik of the USGS says these insecticides usually runoff of farms during spring and summer plantings. Their presence year-round could suggest urban areas are using more of these insecticides. But it’s more likely that the chemicals sprayed on farms aren’t breaking down as they should.

“That these insecticides continue to be mobilized from the field into these streams well after the harvest has taken place,” Hladik explained. 

Laura Campbell is with the Michigan Farm Bureau’s agricultural ecology department. She says unfortunately for farmers, there aren’t many good alternatives to neonics.

“They are promoted as some of the safer pesticides for use on the market that still have the effectiveness to maintain the safety and quality of our food supply,” she said. 

The Environmental Protection Agency plans to review the risks and benefits of neonicotinoid insecticides this year.