Albany Times Union

State must pass toxic insecticid­es act to protect children

- By Philip J. Landrigan

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.

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