(Beyond Pesticides, July 9, 2012) Health officials in Connecticut are telling residents who drink from private wells to test their water for the banned pesticides chlordane and dieldrin, after a study from the town of Stamford, CT found at least one of the toxic chemicals in 195 out of 628 wells tested. Over half of the wells that tested positive for one of the pesticides were found to contain concentrations at levels above what the U.S Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) considers acceptable.
Both of these chemicals, discussed at length in Rachael Carson’s seminal book Silent Spring, were widely used throughout the country before their ban in the late 1980s. Since then, these chemicals have revealed themselves to be pervasive in our environment. In 2007, Beyond Pesticides wrote on the discovery of chlordane on the grounds of a New Jersey middle school at levels above EPA limits. In 2009, the U.S Housing and Urban Development (HUD) and EPA conducted a survey that found chlordane in 64% of U.S households sampled. In 2010, we reported on the occurrence of these two historic-use chemicals in what are considered “pristine” National Parks. Unfortunately, if the water contamination residents are finding turns out to be a consequence of past use, the results from Stamford, CT are only the tip of the iceberg.
The Stamford Health Department began its study in 2009 after testing revealed pesticide contamination near a local town dump. Health officials expected the results to be localized, but were caught off guard as the chemicals were identified in areas away from the dump. Sharee Rusnak, epidemiologist for the Connecticut Department of Public Health said, “We believe that this problem in Stamford could reach much further than Stamford itself and it could exist even beyond Fairfield County.”
The town of Stamford has a map on their website listing the locations and results of testing sites. While other communities have been slow to perform their own testing, Stamford Health Director Anne Fountain remarked, “As you can see, one house may have it and the one next door may not. This is happening in Stamford and I don’t think it stops at the borders.” Around 2.3 million people in New England get their water from private wells, and most all do not require pesticide testing before use.
Chlordane was used on lawns and agricultural crops until a five-year phase out for above ground use began in 1979. From 1983 to 1988, the chemical could still be applied to the foundation of houses as a termicide (termite insecticide). In 1987, Beyond Pesticides petitioned the EPA to ban all uses of chlordane, citing EPA findings that the chemical posed an “imminent hazard” to public health. After the ban went into effect, we called on Congress to establish a special Superfund remediation program to clean up all the contamination of homes and the environment caused by this use. However, Congress never acted, and now, because this toxicant can persist in the environment for over 40 years, it can still be found in our homes, soil, water, and even the food we eat. This bioaccumulative organochlorine pesticide is considered a probable human carcinogen by EPA, with links to nonHodgkin’s lymphoma and adverse neurological, reproductive, and gastrointestinal effects.
Dieldrin, another organochlorine pesticide with a history similar to chlordane, was most commonly used to control agricultural pests and termites. It was prohibited for most uses by EPA in 1974, and in 1987, after it was found to be harmful to fish and other wildlife, all uses of the chemical were banned. Although no longer used, dieldrin can also persist in the environment for decades and move up through the food chain, particularly in dairy products and meats, to humans. EPA notes that the chemical decreases the effectiveness of our immune system, may cause cancer and birth defects, increase infant mortality, and damage the kidney. Low-level exposure of the chemical has been linked to changes in brain function that may speed up the onset of Parkinson’s disease.
The results of this and numerous other studies show that the consequences of allowing harmful chemicals into our environment will oftentimes not be revealed until it is too late. The procedure our government takes to assess the risk these chemicals pose makes all the difference. This is why Beyond Pesticides consistently advocates for EPA to adopt an “alternatives assessment” in environmental rulemaking, which creates a regulatory trigger to adopt alternatives and drive the market to go green. The “alternatives assessment” approach differs most dramatically from the current EPA risk assessment method by rejecting uses and exposures deemed acceptable under risk assessment calculations, but unnecessary because of the availability of safer alternatives.
For additional information on testing your private well, contact Beyond Pesticides at firstname.lastname@example.org or 202-543-5450.
All unattributed positions and opinions in this piece are those of Beyond Pesticides.