USGS Documents Decreased Pesticide Levels in Corn Belt Streams

Pesticide runoff is one of the biggest problems facing streams, rivers and lakes in the agricultural regions around the U.S. A recent study found that the levels of several damaging pesticides are decreasing in the central United States. The study looked at eleven herbicides and insecticides consistently in Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Nebraska, Ohio, and neighboring states, an area known as the Corn Belt region.

Image Credit: USGS trends research Orange areas represent regions where soybeans and corn make up 40% of the row crop
Orange areas represent regions where soybeans and corn make up 40% of the row crop

Eleven different pesticides were monitored in 31 stream sites from 1996-2002 and 2000-2006 and correlated with pesticide use statistics.

“Pesticide use is constantly changing in response to such factors as regulations, market forces and advances in science,” said Dan Sullivan, lead scientist for the study.

He goes on to explain that each of the three chemicals saw regulatory action and decreased use throughout the nineties, and that:

“these declines in use [were] accompanied by similar declines in concentrations.”

That is good news for programs and policies that look to phase out all types of chemicals and pollutants. It supports the view that with a rapid, significant change in human habits, the Earth can and will repair itself and return to a more naturally healthy state. The decreases in pesticide concentration typically mirrored decreases in use, though some concentrations decreased faster than use, attributed to advances in agricultural management practices.

The decreases in concentrations means decreased use of those pesticides, though it does not necessarily mean decreased pesticide use overall- a variety of factors including EPA regulation, plant resistance and market changes all influence types and levels of pesticide use.

While this does leave the more vexing problem of how to produce enough food for a growing population with enough food without pesticides, it also provides the encouraging take-away message that we can have a significant impact on chemical concentrations in freshwater sources over the relatively short period of a decade or so.

Written by Scott James


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  1. And this also should be a concern of people in these areas using well water that is not filtered to remove the pesticides and herbicides mentioned above. At some point there needs to be an understanding of how, when we poison one thing (say a plant or a pest), we are poisoning ourselves and our children.

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