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Pesticide Contamination In Drinking Water:  What You Need To Know

Pesticide Contamination In Drinking Water: What You Need To Know

Stephanie Angione, Ph.D. |  Scientific Contributor

Pesticides are chemicals used to kill environmental pests including insects, weeds, fungi and rodents. The most widely used agricultural pesticides are herbicides, which account for 40% of all pesticide use in the US.  In typical agriculture, pesticides are applied to crops in order to provide protection against destructive insects and invasive weeds or fungi. By design, pesticides kill or deter pests and thus are toxic to their intended target organisms. Additionally, many pesticides are toxic to humans, and organochlorine pesticides are 9 of the 12 most toxic organic chemicals, as outlined by the Stockholm Convention in 2001.

Which Pesticides Are Most Commonly Found In US Water Systems? 

The most comprehensive information available about pesticide occurrence at the national level is part of a 10-year program by the National Water-Quality Assessment (NAWQA), part of the US Geological Survey (USGS). It provides information about pesticide concentrations in streams and groundwater from data collected between 1992-2001.

Major findings of this study are that pesticides exist in both streams and groundwater throughout the US, in both urban and rural areas, but seldom occur at concentrations that will affect human health.  Of the water systems studied, pesticides were found 90% of the time in streams throughout the US in urban and agricultural areas. Groundwater sources were less affected by pesticide contamination, with shallow groundwater sources in agricultural and urban areas having pesticides 61% and 55% of the time respectively.

The most commonly detected pesticides in stream water include five agricultural herbicides, atrazine, metolachlor, cyanazine and acetochlor and five non-agricultural herbicides in urban areas, including simazine, prometon, teburthiuron, 2,4-D and diuron and three insecticides – diazinon, chlorpyrifos and carbaryl (Figure 1).

Pesticide Contamination In Surface Water

Pesticide Contamination In Ground Water And Wells

Figure 1: Percentage of samples found with pesticide contamination in agricultural and urban stream water (upper) and groundwater (lower).

Additionally, pesticides detected the most frequently in fish and streambed sediment were organochloride pesticides and degradation products (Figure 2). Organochlorides were used heavily in the 1950s and 1960s and were largely abandoned by the 1980s. However these compounds including DDT are very persistent in soils, sediments and animals, and were thus found at high levels in stream sources.

Pesticide Contamination In Fish

Figure 2: Percentage of samples of fish tissue containing organochlorine pesticides and degradation products in agricultural and urban streambeds

Despite the widespread existence of pesticides in water systems, levels of pesticides only exceeded human health benchmarks in about 10% of agricultural streams, and 7% of urban streams studied.  It should be noted that for public water supply intakes that withdraw water from streams in the US, only 12% are from an agricultural land-use areas, and only 1% from an urban land-use areas. As for groundwater, only 1% of wells sampled had pesticide levels above human health benchmarks.

As for the pesticides present at these excessive concentrations, the most commonly found were atrazine, cyanazine, diazinon and dieldrin. Notably, stream contamination was commonly atrazine and cyanazine and well contamination was dieldrin, which is no longer used but is a known persistent pollutant.

While the compounds discussed above were detected the most frequently in the study period from 1992-2001, pesticide usage changes as new pesticides are developed. A new study of streams sampled in the US in 2015 by the USGS indicates the existence of the relatively new class of pesticides- neonicotinoids, in US water systems. The study found at least one neonicotinoid detected in 53% of all samples, with imidacloprid detected the most frequently (37%). Guidelines on the effects of neonicotinoids in humans and safe levels of exposure have not yet been systematically investigated.

For more information on tracking of common pollutants and pesticides in drinking water, the USGS has an interactive map to examine levels of pesticides nationwide.

How Is Pesticide Contamination Regulated?

The EPA regulates pesticides nationally under the Federal Insecticide, Fungicide and Rodenticide Act to protect human health and the environment. Aside from the 141 banned and severely restricted pesticides, the EPA has set limits on the allowable amount of pesticides in food and drinking water. Many pesticides including alachlor, atrazine, carbofuran, chlordane, 2,4-D, glyphosate, heptachlor, and simazine are included in the national primary drinking water standards that outline the maximum contaminant level for each compound. Public water suppliers are required to maintain levels below the maximum contaminant level for all compounds listed. The EPA has also established 394 human health benchmarks for pesticides that are registered for use on food crops but are not regulated under the national primary drinking water standards.

How Do I Find Out If My Drinking Water Is Contaminated With Pesticides?

If you are concerned about the effects of pesticides in your drinking water and are served by a public water system, your local water supplier is required to issue a Consumer Confidence Report that lists contaminant levels in the water supply. If you have a private well, a laboratory can test your drinking water.

