A new study proves the use of an unregulated crop spray ingredient is a honey bee killer. The journal paper published this week establishes a substantial connection between ag chemical usage and the bee problem. Naturally, the crop that inspired the study relies on managed hive pollination services from the majority of bees in the United States.
Worse still, this common agricultural product is used for many kinds of plant pesticide applications. It’s safe to apply to all crops and landscaping plants. At least one brand is registered for use in hundreds of countries. And it’s also been previously proven as toxic to beneficial insects, and causing decreases bees’ ability to forage in separate scientific studies.
Researchers at Pennsylvania State University investigated connections between bee loss and spring spraying in almond orchards coinciding with the arrival of managed honey bee colonies for pollination. Why? Because beekeepers participating in almond pollination all reported missing, dead, and dying broods in their hives. And unlike other states, California keeps detailed records of pesticide products used in agricultural applications.
The data reviewed showed that bee deaths, hive abandonment, and infectious disease spread correlated with spraying. Not the pesticides in use, but the spreader-sticker, technically known as the adjuvant or surfactant in the tank mix. The red flag came about because the amount used has been steadily increasing.
The abstract of their May 2016 paper on that review published in Frontiers in Public Health, had this say about the supposed safety of organosilicone surfactants:
“Based on the data for agrochemical applications to almonds from California Department of Pesticide Regulation, there has been increasing use of adjuvants, particularly organosilicone surfactants, during bloom when two-thirds of USA honey bee colonies are present. Increased tank mixing of these with ergosterol biosynthesis inhibitors and other fungicides and with insect growth regulator insecticides may be associated with recent USA honey bee declines. This database archives every application of a spray tank adjuvant with detail that is unprecedented globally. Organosilicone surfactants are good stand alone pesticides, toxic to bees, and are also present in drug and personal care products, particularly shampoos, and thus represent an important component of the chemical landscape to which pollinators and humans are exposed. This mini review is the first to possibly link spray adjuvant use with declining health of honey bee populations.”
NOTE: Did you catch the part about human exposure through drugs and personal care products?
Evidently, the common adjuvant used for spring fungicide application on California’s almonds is Sylgard 309, made by Dow. (Chemically equivalent to their OMRI Listed Xiameter surfactant.) It starred in lab testing based on data gathered this review.
So, the same team who studied the data set out to find out if the suspected rise in organosilicone surfactants correlate with the increase in loss. Testing confirmed it was a honey bee killer. Sylgard 309 in pollen caused healthy honey bee larvae to die of Black Queen Cell Virus, a common bee virus. But the effect of exposure proved further negative impact.
The study involved 4 groups of bees; a control group, and 3 sets of different contaminants. One group was exposed to Sylgard 309 alone, one just to the virus, and one to a Sylgard and virus combo. Which group do you think suffered the most loss? If you guessed the cocktail of virus and adjuvant – you are correct.
Sylgard 309 severely lowers the bees’ immunity levels. And when most of the managed hives in the US come together to pollinate the world’s almond supply, infectious disease exposure arrives with them. Virus contraction risk is big, but the addition of this potent surfactant in their food source doesn’t just make them far more susceptible… It enhances the damages of the virus in all life stages.
An earlier study published in the PLOS One journal in July 2012 found that organosilicone adjuvants in agricultural spraying impaired honey bees’ olefactory learning.
“A decrease in percent conditioned response after ingestion of organosilicone surfactants has been demonstrated here for the first time. Olfactory learning is important for foraging honey bees because it allows them to exploit the most productive floral resources in an area at any given time. Impairment of this learning ability may have serious implications for foraging efficiency at the colony level, as well as potentially many social interactions. Organosilicone spray adjuvants may therefore contribute greatly to ongoing global decline in honey bee health.”
While these studies on bees all focus on applications to California almond crops, it’s just the tip of the iceberg. Surfactant spreads active ingredients over leaf surfaces and improves adherence, and this class of adjuvants is used in applying all kinds of agricultural insecticides, fungicides, and herbicides. It works great for spraying food crops, lawns, ornamental plants, and weeds. Most of the above flowers, attracting bees and other pollinators. And organosilicone surfactants also improve the desired action, enhance systemic absorption, and greatly increases water resistance.
So, no matter what kind of plants bees are foraging, exposure to organosilicone spreader-stickers are very possible. And Sylgard 309 kills the natural predator of aphids, then its not surprising they confirmed it as a honey bee killer. One that significantly contributes to could very well be decimating other insect populations – like butterflies.
The EPA doesn’t regulate organosilicone surfactants. They consider them ‘biologically inactive’ and totally safe for widespread use – including a formulation approved for organic growing. The list of countries that Dow has literature for use of Sylgard 309 is massive. There are a few other similar products on the market too.
And then there’s that May 2016 reference to humans exposed to these surfactants in many medical and personal care products… Do you suppose they just tossed that bit into the abstract as filler? I think not.
“These widely used super surfactants readily move across membranes, become systemic in plants and animals, and can ultimately degrade to silica causing silicosis in sensitive tissues of exposed organisms.”
If it’s in the pollen, it’s in the honey too. And since we humans are living organisms, its unlikely its not affecting our immune systems as well. No one has ever studied that, just like there is no testing of a total pesticide or tank mix. Regulators are only concerned about the active ingredient, and even then, perhaps not as deeply as they should be.
- 2004 Science Direct: Sylgard 309 toxic to insects
- 2012 PLOS One: Learning Impairment Caused by Adjuvants
- 2016 Frontiers in Publich Health: Toxicological Risks… Organosilicone Surfactants
- 2017 Nature: Adjuvant Synergizes Viral Pathogenicity and Mortality
- Source: Eureka Alert