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Rural Drinking Water Contaminated With Pesticides
(Beyond Pesticides, May 16, 2005)
Test results from an ongoing drinking water study in Minnesota show levels of pesticides in private drinking water wells, according to the Minneapolis Star Tribune, May 10, 2006. According to the report, more than 60 percent of the two dozen private wells tested for pesticides in Dakota County contain traces of more than one pesticide, and some have as many as five, including alachlor, metolachlor and atrazine. Six of the wells contain levels of the highly tetratogenic herbicide cyanazine, which the manufacturer, DuPont, agreed to stop selling in 2002, but supplies can continue to be used -- as is typical in EPA-negotiated pesticide cancellations.

Officials believe that the county's geology makes it easy for rainfall to wash chemicals quickly through sandy soils and fractured limestone to contaminate groundwater. County officials have requested that all 66 wells tested be checked again this spring to verify the results. County communications manager Jane Vanderpoel said that if the results are the same, the county will probably prepare a list of recommendations for all of the county's estimated 35,000 private well owners to make certain that their water is safe to drink.

For now, people have been informed of the test results and given information about bottled water, filters and other options.

The Minnesota study is, in part, a response to the 1996 amendments to the federal Safe Drinking Water Act, which requires states to have wellhead protection programs. A capture zone for the well (called the wellhead protection area) is designated and a plan should be developed and implemented for managing potential contamination sources within the wellhead protection area. However, the Minnesota Department of Health (MDH) assigns staff in the Source Water Protection Unit to focus its assistance on public water suppliers with the preparation and implementation of wellhead protection plans. MDH administers the state wellhead protection rule, Minnesota Rules, Chapter 4720.5100 - 4720.5590, that sets standards for wellhead protection planning. Minnesota’s goal is to have all affected public water suppliers implementing some level of wellhead protection by the year 2006.

Source Water Assessments are reports that provide a concise desrcription of the water source - such as a well, lake, or river - used by a public water system and discuss how susceptible that source may be to contamination. The 1996 amendments to the federal Safe Drinking Water Act require states to produce source water assessments for all their public water systems and to make the results of those assessments available to the public. MDH has recently completed assessments for the over 7,000 public water systems in the state. The types of facilities for which assessments have been completed range from small businesses on their own well to large city water systems using several different water sources.

The source water assessment programs (SWAP) created by states differ since they are tailored to each state’s water resources and drinking water priorities. However, each assessment must include four major elements:
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* delineating (or mapping) the source water assessment area,
* conducting an inventory of potential sources of contamination in the delineated area,
* determining the susceptibility of the water supply to those contamination sources, and
* releasing the results of the determinations to the public.

Citizens and organizations can join in the assessment process. EPA’s SWAP Contact List has state specific contacts and links to State web sites and is available through EPA’s Office of Groundwater and Drinking Water.

Source Water Assessment Using Geographic Information Systems: This document provides guidance to states, municipalities, and public water utilities for assessing source waters using geographic information system (GIS) technology.

See U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) findings on pesticide contamination of water.

Take Action. Check out your state’s Source Water Assessment Program (SWAP) and see whether there are plans to stop groundwater and drinking water contamination. This is a critical opportunity at the state and local level to advance alternative, including organic, practices for agriculture, lawn care, parks, golf courses, rights-of-way, and forestry. Check out whether assistance is being provided to those who drink water from private wells. On a regulatory note, write EPA Administrator Stephen Johnson with the findings of private well water in your state or community and ask why this information is not incorporated into EPA’s risk assessments that support continued use of pesticides that are poisoning children and communities. Please copy Beyond Pesticides on your correspondence.