Although the EPA regulates many pesticides as drinking water contaminants, there are many that are not. Additionally, levels of pesticide contamination can vary widely depending on the agricultural season and pesticides can be used in water systems to control pests like mosquitos.

If you get water from a household well, the local health department should have information about ground water quality and contaminants of concern, but it is often a good idea to have your water tested by a certified laboratory for contaminants. The EPA’s Safe Drinking Water Hotline (800-426-4791) can provide additional resources in your local area. It is also important to consider the proper use of pesticides at home if you have a private well, as pesticide runoff can contribute to well contamination.

How Do I Remove Pesticides From Drinking Water?

A home water filtration system can remove pesticides from drinking water that may not fall under EPA regulation. Water filtration systems that use activated carbon as part of the filtration media blend or reverse osmosis can be effective in removing pesticides from water.  Contrary to what some people tell you, boiling/freezing water does NOT remove pesticides from drinking water!

Do You Have More Questions About Pesticides In Drinking Water?

Hydroviv makes it our business to help you better understand your water. As always, feel free to take advantage of our “help no matter what” approach to technical support! Our water nerds will work to answer your questions, even if you have no intention of purchasing one of our water filters. Reach out by dropping us an email (hello@hydroviv.com) or through our live chat. You can also find us on Twitter or Facebook!

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Roller Coaster Ride For Water Quality In The Great Lakes

Aakriti Pandey  |  Contributor   

Editor's Note:  This article is part of a new initiative to include stories on our blog that link scientific policy to everyday life.  Recently, the new administration proposed changes to the EPA budget that would gut the Great Lakes Restoration Initiative (GLRI), which could impact the water quality of major cities (e.g. Chicago, Milwaukee) 

An upward slope

1972 was the year that marked the turning point for Great Lakes, Michigan. It was the year when Congress passed the federal Clean Water Act, and as a result, the water quality did improve in most expanses of the North American rivers and lakes, the contaminants' concentration declined, and many fisheries across the nation recuperated too. The water quality of the Great Lakes today are far improved than they did back in 1972.

A downward slide

However, there's a host of new problems today that are affecting both, the nature and the people, again. From the dissemination of the foreign mussels and other invasive aquatic species, sewer and pollution overflows caused by some severe storms, introduction of other contaminants in the lakes including the pharmaceuticals and fire retardants, to the overall climate change... the ecology of the Great Lakes have been turned upside down again. The Lake Michigan car ferry SS Badger has dumped about 500 tons of polluted coal ash into the lake every year. There are cities with archaic sewer systems, and they expel tens of billions of gallons of sewage into  the lakes annually. 
As water pollution in the Great Lakes increases, not only are the lives of aquatic species in danger, but this is also deeply affecting human health. People who call places like Chicago, Milwaukee, Green Bay, and many other cities alongside the Lake Michigan their home, draw their drinking water from the Great Lakes. And their lives are in danger.

​Another up...

An initiative was given birth in 2010 with a vision to protect and restore this largest system of fresh surface water in the world. The Great Lakes Restoration Initiative (GLRI) intended to accelerate efforts to "strategically target the biggest threats to the Great Lakes ecosystem". With plans to clean up the areas of concern, control the invasive species, reduce nutrient runoff, and restore habitat, the GLRI gave sight of the dim light at the end of the tunnel.

​And the new downward spiral?

Those who've been grateful for the GLRI are now holding their breaths again as this plan is close to being very short-lived because the new administration announced plans for a $50 million cut from the GLRI funding as part of the new EPA budget. 
For one, it's important for initiatives like this to study the impacts of these types of inevitable accidents. More importantly, it's also of momentous value to collectively remain vigilant as a community about what's happening in our environment and surroundings.

Very recent events highlight the need for initiatives like GLRI to remain funded.  For example, U.S. Steel Corporation also recently accidentally released hexavalent chromium into Lake Michigan, forcing the interception of drinking water intake in the local communities and a closing of many beaches.

Hydroviv's water nerds have a "Help no matter what" technical support policy, and we always answer your drinking-water related questions, regardless of your intent to purchase our products. 

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Breaking: 3M Pays Minnesota $850M For Decades Of Water Contamination

Analies Dyjak | Policy Analyst

This past Tuesday, February 20th, 2018, a lengthy lawsuit of eight-years ended in an $850 million settlement in favor of the state of Minnesota.

