Some water supplies have persistent issues with pesticide detections - Irish Water

It was confirmed last week that an exceedance for the herbicide glyphosate has been detected in the public drinking water supply in Newport, Co. Mayo.
It was confirmed last week that an exceedance for the herbicide glyphosate has been detected in the public drinking water supply in Newport, Co. Mayo.
Ciaran Moran

Ciaran Moran

Irish Water has confirmed a significant increase in pesticide exceedances detected in public water supplies so far this year.

Currently, for 2019 there have been 20 pesticide exceedances in public water supplies. In the same period last year, there were just 2.

Data from Irish Water also shows that from May 2018 to May 2019 there were 80 pesticide exceedances detected in public water supplies in Ireland. This does not include the group water sector or private wells.

Irish water said while the detections in 2019 are high, it also highlighted that last year's figures were untypical low due to a combination of the drought and a relatively high level of compliance for pesticides.

However, it did say what is becoming particularly apparent is that some supplies continue to have persistent issues with pesticide detections and/or exceedances.

It was confirmed last week that an exceedance for the herbicide glyphosate has been detected in the public drinking water supply in Newport, Co. Mayo.

While in Ballinasloe, Co Galway Irish Water has detected exceedances for the herbicide MCPA  following two above limit detections in the past two months.

It has advised users of pesticides in this area that the Ballinasloe Regional Water Supply scheme could be placed on the EPA’s Remedial Action List if there are a further two exceedances for MCPA detected. Ballinasloe takes its water supply from the River Suck, and farmers in this catchment that takes in large parts of counties Galway and Roscommon have been told to be particularly vigilant.

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Recent Drinking water monitoring results for Ireland show that a number of pesticides commonly used such as Bentazone, MCPP, MCPA, Clopyralid and Fluroxypyr, are being detected more frequently.

Dr Pat O’Sullivan, Regional Drinking Water Compliance Specialist said in Co Mayo, the exceedance of the drinking water regulations for Glyphosate was noted in the Newport supply in May. "While the HSE has advised that the levels seen do not represent a threat to public health, it is however undesirable and it is therefore imperative that users of pesticides are mindful of best practice when spraying their lands," he said.

Irish Water said it is working in partnership with the National Pesticides and Drinking Water Action Group (NPDWAG), is appealing to farmers, sporting organisations and other users of pesticides to carefully follow the guidelines when applying these chemicals to their lands.

Irish Water has highlighted that a single drop of pesticide can breach the drinking water limit in a small stream for up to 30 kilometres. This, it says clearly highlights the potential risk facing many of Ireland’s drinking water sources.

The efforts to reduce the incidence of these detections are being coordinated by the NPDWAG. This group is chaired by the Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine. All of the key stakeholders are represented in this group and include other Government departments and agencies; local authorities; industry representative bodies; farming organisations; water sector organisations; and amenity sector organisations. 

At training events to highlight Best Management Practice in the use of herbicides and pesticides by farmers last week organised by the Animal and Plant Health Association its, Chief Executive, John Keogh, said pesticide contamination of drinking water has become a significant focus of environmental concerns.

"While the overall quality of drinking water in Ireland is very high, testing has revealed a number of drinking water supplies where pesticide contamination has been detected, including a small number of locations which have shown persistent exceedances of the permitted levels.

"In Ireland, most of the contamination issues concern herbicides and, in particular, MCPA which is used in the control of rushes in grassland. It is important to recognise that the permitted levels are set considerably below levels which would impact on people’s health.”

The basic steps in reducing pesticide risks are:

  • Choose the right pesticide product (Note that products containing MCPA are NOT approved for use in weed-wipers.)
  • Read and follow the product label
  • Determine the right amount to purchase and use
  • Don’t spray if rain or strong wind is forecast in the next 48 hours
  • Make sure you are aware of the location of all nearby water courses
  • Comply with any buffer zone specified on the product label to protect the aquatic environment. Mark out the specified buffer zone from the edge of the river or lake or other water course
  • Never fill a sprayer directly from a water course or carry out mixing, loading or other handling operations beside a water course
  • Avoid spills, stay well back from open drains and rinse empty containers 3 times into the sprayer
  • Store and dispose of pesticides and their containers properly

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