PANNA: Action Alert: Parathion Kills Birds


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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 nesting birds).

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 for crop specific information.) In the vast majority of cases, there are economical and effective alternatives to ethyl parathion.

Additional concerns

* 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 stress.”

* 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 benefits.

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:

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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