If you’re unfamiliar with the water crisis in Minnesota, here’s a quick recap:

In 2010 the state of Minnesota filed suit against 3M, a manufacturing company based out of Maplewood, Minnesota. The lawsuit came about because of allegations that 3M had been knowingly and improperly disposing of perfluorinated chemicals (PFC’s) such as perflurooctanoic acid (PFOA), and perfluorooctanesulfonic acid (PFOS) for decades. This probably sounds familiar to GenX contamination in North Carolina. 3M publicly stated their phase-out of PFC-like compounds in 2000. In 2004, 67,000 households in communities such as Lake Elmo, Oakdale, Woodbury and Cottage Grove had traces of PFC’s in their drinking water. In 2010, the state of Minnesota initially asked for $5 billion from 3M for natural resource and environmental degradation. In a last ditch effort to avoid trial, the state of Minnesota was granted an $850 million settlement on behalf of 3M. 3M claims that the settlement doesn’t make them guilty of poisoning thousands of people in Minnesota, but rather to show their commitment to environmental stewardship.

How Did The PFC Contamination Get Into Drinking Water?

3M had been disposing of PFC’s in their privately owned landfills as well as certain public landfills in Washington County since the 1950’s. It’s uncertain if 3M disclosed to the public landfills that PFOA’s and PFOS’s would be a part of their industrial hazardous waste permits. Additionally, cap technology in the in the 1950’s and up to the 1970’s was not nearly as advanced as it is today. Once the chemicals were disposed of in the landfill, over time they leached through the lining and into surrounding groundwater.

Health Effects of PFC’s, PFOA’s and PFOS’s

Health experts in Minnesota have seen higher rates of cancers, leukemia, premature births and lower fertility rates in suburbs near 3M manufacturing. This is a pretty constant trend when looking into long term exposure of perfluorinated chemicals. A University of California, Berkeley professor reported a 30% increase in low birth-weights and premature births between the years of 2001 and 2006 in Oakdale, a suburb of a 3M manufacturing plant.

Where Will the Money GO?

According to the Minnesota Attorney General, the settlement will be used to fund projects involving drinking water and water sustainability (whatever that means). $850 million may seem like a substantial peace offering, but the state came to the conclusive amount of $5 billion for a reason. This was the well-researched amount of money that state experts determined for damage done by 3M. Does this mean that the drinking water problem is completely fixed? No. It’s not guaranteed that every household will receive compensation and funding for a proper filtration system. The same UC Berkeley professor estimated the economic cost of the pollution; $1.5 billion in natural resource damages, $830 million in financial damages to existing households, and $309 million for people moving to the area by 2050. So although the settlement is significant, it won’t nearly be able to remediate all existing damages.


The settlement in Minnesota is a win for the environmental and the millions of individuals affected by 3M. There is still uncertainty regarding how the settlement money will be allocated, and which projects will be prioritized.


Brief History of 3M in Minnesota

3M initially began producing PFC’s in the 1950’s. Of course commercial-scale production of PFC’s were almost completely unregulated during this time. The Clean Water Act and National Environmental Policy Act weren’t codified until 1970. Knowledge of PFC-like contaminants was minimal and economic pressure was high.

Prior to any knowledge of PFC’s, 3M focused its attention on remediation efforts to volatile organic compounds (VOC’s). VOC’s were first found in groundwater in Washington County in 1966. Because of this, state permitting agencies and 3M were all aware of the hydrology of this area.

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How Mining Activities From Long Ago Continue To Pollute Water Today

Daphne Abrams M.S.Ed.  |  Scientific Contributor   

I became interested in the impact of mining a few years ago when I started teaching an environmental science class in northwestern Nevada.  Nevada has a rich history of pioneers and mining (It is the silver state after all).  While mining can be a source of revenue and prosperity for an area, it also has a huge environmental impact that can last many decades after the mining activity ends. This article discusses how this has played out in the Carson River.

Historical Mining Activities And EPA Superfund Sites

EPA’s Superfund program is responsible for cleaning up highly contaminated land and responding to environmental emergencies, oil spills and natural disasters in order to minimize long-lasting contamination from these events.  Even though the government has categorized these sites as highly toxic, they are sorely underfunded when it comes to cleanup and often forgotten about altogether.  This is particularly problematic because one in six Americans live within 3 miles of a Superfund site. The closest two Superfund sites to the school that I teach at are two abandoned mining sites. One is the Carson River Mercury Site, which is the legacy of silver and gold mining in the area, and the other is from the abandoned Rio Tinto Copper Mine. 

Lasting Impacts Of Historical Mining Activity On The Carson River

Between the contamination from these two Superfund sites, roughly eighty miles of the Carson River is paralyzed by heavy metal toxicity.  Even though contamination likely occurred in the 1800s, there are still advisories not eat fish caught in that stretch of the Carson River, due to concerns about mercury, which biomagnifies up food the food chain. 

What's Being Done About Contamination From Historical Mining Activities?

While it seems hard to debate against cleaning up these types of historical toxic messes,   the Senate and House voted to overturn the “Stream Protection Rule” shortly after President Trump took office, as part of the new administration's campaign promise to relax environmental regulations.  

