States Battle Pesticides in Groundwater

State Efforts to Study Pesticides

Oregon is one state that said it has stepped up its effort to study pesticides. Along with scientists and public health experts from Oregon state departments of agriculture, health and human services, forestry and environmental quality, Janet Fults, a supervisor with the Oregon Department of Agriculture's pesticides division, is working to identify the state's pesticide priorities.

By studying water samples taken by the Oregon Department of Environmental Quality and the U.S. Geological Survey, her coalition observed that seven pesticides appeared routinely: Azinphos-methyl, Chlorpyrifos, Diazinon, Endosulfan, Dacthal, Ethoprop and Simazine.

Concern over those particular seven pesticides came out of a report released this summer by the Oregon Department of Agriculture. In that first state effort to examine pesticide use, Oregon learned that more than 40 million pounds of pesticides and herbicides were used in 2007, especially in soil on potato farms.

Pesticides and the Environment

A 2006 USGS report on pesticide use likewise found that pesticides were detected in every stream sampled. Of more than 5,000 wells sampled, more than half of shallow wells and a third of deeper wells contained at least one pesticide.

Fults said that EPA support for reducing pesticides in groundwater is minimal. She said it has not given the states a deadline by which to establish their benchmarks and address water quality issues.

"There are so many pesticides that do not have benchmarks," Fults told ABCNews.com. "The EPA expects states to address water quality issues without benchmarks. Oregon is one of them but all of the states are in the same position."

Aimee Code, a water quality coordinator for the nonprofit Northwest Coalition for Alternatives to Pesticides, said that Oregon is one of only three states that has a comprehensive pesticide reporting program. California and New York are the other two states, she said.

"Oregon is rising to the challenge and it's better than holding out and waiting for the federal government to catch up. They are unfortunately years behind," Code said.

But, she emphasized, not all states have the resources, knowledge and capability to tackle pesticide issues in the way that Oregon can.

"There really should be a federal overarching review of these pesticides," she said.

In the meantime, in July, on behalf of a broad coalition of farmworkers, labor unions and environmental groups, Earthjustice filed a suit against the EPA in a federal court in San Francisco over the use of the pesticide diazinon. The pesticide was one of the seven recently identified in Oregon but has been detected in other states across the country.

Osborne-Klein said the chemical was originally developed to be a nerve gas, but after World War II was used as an insecticide, primarily for agricultural.

In 2004, the EPA banned the residential use of the chemical because of the risks it poses to children. However, it continued to allow farm uses of diazinon.

Earthjustice's suit challenges the decision to allow continued use of the pesticide because it can reach nearby communities through runoff and air. It is the most common insecticide detected in surface waters and has been detected in the air near schools at unsafe levels.

"Children are really at risk," Hauter said. "And a lot of these pesticides aren't just found in groundwater, they're also found in food products."

"Consumers need to be really cognizant of the food that they're eating and, as much as possible, buy organically grown or locally grown where you can actually talk to the farmer and look how the food is being grown," she said.

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