P A N U P S
Pesticide Action Network Updates Service
Action Alert: Parathion Kills Birds
April 24, 2000
American Bird Conservancy (ABC) urges conservationists, scientists,
bird watchers and the public to respond to a U.S. Environmental
Protection Agency (EPA) request for comment on the ecological
effects of ethyl parathion. Ethyl parathion, an organophosphate
insecticide, is highly toxic to birds and has caused numerous
wildlife mortality incidents. Bird die-offs have been documented in
a wide range of species including waterfowl, shorebirds, raptors and
songbirds. Also, even after extensive efforts to mitigate hazards to
humans, ethyl parathion continues to raise significant safety
concerns for farm workers.
According to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, "substantial
evidence verifies that mortality of migratory birds and other
non-target organisms occurs even when parathion is applied in
complete conformance with the label." Birds can be poisoned by
ingestion of insects or grains with residues, by preening or
bathing, via inhalation of spray particles or dermally through feet
or exposed skin (especially of chicks and also brood patches of
In 1991, after numerous lethal incidents involving humans, wildlife
and domestic animals, EPA restricted use of ethyl parathion to nine
crops: alfalfa, barley, corn, cotton, canola, sorghum, soybean,
sunflower and wheat. Further restrictions attempted to minimize
worker exposure by prohibiting hand-harvesting of crops and by
delaying entrance into fields for three to six days after spraying.
Applications, however, are still made by plane and helicopter. Birds
and other wildlife, in addition to being exposed during spraying,
cannot be stopped from entering sprayed fields.
Currently, approximately 600,000 pounds of ethyl parathion is used
annually on over 775,000 acres of land. (See http://www.abcbirds.org
for crop specific information.) In the vast majority of cases, there
are economical and effective alternatives to ethyl parathion.
* The EPA risk assessment states "uses of parathion are likely to
result in bird deaths. In addition to mortality, a suite of
sub-lethal effects has been documented in avian species. These
include reproductive effects, health impacts for nesting birds and
their young, damage to food resources, feeding and behavioral
changes and greater vulnerability to predation and environmental
* Use of ethyl parathion is highest in the Great Plains and prairie
pothole region where effects can be devastating to wetland
ecosystems critical to bird populations even when extraordinary
precautions are taken. This region accounts for at least 50% of
annual waterfowl production in North America.
* The primary degradate of ethyl parathion, paraoxon, is five times
more easily absorbed than parathion and 40 to 50 times more toxic.
Residues of parathion and paraoxon have been found at relatively
high concentrations on crop foliage and soils for at least 45 days
after parathion was applied at normal rates under dry conditions.
* Other than strengthening label warnings, EPA has been unable to
identify additional risk mitigation strategies that might reduce
ongoing threats to wildlife and humans from ethyl parathion use.
Please send comments to EPA on the risk assessment and
re-registration of ethyl parathion. Ask EPA to cancel all registered
uses of ethyl parathion based on known hazards to birds and other
wildlife species including, bees, fish, reptiles and mammals. Tell
them that their assessment clearly indicates that the ongoing and
unavoidable hazards of ethyl parathion use far outweigh the
The full assessment is available via EPA at
Or go to the ABC Web site and click on pesticides:
Submit comments to:
Public Information and Records Integrity Branch, Information
Resources and Services Division (7502C), Office of Pesticide
Programs, Environmental Protection Agency, Ariel Rios Bldg., 1200
Pennsylvania Ave., N.W., Washington, DC 20460.
All comments must be identified with the docket number OPP-34197A.
Submit comments by email to: email@example.com.
Source/Contact: Kelley R. Tucker, Pesticides and Birds Campaign,
American Bird Conservancy, 1250 24th St. NW, Suite 400, Washington
DC 20037, phone (202) 778-9773; fax (202) 778-9778; email
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