“If the bee disappeared off the face of the earth, man would only have four years left to live.”
– Maurice Maeterlinck, The Life of the Bee
Insecticides sprayed to kill mosquitoes in the southern United States have lead to millions of bees dying in the last few weeks.
Many beekeepers now fear for their livelihood.
The Reality Of Bees Dying
A beekeeper in Naples, Florida took the videos below on July 22 and 27, 2016, respectively. In the first, she was proud of how well her new hive was thriving and you can see the hundreds of little honey-makers flying around the opening. In the second, there is a pile of dead bees on the ground in front of the hive and flies hovering around it.
So what happened to her buzzing community?
On July 26, her municipality sprayed the area around her home with insecticide to kill mosquitoes and control the spread of the Zika virus. As an insecticide, the poison has been affecting much more than the mosquitoes.
Poison is Poison
A common chemical used to kill mosquitoes in the U.S. is Naled—a substance that has been banned in the European Union and elsewhere in the world. It makes sense that what’s toxic to one species will be toxic to others and naled is a prime example.
Just read this excerpt from a fact sheet on naled (a/k/a Bromex, Dibrom, Fly Killer-D, Lucanal, RE 4355) published by Cornell University:
“Naled is moderately to highly toxic by ingestion, inhalation and dermal adsorption. Vapors or fumes of naled are corrosive to the mucous membranes lining the mouth, throat and lungs, and inhalation may cause severe irritation…High environmental temperatures or exposure of naled to visible or UV light may enhance its toxicity…When inhaled, the first effects are usually respiratory and may include bloody or runny nose, coughing, chest discomfort, difficult or short breath, and wheezing due to constriction or excess fluid in the bronchial tubes. Skin contact with organophosphates may cause localized sweating and involuntary muscle contractions. Eye contact will cause pain, bleeding, tears, pupil constriction, and blurred vision. Following exposure by any route, other systemic effects may begin within a few minutes or be delayed for up to 12 hours. These may include pallor, nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, abdominal cramps, headache, dizziness, eye pain, blurred vision, constriction or dilation of the eye pupils, tears, salivation, sweating, and confusion. Severe poisoning will affect the central nervous system, producing incoordination, slurred speech, loss of reflexes, weakness, fatigue, involuntary muscle contractions, twitching, tremors of the tongue or eyelids, and eventually paralysis of the body extremities and the respiratory muscles. In severe cases there may also be involuntary defecation or urination, psychosis, irregular heart beats, unconsciousness, convulsions and coma. Death may be caused by respiratory failure or cardiac arrest. Some organophosphates may cause delayed symptoms beginning 1 to 4 weeks after an acute exposure which may or may not have produced more immediate symptoms…Naled may cause dermatitis (skin rashes) and skin sensitization (allergies). It is corrosive to the skin and eyes and may cause permanent damage.”
“Once in the bloodstream, naled may cross the placenta… Naled is readily absorbed into the bloodstream through all normal routes of exposure: skin, lungs and gut. Metabolism is in the liver. Accumulation may occur in the bones (of rats)…” (1)
The report also notes that naled is toxic to birds, aquatic animals, and “highly toxic to bees”.
The Environmental Protection Agency doesn’t see a problem with any of this.
The insecticide was sprayed by helicopters to attain long-range coverage. It fell on the mosquitoes, bees, children, and pets, too (2).
Florida has been using naled for many years. A study in 2004 found naled in urine samples of Florida residents but concluded that the amounts detected weren’t harmful (3). A 2003 study proved that naled is toxic to bees (4).
In an effort to combat the spread of the Zika virus in Puerto Rico, the Centers for Disease Prevention and Control shipped naled there in preparation for widespread aerial spraying until the governor of the Commonwealth learned of it and told them “No!” based on overwhelming opposition from his constituents.
Senior scientist Jennifer Sass with the Natural Resources Defense Council stated that naled is a neurotoxin and “among the class of the most toxic pesticides.” (5). The greatest risk is to pregnant women, as naled is known to impair neurological fetal development. Studies have shown links to autism, birth defects, and microcephaly (shrunken head syndrome)—the same results attributable to the Zika virus.
Let’s pause there.
Zika became worldwide news last year when reports from Brazil (where this year’s Olympic Games were held) began to come in regarding a rash of cases of microcephaly that were attributed to the virus. More recent information coming from Brazil suggests that it wasn’t this virus at all that caused the birth defect and calls into question the regions in Brazil in which most cases were found:
“Most of the women who gave birth to babies with microcephaly were poor and lived in small cities or on the outskirts of big cities. In addition, the outbreak occurred in a largely poverty-stricken agricultural area of Brazil that uses large amounts of banned pesticides. Environmental pollution and toxic pesticide exposure have been positively linked to a wide array of adverse health effects, including birth defects.” (6).
Brazilian scientists are now considering that the pesticides and other environmental and socio-economic factors are causing the increase in birth defects in that country. From a study published by the New England Complex Systems Institute this June:
“Brazil’s microcephaly epidemic continues to pose a mystery — if Zika is the culprit, why are there no similar epidemics in other countries also hit hard by the virus? In Brazil, the microcephaly rate soared with more than 1,500 confirmed cases. But in Colombia, a recent study of nearly 12,000 pregnant women infected with Zika found zero microcephaly cases. If Zika is to blame for microcephaly, where are the missing cases?” (7)
Ironically, “The bottom line is that drenching our homes and communities with harmful pesticides will not address Zika,” Ms. Sass said. Repeated use of naled causes mosquitoes to build up a tolerance for it, making it useless as a long-term mosquito solution, anyway.
And then there are the bees.
One could argue that without bees to pollinate the plants on Earth, all life here would cease.
No one likes mosquitoes. But we sure do like bees. Aerial spraying of toxic chemicals is not the answer to any problem. Instead, it causes sickness and death to anyone exposed to it.