Honeybee deaths have spread across Dorchester County, South Carolina, with millions of worker bees collapsing in little groups by their hives’ entrances. However, this pattern of death does not suggest colony collapse disorder; most of the bees were trying to get to their hives, probably for safety. Rather, the evidence indicates that these poor little bees were the victims of acute pesticide poisoning.
This heartbreaking news is not terribly surprising; the tidal wave of bee deaths follows a local government decision to spray a number of areas across the country with Naled, a type of pesticide that’s being used in the name of Zika prevention. On Sunday, August 28, Dorchester County sprayed the hazardous insecticide across the region.
Flowertown Bee Farm and Supply, an apiary located in Summerville, has reported that 46 of their hives died on the day of the spraying; that equates to about 2.5 million bees. A scientist from Clemson University collected soil samples from Flowertown to investigate the cause of the bee deaths, but to bee farmers the reason is already quite clear: The bees were poisoned and killed by pesticides. Naled, their poison of choice, is known to be very toxic to bees, as well as mosquitoes.
Even though no one in the country has been infected by a locally-acquired Zika infection, officials have taken it upon themselves to go ahead and spray the area anyway. Normally, the country utilizes trucks to promote ground-based mosquito control efforts. For whatever reason, on Sunday they decided to try something new and sprayed across their skies for the first time. The county says it posted plenty of warnings about the pesticide mist set to rain down on citizens. They put out one notice in the newspapers on the Friday before, and one Facebook post on Saturday. Unfortunately, it appears that bees can’t read and didn’t know they were supposed to stay home that morning.
Local beekeepers do not feel that they were given any advance notice about the spraying. Honestly, if you use social media at all, you know that you don’t always see every single story an organization posts in your news feed, and not everyone buys a newspaper seven days a week.
Even county administrator Jason Ward has admitted that the county did not follow the usual procedures before engaging in the mass spraying (and subsequent killing of bees). Ward told The Post and Courier, “We usually call registered beekeepers prior to spraying in their zone.” The county official also conceded that they had, for some unacknowledged reason, skipped that step this time.
Juanita Stanley of Flowertown Bee Farm and Supply said, “My bee yard looks like it’s been nuked.” Stanley is absolutely heartbroken, not over the loss of income, but because she feels that her bee yard is supposed to be a sanctuary for her bees, where they can be safe and protected. County mistakes have led to the death of millions of bees, just in that one apiary.
While the county has acknowledged the bee deaths and expressed their displeasure, no real apology has been issued. Instead, the county maintains that the spraying was done to protect people from mosquitoes. However, the CDC itself has stated that adulticide (killing of adult insects) is the least efficient way to control the mosquito population, regardless of whether spraying takes place on the ground or in the air.
Naled is an organophosphate that is regarded as “safe” by the EPA because it “dissipates so quickly it is not a hazard to people,” as per the Washington Post. However, the agency does note that exposure to humans is not advised. Naled exposure is linked to a variety of cancers and other adverse effects, such as impaired brain development in unborn children. One of Naled’s breakdown products is dichlorvos, which is another type of organophosphate that is also toxic. In studies, exposure to dichlorvos has been linked to a number of ill effects, including increased aggression, impaired memory and impaired prenatal brain development.
Naled, like just about every other pesticide on the market, clearly harms way more than the intended target. Perhaps we should stop spraying pesticides and look for more natural means of protection.