(Beyond Pesticides, September 10, 2008) Following the report released by the National Marine Fisheries Service that identified 37 pesticides that pose risks to salmon and steelhead, Oregon state officials are moving ahead to set new safety benchmarks for seven pesticides of priority concern.
A team from the Oregon Water Quality Pesticide Management Program identified seven priority hazardous pesticides: azinphos-methyl, chlorpyrifos, dacthal, diazinon, endosulfan, simazine and ethoprop, based on water-quality monitoring in five Oregon watersheds, including the Pudding River near Salem, as well as the Clackamas, Yamhill, Hood and Walla Walla watersheds. Three pesticides, azinphos-methyl, diazinon and chlorpyrifos have been detected at concentrations that exceed federal aquatic criteria in the Clackamas River Basin (See report here). Chlorpyrifos was detected at maximum levels more than twice the federal standard.
The National Marine Fisheries Service report on the ecological damage associated with pesticide use reveals “overwhelming evidence” to suggest that 37 pesticides, including these seven, increase the chance of extinction for protected salmon and steelhead.
The state is now turning to its own team of experts to set stringent benchmarks based on existing research on these chemicals of concern. Generally the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) is charged with developing water quality standards as part of its registration process, however a significant time lag exists between the time the product goes on the market and the setting of final in-stream standards.
According to Kevin Masterson, the agency toxics coordinator with the State’s Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ), a pesticide might be on the market for 20 or 30 years before the EPA’s water division finishes reviewing its effect. For example, the final in-stream standard for diazinon- one of the seven pesticides detected- was not set until it was already banned for household use because of risks to humans, birds and fish. Diazinon is still cleared for agricultural use but could still face restrictions.
“The EPA and the states around the country don’t have standards for the majority of current-use pesticides. More standards exist for drinking water, but there still are more pesticides without standards than those with them,” Mr. Masterson said.
Despite the time gap for water quality standards, states are encouraged to develop benchmarks from a list of pesticides of concern. Unlike EPA standards, benchmarks do not have the enforcement power or require public review. These benchmarks will be designed to help state agencies better understand and explain to the public and pesticide applicators when there is a problem with pesticide concentrations in surface and ground waters. An example of a benchmark can include: 10 parts per billion concentration [of named pesticide] in waters can lead to salmon decline or increase the risk of cancer.
“You can do all the monitoring in the world, but without benchmarks, it doesn’t mean much,” said Steve Riley, an Oregon Department of Agriculture water issues specialist and team member.
Once benchmarks are established, the team of officials will begin working with farmers, nursery growers and other pesticide users to reduce pesticide runoff starting with a pilot project in the Clackamas River Sub-Basin near Portland, Oregon. The program is also evaluating a list of seven relatively newer pesticides such as 2,4-D and glyphosate for possible inclusion in the list as part of an ongoing evaluation of pesticides. The state’s DEQ is also increasing the number of pesticides it tests for in Oregon waters and lowering the level at which they register to give an even clearer picture of what pesticides are showing up at potentially risky levels.
Beyond Pesticides has long criticized EPA’s flawed risk assessment process that does not consider all aspects of potential harm to human health and the environment and that allow dangerous pesticides to be registered without having met all of their data requirements.
Aimee Code with the Northwest Coalition for Alternatives to Pesticides applauds the team’s approach to educate pesticide users to reduce runoff rather than replacing one pesticide with another. “There have been wonderful collaborative efforts around the state to solve these problems,” she said. “It’s a wonderful step in the right direction.”
Source: Statesman Journal