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Amid concerns about honeybees, EPA speeds up pesticide review

Joe Raedle / Getty Images

Steve Corniffe looks at dead bees next to a bee box at the J&P Apiary and Gentzel's Bees, Honey and Pollination Company on April 10 in Homestead, Florida. Beekeepers and scientists are trying to figure out what is causing bees to succumb to the colony collapse disorder.

This week's federally sponsored report about the mysterious disappearance of honeybees, known as colony collapse disorder, pointed to a complex combination of factors, ranging from parasitic mites to pesticides. But what are experts going to do about it? And what about the pesticides known as neonicotinoids, which are facing a ban in European countries?

In an email to NBC News, the Environmental Protection Agency says it's speeding up its schedule for reviewing research on neonicotinoids and their potential effects on honeybees. It's also fine-tuning existing regulatory practices and setting up new educational efforts to deal with colony collapse disorder. Here's how the EPA responded to NBC News' questions about the next steps to counter the honeybee die-off:

Are there any specific policy questions under consideration? Anything relating to the next steps in the wake of the report?

"EPA is working collaboratively with beekeepers, growers, pesticide manufacturers, seed manufacturers, equipment manufacturers, USDA and states to apply technologies to reduce pesticide dust drift, to advance best management practices, to improve enforcement guidance and to explore enhancing pesticide labeling in order to protect bees. Specifically, EPA is:

  • Moving to change pesticide labels which will limit applications to protect bees and be more clear and precise.
  • Moving to add warning statements to each bag of pesticide-treated seed.
  • Issuing new enforcement guidance to federal, state and tribal enforcement officials to help them investigate bee kills.
  • Working with the equipment manufacturer and pesticide and seed industry and USDA to develop and apply technologies to reduce pesticide dust drift during planting seasons.
  • Working with USDA and other partners to promote Best Management Practices for growers and beekeeping via a new website, education and training modules for professional applicators, video, and other mechanisms
  • Finally, EPA is working on a range of national and international efforts to develop appropriate tests for evaluating both exposure to and effects of pesticides on insect pollinators. EPA is also requiring new lab and field studies to inform the risk assessment process to better understand pollinator risks."

On the subject of nicotinoids, the EPA has said it's conducting risk assessments on the pesticides' effects, but is there anything more specific that can be said?

 "The agency has accelerated the schedule for registration review of the neonicotinoid pesticides due to uncertainties about these pesticides and their potential effects on bees. We have several hundred registrant studies addressing the effects of neonicotinoids to individual bees as well as colonies in field settings. In addition, the EPA has evaluated open-literature derived studies that meet the established standards for use in a regulatory context.

"If at any time the EPA determines there are urgent human and/or environmental risks from pesticide exposures that require prompt attention, the agency will take appropriate regulatory action, regardless of the registration review status of that pesticide."

More about the bee die-off:

Alan Boyle is NBCNews.com's science editor. Connect with the Cosmic Log community by "liking" the NBC News Science Facebook page, following @b0yle on Twitter and adding the Cosmic Log page to your Google+ presence. To keep up with NBCNews.com's stories about science and space, sign up for the Tech & Science newsletter, delivered to your email in-box every weekday. You can also check out "The Case for Pluto," my book about the controversial dwarf planet and the search for new worlds.