Problem Water: Pesticides

A plane spraying pesticides over a field of cropsWith the snow having mercifully melted and beach weather in the forecast, we can finally put winter safely in our rearview mirror. For farmers, that means getting out and working the fields by tilling, planting, and doing dozens of other chores to ensure a successful crop. One of those chores is spraying pesticides – chemicals used to protect crops from harmful influences like weeds and insects.

Pesticide use has grown in recent decades as exportation of our crops to other countries has become commonplace and our national population has exploded. Pesticides are incredibly useful. They greatly increase crop output, providing millions of people with the food they need to survive. They also help insure farmers against the threat of otherwise uncontrollable factors such as crop-eating nuisances and disease.

There’s another side to this coin, though, because the 1.1 billion pounds of pesticides sprayed across American fields each year don’t just stay on the crops indefinitely. In many cases, rain water rinses the pesticides off the crops they were meant to protect and carries them into lakes, streams, and underground aquifers that supply many homes with water. Not surprisingly, this is a larger issue in rural, agricultural areas where the pesticides are being used in expansive fields during spring and early summer.

For American families unknowingly consuming these chemicals, the long-term effects are difficult to predict. Most pesticides are modern creations, and the extensive studies and tests necessary to determine their impact on human and wildlife health are incomplete. According to the United States Geological Survey, “it would be wise to treat pesticides as potentially dangerous and, thus, to handle them with care.” Ominously, these threats could be even more dangerous than the sum of their parts. The combination of separate pesticides in the initial treatment of crops or when they drain into a communal water supply could have a compounding effect, causing unpredictable illnesses and unexpected consequences.

Pesticide contamination varies greatly according to geographical area, soil permeability, and season. Homeowners who draw their water from wells in agricultural areas may be using contaminated water, unwittingly laying the foundation for heinous long-term health effects. If you’re unsure what impurities are lurking in your water, have your water tested. For more information about pesticides and their effects on wildlife and human health, visit the USGS website.


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