Washington, DC–(ENEWSPF)–September 10, 2012. Traces of pesticides in drinking water were found in eleven rural elementary schools in Oregon, according to a U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) study released on August 30. The study shows a disturbing variety of pesticides that when combined could have dramatic impacts on the health of the children that consume this water on a daily basis.
The study found traces of several different types of pesticides in the drinking water of Dixie and Fairplay, the elementary schools that service Corvallis, Oregon.
Some of the pesticides that were found in the Dixie school water include atrazine, bromacil, diuron, imidacloprid, metolachlor, norflurazon, and simazine. In the nine other schools that were found to have pesticides in their drinking water, seven different pesticides were found in the water at Applegate Elementary in Eugene, and multiple pesticides were also found in the drinking water of Ontario’s Pioneer and Cairo elementary.
Children face unique hazards from pesticide exposure. They take in more pesticides relative to their body weight than adults in the food they eat and air they breathe. Their developing organ systems often make them more sensitive to toxic exposure. The body of evidence in scientific literature shows that pesticide exposure can adversely affect a child’s neurological, respiratory, immune, and endocrine system, even at low levels. The Food Quality Protection Act of 1996 directs EPA to set pesticide residue standards ten times stricter than those considered acceptable for adults, however, this standard has often been ignored.
In addition to the harmful effects that these chemicals have on children, the combination of these chemicals can be more detrimental then each chemical individually. Teresa Huntsinger, who works on clean water issues for the Oregon Environmental Council, is concerned about the schools that have multiple pesticides in their water. “When drinking water levels are set, they’re assuming there’s one pollutant at a time and there’s very little science to understand what can happen when you have multiple chemicals together. There may be synergistic effects in the way these chemicals interact with each other,” Ms. Huntsinger said in a statement to Oregon public broadcasting.
Synergistic effects between multiple pesticides and chemicals are one of the largest gaps in the government’s ability to protect the public from adverse health effects. Mixing pesticides is a clear concern because they may have a stronger effect when combined. A 1999 study found that mixtures of three common groundwater contaminants —two pesticides and a fertilizer (aldicarb, atrazine, and nitrate)— at concentrations allowable in groundwater by EPA are capable of altering immune, endocrine, and nervous system functions in mice.
Atrazine, the chemical most found in this groundwater study, is used nationwide to kill broadleaf and grassy weeds, primarily in corn crops. Atrazine has been shown to be harmful to humans, mammals, and amphibians even when the amount used is less than the government allows. Atrazine is also associated with infertility, low birth weight, and abnormal infant development in humans. The U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service acknowledges that the chemical may harm the reproductive and endocrine systems in fish species, and there have been other reported cases of it leeching into drinking water both nationally and in Oregon. Additionally, frogs exhibit hermaphrodism when exposed to below below-legal allowable levels of the herbicide atrazine in waterways. The effects of atrazine are so detrimental that some members of Congress are looking to ban its use.
In addition to atrazine, diuron, metolachlor, norflurazon, and simazine, were found in the Fairplay ground water supply. Simizine has been known to be harmful to bees and aquatic species. Simazine also has a history as of leeching into water and has been detected in other groundwater studies.
In Ewing Elementary school drinking water, researchers discovered the presence of 2,4-D. 2,4-D is a chlorophenoxy herbicide and scientists around the world have reported increased cancer risks in association with its use, especially for soft tissue sarcoma and non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma. Research by EPA suggests that babies born in counties with high rates of chlorophenoxy herbicide applications to farm fields are significantly more likely to be born with birth defects of the respiratory and circulatory systems, as well as defects of the musculoskeletal system like clubfoot, fused digits and extra digits. These birth defects were 60% to 90% more likely in counties with higher 2,4-D application rates. The results also show a higher likelihood of birth defects in babies conceived in the spring, when herbicide application rates peak.
Children and pesticides don’t mix. Educate your Member of Congress about the School Environment Protection Act of 2012 (SEPA). Beyond Pesticides believes that this federal legislation will ensure a healthy learning environment for all students. In March, U.S. Representative Rush Holt and colleagues introduced the SEPA, which will protect school children from pesticides used both indoors and on all school grounds nationwide. The legislation also bans the use of synthetic fertilizers. SEPA was first introduced in November 1999 in both the U.S. Senate and House. The bill language is based on state school pest management laws. It also mirrors the structure of the Organic Foods Production Act of 1990, which established a national committee to oversee the program as well as an established a list of synthetic substances allowed for use within the program. A form of SEPA has passed the U.S. Senate twice since and, together with other legislation, indicates broad support for a national mandate to stop hazardous pesticide use in schools.
All unattributed positions and opinions in this piece are those of Beyond Pesticides.