We underestimated the extent to which we've been poisoning the planet with systemic pesticides. While they don't bio-accumulate in humans the way DDT did, they're 6,000 times as toxic.
In their report, to be published next month, they argue that neonicotinoids and another chemical called fipronil are poisoning the earth, the air and the water.
The pesticides accumulate in the soil and leach into water, and pose a significant problem for earthworms, freshwater snails, butterflies and birds.
The researchers say that the classic measurements used to assess the toxicity of a pesticide are not effective for these systemic varieties and conceal their true impact.
"They accumulate in soils, they are commonly turning up in waterways at levels that exceed the lethal dose for things that live in streams.
"It is impossible to deny that these things are having major environmental impacts."
While neonicotinoids don't accumulate in human or animal tissue in the way that DDT once did, the modern pesticides are more lethal, about 6,000 times as toxic compared to the older spray. [emphasis mine]
Worldwide food production is at risk from neonicotinoid and fipronil insecticides. Poisoned farm ecosystems, poisoned soil. Earthworms and birds killed. Ditchwater so contaminated that it could be used as a delousing treatment!
The widespread use of neonicotinoid insecticides is causing a neurotoxic overload afflicting entire farm ecosystems from earthworms to bees, other pollinators and birds, writes Damian Carrington. A collapse in food production may inevitably follow.
...creatures essential to global food production - from bees to earthworms - are likely to be suffering grave harm and the chemicals must be phased out.
Neonicotinoids are applied routinely rather than in response to pest attacks but the scientists highlight the "striking" lack of evidence that this leads to increased crop yields.
"Far from protecting food production, the use of neonicotinoid insecticides is threatening the very infrastructure which enables it."
"If all our soils are toxic, that should really worry us, as soil is crucial to food production."
Dragonflies, which eat mosquitoes, and other creatures that live in water are also suffering, with some studies showing that ditchwater has become so contaminated it could be used directly as a lice-control pesticide.
Major declines in birds caused by neonicotinoids?
The report warned that loss of insects may be linked to major declines in the birds that feed on them, though it also notes that eating just a few insecticide-treated seeds would kill birds directly:
"Overall, a compelling body of evidence has accumulated that clearly demonstrates that the wide-scale use of these persistent, water-soluble chemicals is having widespread, chronic impacts upon global biodiversity and is likely to be having major negative effects on ecosystem services such as pollination that are vital to food security." [emphasis mine]