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Daily News Blog

25
Jul

Advocates and Scientists Urge that USGS Pesticide Data Program Be Elevated, Not Eliminated as Proposed 

(Beyond Pesticides, July 25, 2023) How can scientists fight the elimination of national pesticide data? More data! A new report surveys 58 academic institutions, nongovernmental organizations, government officials, and businesses to measure the scientific, educational, and policy use of the United States Geological Survey (USGS) Pesticide National Synthesis Project (PNSP), a database that is getting phased out by the current administration.  

According to the report authors, Maggie Douglas, PhD, Bill Freese, Joseph G. Grzywacz, PhD, and Nathan Donley, PhD, the PNSP is the “most comprehensive public description of pesticide use in U.S. agriculture.” Despite its widespread use across the government and 348 citations since 2010, the database has been degraded in recent years, including a shift from monitoring 400 pesticides to 72 pesticides in 2019. Moreover, starting in 2024, estimates of agricultural pesticide use will be released every five years (instead of annually). Advocates believe the loss of PNSP data could further hinder the ability to manage pesticide impacts on humans, agriculture, and the environment. These concerns are outlined in a letter to USGS and the Department of Interior, signed by more than 250 scientists. 

Beyond Pesticides extensively tracks USGS data and resulting findings to inform local and state action to take restrictive action on pesticides for which the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has failed to act. For example, Beyond Pesticides has cited in its Daily News and databases (Gateway on Pesticide Hazards and Safe Pest Management and Pesticide-Induced Diseases Database) USGS data on issues including the following:  

Key findings from the report’s questionnaire highlight the critical role of USGS in providing pesticide use data, graphs, and maps. After compiling over 100 responses, the report finds that the PNSP is widely used in scientific research and policy analysis for “environmental integrity, agriculture, and human health.” Across federal and state governments, PNSP is frequently utilized in agencies such as the Environmental Protection Agency, the Center for Disease Control, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, the National Science Foundation, the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA), and USGS. Notably, many of the data from PNSP are not publicly available elsewhere. There is another national pesticide database from the USDA called QuickStats, but the report says the coverage over time, space, and pesticide compounds is not as widespread as the data in the USGS’s PNSP database.  

The report surveyed 111 people at 58 organizations with the following breakdown in representation: 60% academia, 24% nonprofits, 6% federal agencies, and 6% private sector. Among the scientists who completed the questionnaire, the PNSP was used in 65 of their collective number of scientific journal articles. The survey respondents used the database on topics including pesticide effects on wildlife or ecosystems, agricultural or pest management, the fate of the environment, and pesticide effects on humans. The themes from the survey include uses for informing research design, patterns of pesticide contamination, effects of organisms, pesticide regulation or policy, and educating farmers or the public. For more information, see a full summary of the report and talking points by the report’s lead author. 

The reasons behind these aforementioned cutbacks remain unclear, as the cost of the program—$90,000 to $150,000 per year (not including staff time)—pales in comparison to the USGS’s annual budget of $1.7 billion. Moreover, Dr. Douglas says that the changes to PNSP were made without consulting other divisions within USGS or other agencies that use the data.  

According to the report, the PNSP’s comprehensive and accessible dataset has played a pivotal role in research and policymaking. With the high stakes of biodiversity loss and public health becoming increasingly widespread, the need for reliable pesticide data is more crucial than ever. The report authors are part are calling on the USGS to:  

  • Restore the dataset to its full scope of 400 pesticides or more every year and retroactively estimate the missing data 
  • Gather input from stakeholders about the past and planned changes to the PNSP 
  • Restore data about seeds being treated with pesticides
  • Updating the estimates in the PNSP every year and posting preliminary estimates as needed 

At Beyond Pesticides, we believe the preservation of the USGS Pesticide National Synthesis Project is essential to safeguard public health, support organic agriculture practices, and protect the environment from the impacts of pesticide use. Contact your elected officials today about improving transparency about pesticides and ask them how they plan to create or enforce “science-based” regulations of toxic chemicals without data.  

Tell your U.S. Representative and Senators to help keep the USGS’ Pesticide National Synthesis Project. Tell Secretary of Interior Deb Haaland and EPA Administrator that USGS mapping of pesticide use and monitoring of waterways is critical to good decision making and pesticides shown to contaminate rivers and streams must be banned. 

Letter to U.S. Representative and U.S. Senators 

I am writing to ask you to advocate for the retention of the Pesticide National Synthesis Project at the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS). This important program for data collection is slated to be phased out.  

A recent study by the USGS shows that waterways that flow into the Great Lakes are experiencing year-round pesticide contamination that exceeds benchmarks meant to protect aquatic life. This is only one of many studies based on USGS monitoring of 110 stream and river sites, combined with mapping of annual agricultural chemical use. Other recent studies by USGS have discovered dozens of pesticides that are consistently found in midwestern streams; 88 percent of water samples in U.S. rivers and streams contain at least five or more different pesticides; 41% of public water supply wells are contaminated with pesticides or their degradates; and degradation of rivers from pesticide pollution continues unabated. 

The studies relating pesticide use and contamination of waterways can and should be used by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) in pesticide registration decisions. “What you use makes it into the water,” Sam Oliver, PhD, coauthor of the most recent study, told the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel. As important as the existing monitoring network is, a joint study by USGS and EPA shows that it underestimates the problem—more frequent sampling detects twice as many pesticides, at higher concentrations. 

The USGS Water Resources Mission Area (WMA) researches pesticide use, trends in pesticide occurrence in streams, concentrations of pesticides in water of potential human health concern, pesticide toxicity to aquatic organisms, pesticides and stream ecology, and pesticides and lake sediment. While agricultural practices appear to correlate with peaking pesticide contamination during the growing season, urban runoff represents a larger overall proportion of the contamination flowing into waterways. With little to no natural soil to filter contamination, and impervious surfaces creating massive outflows of polluted water, this finding is unsurprising. Research conducted by USGS and EPA on urban runoff across the country in 2019 found 215 of 438 sampled toxic compounds present in the water. The sheer number of different chemicals and thus potential for even more toxic mixtures presents significant risks to health and the environment.   

The toxic soup in many U.S. waterways is unsustainable and threatens the foundation of many food chains. Imbalances in aquatic environments can ripple throughout the food web, creating trophic cascades that further exacerbate health and environmental damage. The data on water contamination has become one of the compelling reasons to abandon reliance on toxic chemicals in favor of organic land management can eliminate these threats. 

Scientific research by USGS is essential to evaluating the impacts of pesticides and must be included in EPA’s pesticide registration decisions. USGS needs your continued support to elevate, not eliminate or reduce, its role in uncovering and documenting the contamination caused by registered pesticide use. In addition, please urge EPA to cancel pesticides that pollute waterways and groundwater. No contamination is reasonable under federal pesticide law, given the availability of cost-effective alternative practices and products certified by the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s National Organic Program. 

Thank you. 

 

All unattributed positions and opinions in this piece are those of Beyond Pesticides. 

Source: An Essential Resource at Risk: Stakeholder Perspectives on the USGS Pesticide National Synthesis Project 

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