Study Finds Pesticides Tainting U.S. Water Supply

Industry argues chemicals at safe drinking levels, activists worry about impact on wildlife

Toxic pesticides are finding their way into the nation's waterways and drinking-water supplies, according to a recently released U.S. Geological Survey study titled Pesticides in the Nation's Streams and Ground Water, 1992-2001. Every year, nearly a billion pounds of pesticides, many of which are linked to cancer, birth defects, neurological disorders, and environmental impacts, are used in the U.S., much of it ending up in our nation's waterways, the result of runoff when chemicals are applied to fields, gardens, parks, and lawns. The study found that 96% of all fish, 100% of all surface water samples, and 33% of major aquifers contain one or more pesticides at detectable levels.

"The data shows an urgent need to strengthen policies at all levels of government and curtail pesticide use," said Jay Feldman, executive director of Beyond Pesticides, a national information and advocacy group. David Foster, director of Clean Water Action's Austin office said, "in Texas, there is no pesticide reporting system," something he said CWA and its allies have repeatedly called for at the Legislature. "No one is on top of [pesticides'] cumulative impact," said Foster. "We do know learning disabilities in children are increasing dramatically," he said, "and their correlation with chemicals is clear." Charlotte Wells, executive director of Texans for Alternatives to Pesticides said, "Citizens can take action at the local level to reduce or eliminate pesticides in their own back yard, in their local parks and schools." She identified commercial lawn care companies who spray or "broadcast" chemicals onto lawns and "weed and feed" fertilizers used by many homeowners as the main source of pesticide pollution outside agriculture. Wells recommended the use of native plants and readily available natural chemical alternatives.

Concentrations of individual pesticides analyzed in this study were usually lower than EPA drinking-water guidelines for human health, the report stated, but more than 50% of the sampled streams in urban and agricultural areas exceeded water-quality benchmarks for the protection of aquatic life and fish-eating wildlife. The most common mode of pesticide exposure, however, is to mixtures rather than individual pesticides, the study said, which is complicated further when the pesticides combined with still strongly detectable chemicals such as DDT, which was banned decades ago. Jay Vroom, president of CropLife America, which represents pesticide developers and manufacturers, told the Associated Press that "water quality is of paramount importance to us and the USGS report correctly recognizes that the large majority of pesticide detections in streams and groundwater were trace amounts, far below scientifically based minimum levels set for protecting human health and the environment." For more info and to read the full report, go to water.usgs.gov/nawqa under "What's New" and www.pesticidefreelawns.org.

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