Do You Have More Questions About How Historical Mining Activities Contaminate Drinking Water?

Hydroviv makes it our business to help you better understand your water. As always, feel free to take advantage of our “help no matter what” approach to technical support! Our water nerds will work to answer your questions, even if you have no intention of purchasing one of our water filters. Reach out by dropping us an email (hello@hydroviv.com) or through our live chat. You can also find us on Twitter or Facebook!

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Legionnaires' Disease In Flint Tap Water: What You Need To Know

Eric Roy, Ph.D. 

A new report was released which confirmed that an outbreak of Legionnaires' disease in Flint, Michigan that killed 12 people and sickened at least 87 during 2014 and 2015 was likely caused by low chlorine levels in the municipal water system.  It's another example of Flint's broader water crisis that resulted from widespread incompetence and fraud.  We will add to this article as more questions come in.

What Is Legionnaires' Disease?

Legionnaires is a pneumonia, caused the bacterium Legionella pneumophila.  Legionella pneumophila  grows in water, and can enter the lungs through tiny water droplets.  If a person doesn't have a robust immune system, they can become very sick, or even die.  

Where Is Legionella Found?

According to Marc Edwards (A professor at Virginia Tech), Legionella is found in about 25 percent of all water samples collected nationally.   It's a common bacterium, but it's usually kept under control in municipal water.

How Is Legionella Typically Controlled In Municipal Tap Water

In properly treated municipal water, Legionella is kept under control by chlorine-based disinfectants, so the bacterium cannot reach dangerous levels.  In Flint, it appears that not enough chlorine was added to the water to leave enough residual chlorine to keep the bacterium under control, which is what caused people to become sick.

Is Flint Still At Risk Of Legionnaires Disease?

According to Edwards, chlorine in Flint's water is now at the correct level, so the likelihood of Legionnaires' disease popping back up is minimal.   It is our opinion at Hydroviv that concerned Flint residents should take every piece of advice issued by Dr. Edwards.  If he says that there is enough chlorine, there is enough chlorine.  

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Absurdity Of The "Raw Water" or "Living Water" Craze

Absurdity Of The "Raw Water" or "Living Water" Craze

Eric Roy, Ph.D.

Last week, the New York Times wrote an article about about a new craze called "Raw Water" or "Live Water" where people are buying untreated water that has been collected from a spring, and sold for high prices (often more than $30 per bottle). Normally with this type of rubbish, we take the position of "If people are dumb enough to fall for this... they deserve to lose their money," but this is different because there is a real risk of harm to children and other unwilling participants.  We've been getting asked a lot of questions about this article (and others like it), so we'll use this article to answer some of the frequently asked questions.  To be clear, the focus of this article is on raw/living water portion of the article, not the company that makes a device that pulls moisture from the atmosphere.

What Are People Referring To When They Talk About Raw Or "Living" Untreated Water?

Simply put, this movement refers to raw water as water collected directly from a spring or other natural source and sold to people without the water being disinfected or otherwise treated. The "living" aspect of it refers to the algae and bacteria that are found in the untreated water. No matter what anyone tells you... water is NOT alive.  

What Are Benefits Of Drinking Raw Water?

There are no benefits are documented by any kind of science.  Proponents report "feeling x,y,z," which is another way of saying "placebo effect."

Why Is Drinking Raw Water Such A Terrible Idea?

 Because it can contain bacteria, viruses, and other parasites in it that can make you sick.  Even if you have the unfounded belief that spring water is sterile (it's not), contamination can come from the bottler's hands, bottle, or anything that comes in contact with the water or container.  

Why Does Raw Water Turn Green?

In non-disinfected waters... light + nutrients = algae growth.  Spring water is often contaminated with nitrates & phosphates from human activities, so when that water is exposed to light, the algae are able to undergo photosynthesis and grow.  That's why the water turns green... you're essentially setting up a terrarium in your bottle.

This is bad, because an algae bloom is providing a food source for potentially harmful bacteria to thrive.

Is Raw Water Free Of Chemical Contaminants?

No.  Even seemingly pristine springs in remote areas can be contaminated by a variety of chemicals.  This is because springs are fed by shallow groundwater, which is very susceptible to contamination from the surrounding areas.

What's Wrong With The New York Times Article On Drinking Raw Water?

The focus of this article (over 90% of the content) was dedicated to the stories of the founders of the companies who stand to profit and supporters of the movement, not scientists or medical experts.  The only scientist interviewed was quoted in two short paragraphs near the end of the article. This type of coverage gives the article the feeling of a supportive "puff piece" if you only take a cursory glance at it.  

More Questions About Untreated Water?

We'll be updating as questions continue to come in.  If you have one, please send it to hello@hydroviv.com