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article imageNeonic pesticides have been found in U.S. drinking water

By Karen Graham     Apr 5, 2017 in Science
Since their introduction in the 1990s, neonicotinoids have become one of the world's most widely used pesticides. However, and it was bound to happen, neonicotinoids have now been detected in our drinking water.
Neonicotinoids, (sometimes shortened to neonics) are a class of neuro-active insecticides chemically similar to nicotine. The neonicotinoid family includes acetamiprid, clothianidin, imidacloprid, nitenpyram, nithiazine, thiacloprid, and thiamethoxam, with Imidacloprid being the most widely used.
Unlike organophosphates, neonics are supposed to be less toxic to insects, birds, and mammals. But by the late 1990s, neonics had come under increasing scrutiny over their impact on the environment. Numerous studied linked neonicotinoids to a whole range of ecological effects, including honey-bee colony collapse disorder (CCD) and loss of birds due to dwindling insect numbers.
A rocky stream in Spearfish Canyon  South Dakota  US
A rocky stream in Spearfish Canyon, South Dakota, US
Neonics found in U.S. streams in 2015
As concern over neonics' impact on the environment continued to grow, in 2013, the European Union put a moratorium on their use on flowering crops. Then, in 2015, according to Digital Journal, the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) conducted a sampling of U.S. waterways, finding neonicotinoids in over half of the streams sampled.
The 2015 USGS study highlights the potential dangers of continuing to use these pesticides, as well as the inadequate testing and approval processes in place with federal agencies.
Neonics found in treated drinking water
On Wednesday, a team of engineers and scientists from the USGS and the University of Iowa reported they had found neonicotinoids in treated drinking water. This is the first time this class of pesticides has been found in tap water. The findings were published in the journal Environmental Science & Technology Letters on April 5, 2017.
The water plant at the University of Iowa.
The water plant at the University of Iowa.
University of Iowa
The study involved analyzing tap water that was treated in two different water filtration systems. Water from the University of Iowa water treatment plant that uses sand filtration barely removed any of the three main neonic chemicals, clothianidin, imidacloprid, and thiamethoxam reports the BBC.
By contrast, samples of tap water from the Iowa City filtration facility, which uses activated carbon as a filtration method blocked 100 percent of clothianidin, 94 percent of imidacloprid and 85 percent of thiamethoxam. This was an important finding.
Activated carbon filtration versus sand filters
It was “quite a pleasant surprise,” LeFevre said. “It’s definitely not all bad news.” Activated carbon filters are relatively economical, and actually, after the study was completed, the university switched over to carbon filtration, according to the Washington Post.
Iowa City water treatment plant
Iowa City water treatment plant
University of Iowa
While the study was quite small, it does show us that more comprehensive studies are needed “to determine how ubiquitous neonics are in water supplies in other parts of the country.” What might be found is unclear. “There is currently no national effort to measure to what extent neonicotinoids are making it into our bodies, be it through water or food,” said Melissa Perry, a public health researcher at George Washington University who was involved in the 2015 study.
One takeaway from the study is quite obvious. We need to look further into the extent that neonics have spread to our drinking water supplies, and while we're at it, look into the levels, if any, of these chemicals in our children. We may be surprised at the results.
More about neonic pesticides, neonicotinoids, Drinking water, United States, filtering systems
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