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EPA blocks pesticides harmful to bees

Beekeepers in the U.S. and elsewhere reported an increase in honeybee deaths over the past year, possibly the result of erratic weather patterns brought on by a changing climate.

The Environmental Protection Agency is pulling from the market a dozen products containing pesticides known to be toxic to a linchpin of the U.S. food system -- the honeybee.

The agency announced Monday, May 20, it has canceled the registrations of 12 pest-killing products with compounds belonging to a class of chemicals known as neonicotinoids, as part of a legal settlement.

For years, beekeepers and wildlife conversationalists alike have voiced concern that the widespread use of neonics, as the chemicals are commonly called, is imperiling wild and domesticated bees crucial to pollinating commercial fruit, nut and vegetable crops.

The Trump administration's action was welcome news to some environmentalists. "Certainly we have a ways to go," said George Kimbrell, legal director at the nonprofit advocacy group Center for Food Safety, whose lawsuit prompted the EPA's action. "But it's an important first step in acknowledging the harm they cause."

The EPA has pulled other neonics from market before, agency spokesman John Konkus said in an email. But close observers of the agency say such actions are rare.

"For the EPA to pull a previously registered pesticide is a pretty major step," said Mark Winston, a professor of apiculture and social insects at Simon Fraser University in Vancouver, B.C. "It's not something they do very often."

The decision follows five years of litigation in which the beekeepers and environmentalists pressed the agency to mount a response to the use of neonics as regulators in Europe and Canada have taken steps toward banning the chemicals.

Finally, at the end of 2018, three agribusinesses -- Bayer, Syngenta and Valent -- agreed to let the EPA pull from shelves the 12 pesticide products used by growers ranging from large-scale agricultural businesses to home gardeners. The legal settlement also compels the EPA to analyze the impacts of the entire neonic class on endangered species.

This article was written by Dino Grandoni, a reporter for The Washington Post.

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