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Government Considers Soil Drenching of Pesticides in Boston

Bee-Killing Pesticide Should Only Be Trunk Injected in Fight Against Asian Longhorn Beetle


The SafeLawns Foundation has learned that the United States Department of Agriculture is considering drenching the pesticide known as imidacloprid — widely implicated in the phenomenon known as colony collapse disorder — across hundreds of acres of Greater Boston.

We strongly, emphatically, denounce this proposal and urge all concerned citizens, environmentalists and property owners to make their voices heard.

USDA forestry officials immediately called for a quarantine of the area around Faulkner Hospital in Jamaica Plain last July when an exotic invasive pest known as the Asian longhorn beetle was found in six maple trees on hospital grounds. Though the beetles have not been found elsewhere in the months since, officials believe proactivity is necessary. A public meeting for hospital abutters — including the world famous Arnold Arboretum — is scheduled for Thursday, April 28, at 7 p.m. at the Faulkner Hospital Auditorium.

Imidacloprid, a synthetic nicotine, is known to kill the beetles that are massively destructive to many species of hardwoods. The pesticide, however, has been banned in several nations due to its toxicity to bees.

We do believe that use of imidacloprid may be necessary to combat the Asian longhorn beetle, but only when injected into the trunk of the tree where the pesticide is largely contained within the tree. Soil drenching should be avoided wherever flowering plants are growing that are pollinated by bees or other insects, as these plants may also absorb the insecticide.

“Honey bees and other insects can be affected when systemic insecticides are translocated to nectar and pollen. Imidacloprid is fatal to honey bees when it reaches high enough concentrations, and can have harmful sublethal effects at lower concentrations,” says a statement by three leading university officials, including Jeffrey Hahn, Assistant Extension Entomologist, Department of Entomology, University of Minnesota; Daniel A. Herms, Professor, Department of Entomology, Ohio Agricultural Research and Development Center, The Ohio State University; Deborah G. McCullough, Professor, Department of Entomology and Department of Forestry, Michigan State University.

Another fact sheet, produced recently by the University of Minnesota, said the leaching potential for imidacloprid is “high” and that the chemical is “highly toxic to aquatic invertebrates and pollinators.” That same fact sheet, still in its draft phase, pointed to the impracticality of soil applications of pesticides due to the excessive amount of product needed to treat a meaningful number of trees in a heavily wooded area.


This same issue first reared its head in Massachusetts in the late summer of 2009 in the aftermath of a massive infestation of the Asian longhorn beetle in Worcester, Mass. Tens of thousands of infected trees were removed and tens of thousands more were taken for precautionary measures. The result, depicted in the documentary film Bugged, left entire neighborhoods barren.

USDA officials planned to drench several square miles with imidacloprid back then, but swift action by the SafeLawns Foundation, along with the Toxics Action Center and the Pesticide Action Network of North America brought attention to the issue and plans for the soil drenching were shelved.

Below is a copy of the letter delivered to the USDA in September of 2009; a similar letter will be drafted to the USDA and Boston city officials in the coming week. Additional information about next Friday’s meeting at Faulkner Hospital will be forthcoming.

As a concerned citizens and keen observers of local, regional and national issues of significance to human, animal and environmental health, we hereby denounce the proposed application of imidacloprid to widespread areas of soil in and around Worcester, Massachusetts.

While we understand the Asian longhorn beetle (ALB) is a devastating invasive insect whose spread must be stopped — and we further understand that imidacloprid is currently the only known viable control for ALB — we believe direct soil applications of imidacloprid presents the vast potential for too many unintended consequences. Among imidacloprid’s known deleterious impacts are known to be:
` a) Toxicity to birds, fish, crustaceans, earthworms and most especially honeybees, which are essential for the pollination of vast amounts of the world’s food;
b) Potential for migration into water. Imidacloprid can persist in soil for 26.5 to 229 days in soil and has been detected in both ground and surface water in New York. California put imidacloprid on its groundwater protection list due to its potential to contaminate groundwater;
c) Potential impacts to humans. Imidacloprid has been linked in animal studies to reproductive, mutagenic and neurotoxic effects.
d) Several nations, including France and Germany, have banned soil-based applications of imidacloprid due to its aforementioned toxicity issues.

In addition to health and environmental impacts, we are also concerned about the efficacy of soil-based usage of imidacloprid against ALB. Existing data does not support the proposed soil drenching and we must demand that, if imidacloprid is to be used, it must be injected into directly into trees. The following points must be considered:
a) Data and experience in New York, Illinois and elsewhere proves definitively that tree injection of imidacloprid can halt the spread of ALB;
b) Direct tree injection reduces the amount of active ingredient used and vastly reduces the amount of imidacloprid exposure into the environment;
c) Greater initial cost of tree injection of imidacloprid is offset by reduced need for re-application, as is typically needed in soil-based applications;
d) Varying grades of imidacloprid exist in the marketplace and the proposed product in the Worcester applications has proven to be ineffective at legally accepted rates.
e) No data exists to support increasing the amount of the imidacloprid by three times the current legal limit (as is the case in the Worcester application).

In summary, imidacloprid is a known toxin with numerous potential side effects. When it is determined to be the only effective control against an insect such as ALB, the pesticide must be under the most strict adherence to the precautionary principle. In this case, that means employing direct tree injection techniques vs. soil injection.

Pesticide Action Network North America
Toxics Action Network
The SafeLawns Foundation

About The Author

Paul Tukey

An international leader of the green movement, Mr. Tukey is a journalist, author, filmmaker, TV host, activist and award-winning public speaker, who is widely recognized as North America's leading advocate for landscape sustainability and toxic pesticide reduction strategies.

Number of Entries : 1023
  • Scottie Ash Seed

    Danger comes from improperly applying too much drench. Tree-age trunk injections are the best utilizing Emamectin Benzoate first used against river farm fish lice. Poor homeowners which cannot afford hiring an Arborist to inject are then forced by municipality to have dead tree removed. Forest service already uses Imidacloprid drench against Woolly Algid. Either way our Elm-Ash-Cottonwood ecosystem’s “Keystone” species is becoming extinct since glutinous borers kill off young trees before reaching seeding age. 44 Arthropods utilizing ash will also become extinct, except for ones that survive tree treatment. Big issue that will only get bigger while Canada now approves Tree-age.

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