States Battle Pesticides in Groundwater

Should we be worried about pesticides in groundwater contaminating the water we drink and the food we eat?

According to many public health and environment officials nationwide, the answer is yes.

In the last year and a half, public interest law firm Earthjustice has filed four federal lawsuits against the Environmental Protection Agency concerning the use of pesticides.

Many of the pesticides at the center of those legal battles are the same pesticides that recently surfaced as cause for concern in the state of Oregon. Of seven pesticides highlighted as contaminating groundwater in Oregon -- three of which are listed as possibly or likely to cause cancer by the EPA -- only two are are not subjects of Earthjustice's pending lawsuits.

"There are several pesticides on the market that pose extreme risks to human health -- through the water, air and food," said Joshua Osborne-Klein, an attorney for the Earthjustice. "Our lawsuits say that the EPA has not fully assessed these risks."

Concerns about groundwater come at the same time as several safety concerns -- whether about tainted peppers or the presence of drugs in drinking water -- that have left many people wondering what else is in our food and water that we don't yet know about.

Used largely to irrigate crops, as well as by more than half of the people in the United States as drinking water, groundwater is a critical natural resource for people throughout the country.

But according to information posted on the EPA's Web site, it is also "highly susceptible to contamination from septic tanks, agricultural runoff, highway de-icing, landfills, and pipe leaks." Contamination from pesticides is among those concerns. According to the U.S. Geological Survey, about 1 billion pounds of pesticides are used in the United States every year.

To prevent contamination, the EPA carries out several programs to ensure both people and the environment stay healthy.

The EPA helps ensure hazardous materials are properly stored, transported and disposed of so they don't leak into groundwater. The federal agency also works with regions and states to ensure drinking water is safe, making certain that laboratories that test water samples are certified by the EPA or the state and have periodic audits to ensure they're up to par.

Safe Water

The EPA also maintains a database, called for in the Safe Drinking Water Act, to monitor contaminants in the water. It also also collects data on contaminants that are believed to be in drinking water, but not yet regulated by health-based standards under the law, and reviews that list every five years.

Still, some say efforts under way are not enough.

"We should be doing a lot more to protect our groundwater," Wenonah Hauter, executive director of Food and Water Watch, told ABCNews.com. "There just has not been a willingness to classify some of the pesticides or to look at the human health effects," she said.

Hauter said part of the problem comes down to politics.

"Especially we've seen it during the last eight years, the manufacturers of these chemicals have some influence over the way that the Environmental Protection Agency assesses them," Hauter said.

"Looking at pesticides has become very politicized. EPA hasn't been doing what they need to do," she added.

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