(Beyond Pesticides, April 9, 2013) Last Wednesday, close to a hundred people attended a public hearing at the Riverhead campus of Suffolk County Community College, sponsored by the Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC), to comment on the draft of the Long Island Pesticide Pollution Prevention Strategy. The strategy, which was released in January, is dramatically different than a draft plan DEC had released in 2011. The draft plan had initially received praise from environmental organizations for its “zero tolerance policy” to ensure certain chemicals did not end up in Long Island’s drinking water. However, the revamped strategy fails to offer any meaningful protective measures or strong pesticide regulations. This is concerning, given trace amounts of metalaxyl, imidacloprid and atrazine have been repeatedly detected in test wells, along with 117 other pesticides detected in Long Island drinking water.
State officials argued that pesticide levels in Long Island’s drinking water are far below federal standards. However, the pesticides that have been found in the drinking water have been linked to several health and environmental problems. Because of these health and environmental risks the Citizens Campaign for the Environment, a grassroots organization working in Long Island, has called for DEC to ban the use imidacloprid, atrazine, and metalaxyl.
According to activist Adrienne Esposito of the Citizens Campaign for the Environment, “We have 117 toxic pesticides in Long Island’s groundwater. Three million people drink that water, and what we need is a more protective plan. Stop protecting the status quo, and start protecting groundwater.”
Imidacloprid, atrazine, and metalaxyl have all been linked to health and environmental problems. Imidacloprid is a systemic, chloronicotinyl insecticide used for the control of sucking insects. Notably, the chemical is also a neonictinoid insecticide which has played a major role in recent pollinator declines. Neonicotinoids are known to be persistent in the environment, and when used as seed treatments, translocate to residues in pollen and nectar of treated plants, to the detriment of feeding insect pollinators, birds, and other beneficial organisms. Imidacloprid has been detected in Long Island’s ground water for the past eleven years. Concentrations have been found as high as 407 parts per billion (ppb) which far exceeds the 50 ppb limit for drinking water. Imidacloprid has been found 890 times in 179 locations on Long Island.
Another chemical found in drinking water, atrazine, is used nationwide to kill broadleaf and grassy weeds, primarily in corn crops. It is widely applied in the U.S. and has been found in the drinking water supplies across the country. Atrazine is harmful to humans, mammals, and amphibians at doses below governmental thresholds, causing infertility, low birth weight, and abnormal infant development in humans. The U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service acknowledges that the chemical may also harm the reproductive and endocrine systems in fish species.
Recently, payments have been sent to 1,085 community water systems across the U.S. in the final phase of a $105 million settlement with Syngenta, the largest manufacture of atrazine. A study by the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) found atrazine in approximately 75 percent of stream water and 40 percent of groundwater sampled near agricultural areas. Atrazine has been detected 124 times in 51 different locations on Long Island.
Finally, metalaxyl is a commonly used fungicide for food and nonfood crops such as tobacco, ornamental plants, trees, shrubs, and lawns. The environmental prevalence and effects on wildlife and ecosystems, particularly of newer fungicides, are poorly understood. However, 2010 study found metalaxyl and a dozen other agricultural fungicides in the waters and sediments downstream of farms and orchards in western states. It readily leaches in sandy soils, is highly soluble, and is persistent in water. Metalaxyl is acutely toxic, has been linked to kidney and liver damage, and is toxic to birds. Metalaxyl has been detected 1327 times in 546 different locations on Long Island.
Long Island is not alone in its problem with contaminated drinking water. USGS data indicates that U.S. waterways and groundwater are contaminated with toxic substances including fertilizers, pesticides, pharmaceuticals and other industrial chemicals. Chemicals, even those detected at low-levels, are increasingly linked to serious health and developmental effects, well below U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) drinking water standards and levels of concern. According to a Beyond Pesticides report, Threatened Waters: Turning the Tide on Pesticide Contamination, over 50% of the U.S. population draws its drinking water supply from groundwater. Once groundwater has been contaminated, it takes many years or even decades to recover.
For more information on pesticides and water quality please visit Beyond Pesticides’ Threatened Waters page.
All unattributed positions and opinions in this piece are those of Beyond Pesticides.