NRDC Report Warns of Pesticide Contamination in Drinking Water

Oct. 1, 2009
The Natural Resources Defense Council said that 33 million Americans have been drinking water containing the pesticide atrazine.

By Patrick Crow, Washington Correspondent

The Natural Resources Defense Council said that 33 million Americans have been drinking water containing the pesticide atrazine. A NRDC report said that all of the watersheds that EPA monitors and 90% of the drinking water it tested contain atrazine. Contamination was most severe in Illinois, Iowa, Indiana, Missouri, and Nebraska.

The report said the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) has found that 75% of stream water and 40% of groundwater samples from agricultural areas contained atrazine.

NRDC said atrazine, which is banned by the European Union, is the most commonly detected pesticide in U.S. waters and is a known endocrine disruptor, which means that it affects human and animal hormones.

"The Environmental Protection Agency is ignoring some very high concentrations of this pesticide in water that people are drinking and using every day. This exposure could have a considerable impact on reproductive health," NRDC said. "People living in contaminated areas need to be made aware and the regulators need to get this product off the market."

Under the Safe Drinking Water Act, EPA limits atrazine in drinking water to an annual average of no more than 3 parts per billion. NRDC said using such a "running annual average" can allow levels of atrazine in drinking water to peak at extremely high concentrations.

NRDC urged the phase out of atrazine, more effective atrazine monitoring, and the adoption of farming techniques to prevent it from running into waterways.

Separately, USGS said mercury contamination has been found in every fish sampled in 291 streams across the country.

About a quarter of the fish had contamination at levels exceeding EPA's criterion for the protection of people who consume average amounts of fish. More than two-thirds of the fish exceeded the EPA level of concern.

Secretary of the Interior Ken Salazar said, "This study shows just how widespread mercury pollution has become."

The survey tested mercury contamination in fish, bed sediment and water from 1998 to 2005. The report said high levels of mercury in fish were found in even relatively undeveloped watersheds.

USGS said atmospheric mercury was the main culprit – coal-fired power plants are the largest source of mercury emissions in the U.S. -- but gold and mercury mining had possibly affected 59 of the streams. The agency noted that its findings in the 291 streams may not be representative of mercury levels in all types of freshwater environments across the U.S.

In February, EPA announced it planned to control air emissions of mercury from coal-fired power plants by issuing a rule under the Clean Air Act.

League of Cities Report

The National League of Cities (NLC) has reported that the ability of cities to meet their financial needs during the current economic downturn will worsen through 2010 and beyond.

The report, based on NLC's annual survey of municipal finance officers, said cities face significant budget gaps this year as their income and sales tax collections have dropped.

"The current economic situation is wreaking havoc on city budgets," said NLC president Kathleen Novak, mayor of Northglenn, Colo. "Although we are beginning to see signs of a possible recovery in the national economy, city officials will need to be more proactive than ever in terms of monitoring their budgets, reevaluating budget priorities, and identifying new revenue and savings opportunities."

NLC said in the face of declining revenue and increasing expenses, 88% of finance officers are pessimistic about their cities' abilities to meet fiscal needs this year and next. NLC said this is the worst outlook the report has detailed in 24 years.

Since most cities are required to balance their budgets, NLC said 67% have begun hiring freezes or layoffs, 62% have canceled capital infrastructure projects, and 32% have cut services other than public safety.

The report said 42% of cities are increasing the level of fees they charge and 25% are creating fees for some services. The report indicates that 25% of cities have increased property taxes.

In other Washington news:

    – The American Water Works Association and the National Rural Water Association have signed a memorandum of understanding, under negotiation for a year, to facilitate cooperative actions.
    – The International Bottled Water Association said a federal court has set an Oct. 22 hearing on an injunction that blocked New York state from implementing a law requiring a 5 cent deposit on bottled water. Bottling firms complained the law did not give them enough time to comply.
    – The Department of Agriculture said rural drinking water and wastewater projects in 27 states will receive $175.8 million in funding through the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act. So far, it has announced $1.47 billion for water and environmental project loans and grants under the law.
    – EPA has proposed a rule to control wastewater from the deicing of planes and pavement at more than 200 airports nationwide. EPA and states would incorporate the proposed requirements into stormwater permits.
    – EPA will use an online forum to receive public input until Dec. 1 on priorities for its national enforcement program. The current enforcement priorities through 2010 include pollution from stormwater runoff, air toxics, concentrated animal feeding operations, and mineral processing.
    – EPA has proposed allowing the underground sequestration of carbon dioxide between geologic formations that supply drinking water, if the injection operator can show that the project would not contaminate the aquifers.
    – The House Energy and Commerce Committee was accepting comments on a bill that would require water system to draft risk-based security plans and update them every 5 years. They also would have to consider switching from the use of chlorine gas to less dangerous chemicals or processes. WW

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