Ground water contamination from pesticides in US

May 7, 1997

Ground water contamination from pesticides in US

Ground water contamination from pesticides in US

A new study released by the North Carolina Pesticide Board shows widespread pesticide contamination in the state's ground water. Over 27% of the wells sampled in pesticide use areas were contaminated by legal, routine pesticide use.

The report documents contamination resulting from pesticides that were applied according to directions on the product labels.

The report states that a total of 36 chemicals were found in the wells. Of those, 31 were pesticides or pesticide breakdown products. According to the Agricultural Resource Center (ARC), a North Carolina-based non-profit organisation, many of the pesticides found cause cancer, birth defects, genetic damage or harm to the immune and endocrine systems.

The results of the final report may understate the extent of the problem in North Carolina, since the most vulnerable sites were excluded from the study.

The study was limited to identifying contamination from pesticides used in legal applications, and excluded sites used as pesticide mixing and loading areas and sites of known accidents, spills or container disposal.

The state sampled three types of wells, including 55 existing monitoring wells. These wells have no direct connection to pesticide use and represent the major aquifers in North Carolina for municipal and domestic water supplies. Thirteen per cent of the wells tested were contaminated.

To sample ground water in pesticide use areas, the state installed 100 monitoring wells within 90 metres of agricultural fields, highway rights-of-way, mosquito abatement areas, golf courses and other non-crop land use areas in cooperation with landowners. Most were agricultural sites. Of the 97 sampled, approximately 26% were contaminated.

Forty-six domestic drinking water wells near the contaminated wells in pesticide use areas were sampled, and slightly over 17% were found to contain pesticides. As a result, some well owners have been advised not to drink from their wells.

"There is no economically viable method to clean up widespread contamination", said ARC's research director, Erick Umstead. "Pesticide contamination poses a serious, unreasonable public health threat to current and future ground water users."

According to ARC, both state and federal pesticide regulatory programs have failed to protect ground water. The organisation pointed out that pesticide supporters have long argued that most contamination results from spills, accidents and misuse. This study eliminated those sources, yet still found high levels of contamination.

ARC called for accelerating the search for alternatives to pesticides and the conversion to sustainable and organic agricultural practices.
[From Pesticide Action Network North America Updates Service.]

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