Pesticides in our drinking water not regulated

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Pesticides have been found in groundwater and surface water—lakes, rivers, oceans. What about our drinking water right here in Vermont—our cities' and towns' water supplies and our private wells?

The U. S. Environmental Protection Agency is in charge of protecting our fresh water supply from many chemicals.

The EPA's website contains the Drinking Water Treatability Database, which lists potential water contaminants. There are many herbicides (plant killers), insecticides (insect killers), and fumigants ("vermin" killers) on that list.

For each of these chemicals, the database lists the crop it is used on, how it can get into the water, and what the health risks are. According to the database, glyphosate is an herbicide that is used on "many food and non-food crops and roadsides."

It can get into the water as "runoff from herbicide use." It's potential health effects from long-term exposure are "kidney problems, reproductive difficulties." However, on the database's detail pages for any of the commonly used pesticides including glyphosate, these chemicals are "not regulated by the EPA" in drinking water.

Glyphosate is the most widely used herbicide in the U.S. "Glyphosate residues have been found by various organizations in a range of commonly consumed products —cereals, wines, and snacks."

It has been discovered in the tap water in at least six states, including the cities of Bakersfield, California, and New Port Richey, Florida.

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The U.S.Geological Survey has found glyphosate "widely in the environment", including "commonly in the waters" and in more than 50 percent of soil and sediment samples and water samples from ditches, drains, large rivers, and streams. "'Glyphosate is definitely out there. Glyphosate and AMPA (an acid that is created as glyphosate starts to break down) are pervasive in the environment,' said William Battaglin, a USGS hydrologist, who coauthored the 2014 study" that was published in the Journal of American Water Resources.

The town of Warwick, Massachusetts, just over the border from Vermont, voted to ban the use of glyphosate on public and private land in 2017.

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The campaign for the ordinance was led by Lawrence Pruyne, a selectman, who noticed that one of the farms from which he bought vegetables used the Connecticut River for irrigation. Knowing that many dairy farms up the river in Vermont were growing GMO corn, and using glyphosate as their herbicide, he was worried that the water could be contaminating his vegetables.

Unfortunately, the outcome of the ban is uncertain, since it is up to the state of Massachusetts to decide how to regulate pesticides.

A number of countries, states and cities have taken steps to either regulate or ban the use of glyphosate. As examples, six European countries called for the European Commission to introduce an "exit plan for glyphosate," but they were outnumbered and the Commission voted to relicense glyphosate for another 5 years.

Portugal prohibits the use of glyphosate in all public spaces; Bermuda has outlawed private and commercial use of all glyphosate-based herbicides; Columbia and El Salvador outlawed the use of glyphosate.

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Many cities in California have placed restrictions on glyphosate use; that state became the first to issue a warning on glyphosate by adding the chemical to the state's list of chemicals known to cause cancer.

A number of towns in Connecticut, Maine, and New York have placed restrictions or bans on glyphosate.

Don Huber, a professor emeritus of plant pathology at Purdue University, believes that glyphosate may be more toxic than DDT.

"We need to recognize what the concerns are [with glyphosate], what's happening and then we need to change."

What more evidence do we need to ban glyphosate? As the experience in North Bennington with PFOA has shown, ignorance is not always bliss.

This article is provided as part of Healthy Environment-Healthy Kids, an ongoing educational project of Transition Town Manchester.


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