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WA Pesticide Monitors Hit the Streams for Another Season

PHOTO: From March to September, water samples taken throughout the state will help determine how much pesticide spray ends up in streams. Photo credit: Ron Nichols, Natural Resources Conservation Service.
PHOTO: From March to September, water samples taken throughout the state will help determine how much pesticide spray ends up in streams. Photo credit: Ron Nichols, Natural Resources Conservation Service.
March 11, 2013

OLYMPIA, Wash. - Starting this month, water samples will be scooped out of streams every week around the state to test for the presence of farm chemicals potentially harmful to fish and people. It's a joint project of the Washington State Departments of Agriculture and Ecology. The last few years of data indicate that only 10 of the 74 chemicals detected showed an increase.

George Tuttle, an eco-toxicologist with the Washington State Dept. of Agriculture, called that good news.

"There's not a lot of real-world data out there," he said, "but basically these levels are really low. We actually rarely detect levels of these chemicals that are of any concern to aquatic life."

Tuttle said they are also seeing a trend of more herbicides or weed-killers in the water samples, and fewer insecticides. The Surface Water Monitoring Program started on two watersheds, 10 years ago. This year, technicians will test streams in seven watersheds, including two urban areas.

The law firm Earthjustice has taken on some farm chemical manufacturers about the safety of their products. Attorney Steve Mashuda said he is pleased to see the monitoring program, but would like to see even more done.

"These monitoring reports are a good start, for sure," he said. "The troubling thing is that we see pretty much flat use - no real significant changes at all - in the use of some of the insecticides that are of greatest concern to salmon."

Mashuda pointed out that the monitoring does not include one critical concern for fish: the peak concentrations of pesticides in the water or those amounts that show up within days after they are first applied.

Dept. of Agriculture spokesman Hector Castro said the test results help the department spread the word to farmers, and they reinforce the need to apply agricultural chemicals safely.

"A lot of growers feel that they're doing a good job about keeping pesticides out of surface waters," he explained, "and this data tends to support that view, that they're taking this information to heart."

The Surface Water Monitoring Program continues weekly through September. Information about the program is available at www.agr.wa.gov.

Chris Thomas, Public News Service - WA