Shellfish growers from Willapa Grays Harbor Oyster Growers Association (WGHOGA) have requested a permit to use the pesticide imidacloprid on oyster beds in Willapa Bay and Grays Harbor to control native burrowing shrimp.
After carefully considering this request, we have determined that the proposal cannot meet Washington's environmental protection laws. Therefore, we are denying the request for a permit.
Reasons for the denial include:
- Too great an impact to the marine organisms that live in the sediments where the pesticide application is proposed.
- Too much uncertainty about the long-term impacts associated with this pesticide.
- Negative impacts to fish and birds caused by killing sources of food and disrupting the food web.
- Even at low concentrations, imidacloprid has significant impacts on the environment.
Willapa Bay and Grays Harbor are experiencing an increasing population of burrowing shrimp. This population has always been highly variable, reasons for which are not fully known. High populations of these native shrimp make tide flats too soft to support traditional shellfish cultivation.
These growers sought a permit to spray the shrimp with the neonicotinoid pesticide imidacloprid to control the population. This application was for a water quality pollution discharge (NPDES) permit and two sediment impact zones.
Imidacloprid is a neonicotinoid pesticide. The environmental review considered a wealth of new research, data, and analysis that has become available since the 2015 permit request was evaluated. It focused on the rising evidence of environmental impacts connected to this type of pesticide. Several new risk assessments have been completed in North America and Europe, providing the best available up-to-date science. As a result of this new information, neonicotinoid pesticides have been banned in many countries and are no longer being sold commercially in many stores across the United States.
Our findings have been adopted in a formal report, called a Final Supplemental Environmental Impact Statement. This review compiled what was learned by reviewing new research and the public input received during a 45-day public comment period. This additional review built on the initial Environmental Impact Statement adopted during the 2015 permit process. Ecology used this information to inform the agency’s decision to deny the pending permit applications.
Supplemental environmental review findings
The Final Supplemental Environmental Impact Statement includes the assessment of environmental impacts and responses to the 8,287 comments received when the draft was released for public review.
This review adds to the initial Environmental Impact Statement adopted in 2015. No preferred alternative was identified.
The supplemental environmental review found:
- Significant impacts where the pesticide would be applied.
- Significant impacts to sediment quality and benthic invertebrates.
- Adverse impacts to juvenile worms and crustaceans in the areas treated with imidaclorpid and the nearby areas covered by incoming tides.
- Concern about non-lethal impacts to invertebrates in the water column and sediment
- Indications that there is a wider area of impact than previously thought.
- New information shows a risk of impacts from imidacloprid even at low concentrations.
- Likely indirect impacts to fish and birds if food sources are disrupted.
- Little known about direct risk to fish, birds, marine mammals, and human health.
- Increased uncertainty about long-term, non-lethal, and cumulative impacts.
- Continued knowledge gaps about imidacloprid.
Based on the information gathered during our environmental review, by carefully reviewing hundreds of new scientific data and research on neonicotinoid pesticides, and through our public comment periods, we have determined that this proposal cannot meet Washington's sediment and water quality protection laws. As a result, we are denying the request to use the pesticide imidacloprid on shellfish beds to control burrowing shrimp in Willapa Bay and Grays Harbor.
We held a public comment period on the tentative determination to deny the permit in Spring 2018. The final decision will be announced after we consider and respond to public comments received on this current, draft decision. The final decision can be appealed to the Washington Pollution Control Hearings Board within 30 days of being announced.
What’s different this time around?
This request was similar — but not identical — to the highly-conditioned permit for imidacloprid issued to WGHOGA in 2015. The 2015 permit was cancelled at the growers’ request and never used. There are key differences today versus when we permitted imidacloprid in 2015. As part of the environmental review process for the current application, we considered and evaluated new research and analyses that were not available during the previous environmental review.
Imidacloprid is a neonicotinoid pesticide. The body of science around neonicotinoids is rapidly expanding because of national and international concerns surrounding their use and environmental impacts. New research points to greater impacts in land and water ecosystems than previously known.
Best available science
The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) released a new risk assessment on the environmental impacts of imidacloprid, and neonicotinoids in general, in December 2016. As a result of this assessment, EPA produced new levels to measure toxic risk. Health Canada and the European Food Safety Authority have also recently released similar risk assessments. This and other new research was incorporated into the supplemental environmental review.
The growers collected monitoring data on their 500-acre commercial scale experimental trial. We did not have this data until after the 2015 permit was issued.
Global science shift around neonicotinoids
This pesticide is a neonicotinoid. Growing national and international concern about the impacts from neonicotinoids on pollinators (e.g., honeybees, other bees, butterflies, etc.) and aquatic life led to a re-examination of both its costs and benefits. The more that is learned, the greater the concern grows.
Recently, there have been bans or limitations on neonicotinoids set by other states and countries, and many major national chain stores and pesticide manufacturers have decided to stop selling them. Health Canada proposed a ban “on almost all uses” of imidacloprid in November 2016; and, several states and municipalities have banned or otherwise restricted neonicotinoids within their jurisdiction.
Although any member of WGHOGA would be able to use this permit, today, there are fewer oyster growers that propose to treat their tidelands under the request from WGHOGA. The applicants propose treating less acreage — 485 acres in Willapa Bay and 15 acres in Grays Harbor — as opposed to 2,000 acres across the two bays in the previous permit. This is 25 percent of the previously proposed area.
The method of applying the pesticide has changed. The growers propose applying imidacloprid by hand or ground equipment rather than aerial spraying by helicopter.
Current proposal application process
The growers completed and submitted an application for the required National Pollution Discharge Elimination System (NPDES) permit, and applications for two Sediment Impact Zone authorizations for areas in Willapa Bay and Grays Harbor in April 2017.
These permits regulate a source of pollution in water (in this case, the discharge of a pesticide) and set rules for the discharge, such as containing that pollution to a specific area and requiring that the effect of the discharge is at — or below — a minor adverse biological effects level.
New review, new decision process
This new, independent permit application went through the full, normal regulatory process.
This process breaks down into three distinct phases: review of the environmental impacts, a decision on whether or not to develop a permit, and the permit development process.
Phases in the process:
The Final Supplemental Environmental Impact Statement compiles what was learned by reviewing new research and the public input received during a 45-day public comment period. This additional review builds on the initial Environmental Impact Statement adopted during the 2015 permit process.
Public input on environmental review
We compiled our findings in a formal report, officially referred to as a Final Supplemental Environmental Impact Statement. We held a 45-day public comment period on the draft of this report from Sept. 18 through Nov. 1, 2017. Two public meetings were held in October, 2017 — one in Lacey and one in South Bend. This included public hearings, briefings for stakeholders, tribes, and natural resource agencies, as well as other opportunities for review and input. We received 8,287 public comments on the draft of this report.
Permit decision point
After carefully considering everything we learned from our environmental review and public input, we have determined that this proposal cannot meet Washington's environmental protection laws. As a result, we are denying the request to use the pesticide imidacloprid on shellfish beds in Willapa Bay and Grays Harbor to control burrowing shrimp. This denial of the application means the process will end. We will not proceed with drafting a permit.
Environmental review process
We prepared an Environmental Impact Statement for the 2015 permit process, and we then supplemented it with the most up-to-date research and information available. The Final Supplemental Environmental Impact Statement builds on the Environmental Impact Statement from 2015. It compiles new research and information that wasn't available to us when we prepared the 2015 Environmental Impact Statement.
Current proposal documents:
Historic information on insecticide Carbaryl/Sevin:
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