- Thousands of birds are dropping dead in Florida, and
conservation groups are citing fenthion, a pesticide used to control mosquitoes,
as the cause.
- Millions of migratory birds that rely on habitat in Florida
as breeding or resting grounds are at risk, the groups claim.
- "As the Environmental Protection Agency reviews
its regulations for the fenthion, the American Bird Conservancy is fighting
for the cancellation of all fenthion uses in the U.S. except for public
health emergencies during disease outbreaks, " said Linda Farley,
a science officer for the organization's Pesticides and Birds Campaign.
- Most states have banned fenthion, but Florida continues
to spray 222,400 to 333,600 pounds of the pesticide over 2 million acres
- The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service recently reported
the mortality of 16 bird species to the EPA's Office of Prevention Pesticides
following a two-year study. Among the casualties are sanderlings, dunlin,
black skimmers and endangered piping plovers, all from areas in where fenthion
had been applied.
- Although most organophosphate pesticides harm birds through
their intake of food and water, fenthion is highly toxic to birds when
absorbed through their skin or inhaled. The pesticide is usually distributed
by helicopter using a method that allows it to remain in the air for long
periods of time.
- The duration increases exposure and allows the pesticide
to travel farther across the landscape. If rain falls shortly after the
application of fenthion, the risk of contact rises significantly, scientists
note, as birds forage in contaminated, wet foliage and bathe in or drink
puddles of toxic water.
- Most birds killed in the wild go unnoticed, conservation
groups note, because scavengers quickly remove their carcasses.
- Similar to DDT, a pesticide that was banned in the early
1970s, fenthion accumulates in the fatty tissue of animals and can be passed
on through the food chain to concentrate in top-level consumers.
- The pesticide may pose health problems to humans as well.
- According to the EPA, current applications of fenthion
might endanger children because they wash their hands less frequently
than adults and have greater contact with grass and other vegetation containing
- While profit in fenthion sales is minimal in the United
States, the international market for the pesticide is extremely lucrative.
Fenthion is recommended by Bayer as an insecticide for coffee and citrus,
vital crops for Latin America and habitat for many species of birds.
- "The U.S. provides the regulatory standard for other
nations with limited resources devoted to scientific testing of the environmental
and human health impacts of pesticides," Farley said. "A primary
reason the American Bird Conservancy wants to see fenthion cancelled in
the U.S. is to set an example for other nations."
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