Can you guess what these states all have in common?

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What do Michigan, Kansas, Iowa, Nebraska, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Minnesota, New York, Indiana and Georgia all have in common?

Answer: Every state has at least one waterbody that is impaired by pesticides and at least one senator on the Senate Agriculture Committee – the same committee that is considering gutting the Clean Water Act in favor of the pesticide industry .

What’s the big deal? Consider this.

The River Raisin in Dundee, Michigan, just 20 miles north of Toledo, empties into Lake Erie. From the Michiganders that I know, you don’t mess with Lake Erie. But here is a river running into Lake Erie that is so contaminated with pesticides that the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has listed it as impaired, meaning it has chronic or recurring monitored violations of water quality criteria for certain pesticides.

Michigan isn’t alone. The Arkansas River that runs through Wichita, Kansas is also impaired by pesticide contamination. So is the Schuykill River in Pennsylvania,  Cedar Lake in Iowa, and Back River in Brunswick, Georgia.

Right now, there is some hope for these and hundreds of other similar waterbodies across the country. The US EPA has drafted a permit covering pesticides that are applied into water bodies for mosquito, weed and algae, animal pests in water, and forest canopy pest control (often called “aquatic pesticides”). The permit requires applicators to monitor the area they’re spraying to make sure they’re not killing non-target plants and animals; they have to consider the use of non-pesticide alternatives; and they have to keep certain records about their spraying activities. These are neither burdensome nor onerous, and are things we want pesticides applicators to do.

However, the pesticide makers want Congress to stop EPA and the states from requiring applicators to do any of these things. In fact, the Senators on the Agriculture Committee are considering eliminating all federal regulation over pesticides sprayed into waterbodies - including Senators representing states that have waterbodies already impaired by pesticides.

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Most states do not issue their own permits for aquatic pesticides, and so EPA’s permit would be used in these states. H.R. 872 would exempt applicators in those states from having to do things like considering non-chemical means of treating pests and using best management practices when spraying. And the few state permits that do exist now could also be on the chopping block. With one big sweep, S. 718 would wipe all pesticide permit programs off the books. Both scenarios will mean more pesticide-contaminated waters for all of us.

Check out this map to see how your state’s waterbodies stack up.


Go to this EPA site to find out whether pesticides are impairing your local waterbody.

Two important things to remember when you’re looking at this data.

  1. The only way we get this information is if the states go out and look for it. A state like Florida may appear to have no pesticide impaired waters, but unless the state agency actually tests the water for pesticides, they aren’t going to know they have a problem. So Texans, South Carolinians and others should ask their state agencies whether they are looking for pesticides in their water, and if they aren’t, ask them why not.
  2. A state can only find a pesticide that it tests for. In other words, even if a waterbody is listed as impaired by a pesticide other than an aquatic pesticide, you should still be concerned, because the state may not have tested for aquatic pesticides. But more importantly, regardless of the exact pesticide causing the impairment, application of pesticides of any kind would only add to the toxic load in that contaminated water body.

Let’s keep our clean waters free of pesticides and let’s clean up the contaminated ones. We all prefer fishing, birding, kayaking, and swimming in toxin-free rivers, lakes and streams, don't we?