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January 2011 - Nr. 1
Happy New Year from Echo Germanica

Major decrease in residues in municipal drinking water, study shows

Water quality is a good news story according to the results of a long-term provincial government study into the presence of pesticides in Ontario’s municipal drinking water.

The results showed a massive decrease in pesticide presence in treated surface water, from 86 per cent of samples in 1986 to only three per cent in 2006. And all of the incidences discovered in this recent round of testing were below the thresholds that Health Canada – the federal government body responsible for food and health – have deemed to be acceptable.

Water sources sampled in this study represent about 90 per cent of Ontario’s municipal residential water systems, including many from agriculturally dense regions, where the vast majority of pesticides are used in Ontario.

The study results are welcome news for farmers, who are often under fire from environmental activists as well as consumers and government, for using crop protection products to help them grow their crops.

“As farmers, we’ve always been saying that we’re doing a good job with the environment, but this actually proves it,” says Brian Gilroy, an apple grower from the Meaford area. “We work hard to manage the land, the water and our crops as best as we can to protect both the environment and produce safe, healthy food for consumers.”

Gilroy adds it’s an excellent indication that farmers are using pesticides responsibly and that training programs are working. Over the last two decades, at the same time as residue levels in the water have been declining, Ontario farmers have also voluntarily reduced their use of pesticides by more than 50 per cent.

This decrease is due in large part to a farmer-requested government program that requires all farmers to take a course on safe handling, use and storage if they want to buy and use crop protection materials – and certification has to be renewed every five years to make sure their knowledge keeps up with new advances in technology.

“There’s no denying that better training for farmers has made an impact in how we use products, how much we’re using and when we’re using them,” says potato grower Chris Kowalski who farms in the Alliston area. “The good old days of farming weren’t so good when you consider the kinds of products on the market and how they were being used.”

Newer, safer crop protection products have been coming to market as the Canadian government strengthens its regulatory requirements for new product registrations. At the same time, older, less advanced and less targeted products have been withdrawn from use.

Farmers have also been increasingly working with an approach called integrated pest management. In essence, this system uses beneficial insects to target problem pests in a crop, eliminating the need for more traditional crop protection methods.

The survey results also show that on-farm conservation practices such as grassed water ways and buffer zones around creeks and streams are making positive impacts on preventing pesticides from getting into water sources. The Environmental Farm Plan program is a big factor in this success. Over the last five years alone, Ontario farmers have invested approximately $167 million of their own dollars in 18,700 on-farm environmental improvement projects, supported by government cost-share contributions of approximately $103 million.

The survey results are especially remarkable when advances in testing practices are taken into consideration, says Gilroy. The exactitude of modern detection techniques means that residues are now being found at parts per billion or even trillion, where 20 years ago, they were being measured in parts per million. One part per billion is approximately equivalent to one dollar out of one billion dollars.

“What people need to remember is that farmers have as strong an interest as anyone in keeping our water supply healthy,” says Kowalski. “My family drinks the water from the well on our farm and eats the potatoes that we grow. There’s no way I’d ever do anything to harm the health of my family – or anyone else’s.”


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