Albany Times Union
State must pass toxic insecticides act to protect children
The state Legislature has a once-in-a generation opportunity to protect the developing brains of New York’s children while, at the same time, safeguarding our environment by passing the Birds and Bees Protection Act. It is landmark legislation that will restrict unnecessary uses of a highly toxic class of insecticides — the neonicotinoids.
The neonicotinoids are the world’s most widely used insecticides. They are a class of synthetic chemicals engineered to target the brain and nervous system. They include acetamiprid, clothianidin, dinotefuran, imidacloprid, thiacloprid, and thiamethoxam.
Neonicotinoids kill pests by binding to cellular structures in the brain and nervous system — nicotinic acetylcholine receptors — causing seizures, paralysis, and death.
The problem is that many species besides insect pests have these receptors too, including bees, birds, fish, and people. The danger is greatest for small creatures such as insects, birds, and human infants, because per pound of body weight they have the highest exposures.
In bees and other pollinators, neonicotinoids cause brain damage and disorientation and are implicated in the sudden collapse of honey bee and native bee populations across the globe. Neonicotinoids have also proven to be prodigious water contaminants, driving losses of birds and fish, as well as birth defects in white-tailed deer. In our own bodies, monitoring by the Centers for Disease Control
and Prevention finds neonicotinoids in half the U.S. pop
ulation, raising the question: What impact does this widespread pollution have on us?
In adult humans, studies show that high-dose exposures to neonicotinoids cause convulsions, cardiac arrhythmias, and sudden death. Infants exposed in the womb are at increased risk of birth defects of the brain and heart. In children, they linked are to memory loss, tremor, and increased risk for autism spectrum disorder.
The multinational chemical companies that manufacture neonicotinoids claim that none of these studies is definitive. They argue that there is not enough evidence to justify any restrictions on neonicotinoid use. They say that these chemicals should stay on the market until there is much more research.
Gov. Kathy Hochul and the Legislature are thus faced with a hard choice. Should they listen to the self-serving and well-financed claims of the pesticide industry and allow a generation of New York’s children to be damaged by neonicotinoids while we wait for more research? Or should they act on the evidence we have in hand and restrict unnecessary uses of these dangerously neurotoxic chemicals now?
I have spent much of my life as a pediatrician working to protect children against lead – another chemical that causes permanent injury to children’s brains. In the 1970s, when I began this work, the only symptoms of childhood lead poisoning we recognized were coma, convulsions, and death — the symptoms of acute, high-dose poisoning. The lead industry proclaimed loudly that lead caused no harm to children at lower levels of exposure and that there was no such thing as silent lead poisoning.
After decades of research, we know better. We understand that lead and all other neurotoxic chemicals cause brain damage at even the very lowest levels of exposure — reducing children’s intelligence, lowering IQ, shortening attention span, and disrupting behavior. The problem is that while we waited for this evidence and deferred preventive action, lead remained on the market. Millions of children were needlessly exposed to lead in that time and suffered permanent damage. We cannot allow that sorry history to repeat itself.
As a pediatrician, parent, and grandparent, I urge the Legislature to pass the Birds and Bees Protection Act in the upcoming 2022 legislative session. New Yorkers can make their voices heard at the Assembly Environmental Conservation Committee’s public hearing on the bill on Sept. 20 in Albany.
This legislation is not just about the birds and the bees. It’s about protecting our children.