The Problem of Pesticides & Our Drinking Water

waterThe presence of pesticides in our environment has grown exponentially over many years. The problem arises from the many ways that pesticides can leach into the ground water level. Given that drinking water standards are not an exact science, we cannot rely on a “best judgment” of what are considered the regulatory effects on our bodies. For what it is worth, most pesticides have yet to have drinking water standards established. This is precisely why it is in our best interest to plan to have an efficient water filtration system as a reasonable layer of self-protection.

Pesticides Are Everywhere

There are approximately 50,000 different pesticides used in the United States composed of more than 600 active ingredients. One must wonder about the necessity of such a volume of poisons. They are widely applied to lawns and gardens in addition to farmlands. In agricultural use, pesticides are used to kill or control pests protecting crops from insects, fungi, weeds and other pests. The problem of pesticides and our drinking water comes in with the runoff.

Farmlands are well-drained both by natural drainage and enhanced land drains. Then, there is rainfall and irrigation that affect the way pesticides are held within the soil structure. In all ways that pesticides can be drained away from their application sites presents the possibility of these chemicals migrating to groundwater and surface water.

All run off means there is the chance of carrying pesticides with it. Any watering that promotes frequent water movement beneath the root zone of plants also promotes the leaching of substances including pesticides into groundwater. Proper irrigation management is necessary to minimize this risk.

The Properties of Pesticides

Pesticides have unique properties along with variable factors that make them dangerous to our health. Pesticide formulation has active ingredients within which impurities may exist. Additives such as wetting agents, solvents, emulsifiers, extenders, preservatives, buffers and adhesives are mixed with the active ingredients.

Pesticides also have a powerful half-life. More stable pesticides take longer to break down. This persistence is unique to each product. Although this endurance can be variable based on environmental factors and how the pesticides are applied including the following:

  • Solubility – water solubility is necessary for some pesticides in order to reach their targets, but the higher the solubility, the higher the risk of leaching.
  • Mobility – pesticides travel both horizontally and vertically through the soil structure. Residual herbicides are designed purposely to bond to the soil structure when directly applied.
  • Soil temperature – microbial activity within the soil and pesticide breakdown are most often reliant upon soil temperature.
  • Microbial activity – the greater the activity, the faster the breakdown.
  • Application rate – as more is applied, concentrations tend to remain for longer periods.

What We can Do to Mitigate the Problem

While we cannot control what others do, we can become aware of these helpful tips so that we are not contributing to pesticide contamination in the water supplies:

  1. Read the labels – all pesticides have detailed instructions as to their use and their effects. Give special attention to the environmental hazards included in this label.
  2. Make a point of using pesticides that are not designed to move so easily into ground water following application.
  3. Avoid using pesticides while it is raining or might rain.
  4. Select pesticides with a short life rather than those that are persistent in the soil long after their application.
  5. Arrange to leave a buffer strip along waterways or areas that create drainage. This is an area that is intentionally left untreated so as not to waste in unnecessary runoff.
  6. Be mindful of the runoff from cleaning your sprayers or other equipment used to apply pesticides to further avoid adding to contaminated waterways.
  7. Never ever dispose of pesticide products down local storm drains. This only pours them straight into the sewer systems. Remember, pesticides are designated as hazardous waste and must be properly discarded.
  8. Purchase an efficient water filter system capable of purifying both treated water or city water and untreated water that may come from lakes, streams, ponds and other water supplies. Water filter purification elements have micro-pores so small that pathogenic bacteria cannot pass through them. They also remove unhealthy chemical contaminants to levels higher than 99.99 percent while still leaving the essential minerals so crucial to our health.
  9. Don’t hesitate to call the NPIC at 1-800-858-7378 between 8 a.m. and 12 p.m. or you can contact them by email at npic@ace.orst.edu if you have any questions about pesticides and drinking water.

As the EPA continues to re-evaluate pesticides that were registered before 1972 to hopefully bring them up to health standards of today, questions remain regarding the health effects of pesticides and other contaminants in drinking water. You cannot rely on an educated guess when it comes to your health.

Instead, have a proactive lifestyle and take the steps to prevent the pesticides you use from leaching into the groundwater. Consider purchasing a water filtration system to further reduce what is delivered to your home and is considered “safe.” When even the EPA cannot assure their conclusions, you can take the steps to ensure you are protecting your family, friends and loved ones.

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