Petition: EPA to Assess Pesticide Harm to Soil Health

Legal Petition Urges EPA to Assess Pesticides’ Harms to Soil Health

Threats to Soil Biodiversity, Food Security Are Being Ignored by U.S. Regulators

WASHINGTON— The Center for Biological Diversity and Friends of the Earth U.S. filed a formal legal petition today urging the Environmental Protection Agency to incorporate a robust assessment of harm to soil ecosystems in pesticide regulatory decisions.

Sixty-seven groups advocating for public health, environmental justice, human rights, chemical reform, faith, beekeeping, soil health, sustainable agriculture and conservation signed a letter of support for the petition.

The EPA currently estimates pesticides’ harm to all land-based invertebrates — including beneficial soil organisms — by how the chemicals affect a single species that rarely comes into contact with soil: the European honeybee. While it’s critically important to analyze how pesticides impact honeybees, using honeybees as a proxy significantly underestimates the risk of pesticides to soil invertebrates and microorganisms and does not address the indirect effects that loss of soil life can have on bees and other organisms.

“The EPA can no longer ignore the compelling research showing pesticides are decimating insects and microorganisms that are critical to soil health,” said Nathan Donley, environmental health science director at the Center for Biological Diversity. “We’re living in an era of global insect decline, and it’s time for the EPA to acknowledge the essential role these tiny creatures play in keeping our soils alive and productive before it’s too late.”

This petition comes on the heels of the most comprehensive review to date of pesticides’ harms to soil health. That review, published this month in the academic journal Frontiers in Environmental Science, found that pesticides widely used in U.S. agriculture pose a grave threat to organisms that are critical to healthy soil, biodiversity and soil carbon sequestration to fight climate change. One conclusion from the paper was that U.S. regulators do not adequately account for pesticides’ harms to soil organisms.

”Soils are among the most complex and biodiverse ecosystems on Earth,” said Kendra Klein, a senior scientist at Friends of the Earth. “The science is clear that as a set of chemical poisons, pesticides are incompatible with healthy soil ecosystems that are essential for food production and addressing the climate crisis. It is absolutely critical that the EPA account for the harm pesticides can wreak on soil life.”

The petition seeks to compel the agency to more accurately account for harm to soil organisms during risk assessments of pesticides. In addition to analyzing how pesticides affect the honeybee, which is the only analysis the agency conducts for terrestrial invertebrate health, the petition would require the EPA to analyze data on at least six other species or biological processes that can provide vital information about potential harm to soils. This includes studies on earthworms, springtails, mites, an isopod species and mycorrhizal fungi, as well as tests for bacterial activity. The proposed framework would largely mirror how the European Union assesses harm to soil health from pesticides.   

It is estimated that 95% of the world’s food comes either directly or indirectly from soil and that sustainable soil management can increase food production by 58%. Soils store the largest amount of terrestrial carbon on Earth and the ability of soil to capture and sequester carbon is intrinsically linked to its health and the proper functioning of soil organisms.

Worldwide, the overuse of chemical controls like pesticides has been identified as the most significant driver of soil biodiversity loss in the past decade.

Contact: Kendra Klein, (415) 350-5957, [email protected]

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