Pesticides harmful to bees in garden store plants

Traces of neonicotinoid pesticides have been found on plants at garden stores around the country. The pesticides are known to be in areas where bees are dying.

Widespread traces of pesticides harmful to bees have been found in plants in garden stores around the country, according to a new study.

Backyard gardeners with a preference for unblemished plants may be unknowingly exposing bees to harmful pesticides when they plant seedlings touted as bee-friendly from commercial nurseries.

A study commissioned by the environmental group Friends of the Earth and conducted by the independent Pesticide Research Institute shows widespread traces of neonicotinoid pesticides in plants stocked at Lowe's Home Improvement and Home Depot stores around the country.

Related: Bee deaths increase and threaten food population

"We haven’t reviewed the study yet, but we certainly appreciate the importance of the bee population and will be reaching out to the study groups to learn more about their findings and methodology," said Home Depot spokesman Stephen Holmes.

Lowes didn’t immediately return phone calls or email seeking comment.

The same chemicals are likely found in seedling plants at many other retail venues across the county, study co-author D. Timothy Brown of the Pesticide Research Institute said Wednesday. Seven of 13 samples of garden plants purchased in Washington, D.C., the San Francisco Bay area and Minneapolis contained the neurotoxic pesticides that can harm or kill bees and other pollinators. Brown said the study, released Wednesday, had been peer-reviewed.

Neonicotinoids are known to be widespread in outdoor agricultural areas where bees are dying en masse. This is the first study linking the systemic pesticides with backyard nursery plants, Brown said.

Because the sample size wasn't big enough, Brown said, the PRI scientists weren't able to measure concentrations in the pollen and nectar used by bees. But by the concentrations found on other parts of the plants, it's likely the levels are high enough to affect bees, Brown said.

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The relatively new class of pesticides has been eyed as one of the key factors in the recent wave of honey bee die-offs that have spread around the globe. The bee deaths, and the larger pollinator crisis, were addressed by Time Magazine in a recent story.

In Europe, the new bug-killing chemicals will soon be banned after government environmental experts said they were convinced that the neonicotinoids are killing bees.

Studies show that, even at low levels, the pesticides suppress the bees' immune systems, making them more susceptible to parasitic mites and other diseases.

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