Neonics - Pervasive and Deadly

by Karen King, Pollinator Pathway NW volunteer

Neonicotinoids (neonics) are a class of synthetic insecticides that were first marketed in 1994.  These pesticides are found in hundreds of products including insect sprays, seed treatments, soil drenches, tree injections, and veterinary ointments to control fleas in dogs and cats. The adoption of neonics by the agricultural industry was so rapid and pervasive that neonics are now the most widely applied pesticides.
Neonics are water soluble; plants absorb neonics through their vascular systems into every root, shoot, leaf and flower. Neonics are even present in pollen and nectar. This method of absorption protects the plants against insects, but allows neonics into nearby plants, water systems and soil. Pollinators are devastatingly affected, as are beneficial insects, and aquatic invertebrates.
Around the world, bees and other pollinators are dying off in droves. Neonics have the potential to affect entire food chains. The long-term impact to ecosystem health and food security is ominous. Once in the soil, neonics remain active for years, and rain or irrigation water can easily carry them long distances to contaminate new soil, plant life, and water supplies. These results have huge implications for bird migration, as depleted fat reserves and delayed or altered routes may result in missed breeding opportunities and death. This means that neonics are harming the diverse wildlife that pollinate our crops and control our pests for free.
Neonics also affect human health. The Center for Disease Control states that about half the U.S. population is exposed to at least one type of neonic on a regular basis, the greatest exposure is to children 3 to 5 years old.
Extensive information on neonicotinoids is available on the following websites, as well as many others.  
  • Xerces Society,  Understand Neonics, various articles
  • USDA Natural Resources Defense Council, Neonicotinoids 101, The Effects on Humans and Bees, May 25, 2022
  • American Bird Conservancy, Neonics and Birds, 2013