13 March 2006 00:00 [Source: ICB]
US pesticide manufacturers may face rough waters following a federal study that found trace amounts of pesticides in most US streams and rivers.
After a ten-year nationwide sampling of waterways, the US Geological Survey (USGS) said: ‘Pesticides are typically present throughout the year in most streams in urban and agricultural areas of the nation, but are less common in ground water.’
The USGS study also concluded that pesticides detected in US waterways are seldom at concentrations likely to affect humans. However, the study of waterways from 1992 to 2001 also found that in many streams draining urban and agricultural areas, ‘pesticides were found at concentrations that may affect aquatic life or fish-eating wildlife’.
The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) will use the USGS data in its exposure and risk assessments for regulating the use of pesticides. It is in those EPA risk assessments that the US pesticides industry is likely to face a tough fight over the next few years.
The USGS report suggested that trace amounts of pesticides found in streams and rivers pose no threat to human health, although those levels ‘may’ affect aquatic life.
CropLife America, the Washington, DC-based trade group for US pesticides producer, said the USGS report is a validation of current pesticide-use restrictions. ‘We applaud and welcome the USGS report,’ said Alan Noe, communications director for CropLife, ‘but we also note that simply detecting trace amounts of pesticides in water does not equate to a problem. You’re talking about very small trace elements in the USGS report.’
Noe added: ‘These are not levels that equal a threat to life of any kind.’
But environmental groups are gearing up for a major drive against pesticide use, citing the USGS report as a clarion call. Jay Feldman, spokesman for Beyond Pesticides, said the report should trigger an immediate change in EPA risk assessment standards and an introduction of the precautionary principle in dealing with pesticide approvals.
Citing the USGS report, Feldman said: ‘Given the widespread nature of this contamination in all of our rivers, lakes and streams, we have a serious public health threat that has to be addressed immediately by reduced pesticide use in agriculture and in the home and garden. This is where the contamination begins.’
Feldman noted that the USGS study does not evaluate the environmental and health risks of pesticide mixtures found in waterways, and that the study recognises that ‘the total combined toxicity of pesticides in water, sediment and fish may be greater than that of any single pesticide compound that is present’.
Given that gap in understanding, Feldman argued that the EPA should immediately tighten restrictions on pesticide use and begin developing a protocol for evaluating the health and environmental risks of pesticide mixtures in US waterways. And, said Feldman, until EPA can establish through testing the actual threat level of pesticide mixtures, the agency should use the precautionary principle as the basis for all future pesticide regulatory evaluations.
Beyond Pesticides is a Washington, DC-based coalition of about 15 national and state-level environmental groups.
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