Record levels of slug pesticide found in Stour
25 June 2013
A surge in the levels of toxic slug pesticide up to a record 100 times the EU limit for drinking water have been found in the River Stour and Colne catchment area across Suffolk and north Essex, triggering a warning to farmers over its use.
Natural England and the Environment Agency, which tests the River Stour weekly at 13 sites, this month warned farmers that it had found massive rises in levels of the toxin metaldehyde, the active ingredient of slug pellets, in all of its catchment water courses from September last year right through to the end of last March. “A record level of 10microgramme per litre was recorded in November 2012 at Langham water treatment works intake,” it said. This is where Essex and Suffolk Water extracts for its drinking water supply. The EU and UK standard for drinking water is just 0.1 microgrammes per litre.
The agencies said the Sturmer/Haverhill area of the River Stour was notable in having the highest concentrations of the toxin. It also warned that the “exceptional weather conditions” of last autumn and winter had led to unusually high levels of a host of other agricultural herbicides and pesticides in the Stour, including Copyralid (brand name Shield), used to kill thistles and other weeds, and propyzamide (such as Kerb), used to kill weeds in winter oil seed rape fields, also carbetamide, bentazone, Chlrottoluron, CMPP, MCPA and Fluroxypr.
They urged farmers to follow the voluntary guidelines laid down to minimise slug pellet use this autumn when the sowing of winter beans and oil seed rape gets under way.
Poison in river food chain
But environmental campaigners and green political campaigners say that this shows that voluntary code led by the pesticide industry “The Metaldehyde Steerage Group” are not enough.
Robert Lindsay of Babergh Green Party, said: “Essex and Suffolk Water no doubt believes that levels of this toxin in drinking water are not high enough to damage human health directly. But the EU has set high standards because nobody knows what harm these toxins will do if they build up in river ecosystems, in the bodies of fish, for example.
“It is our water that is being poisoned and it is our water bills that will have to rise to pay for the clean up. Farmers need to earn a living. But it is not right that pesticide companies and industrial-scale farmers should be allowed to profit from the irresponsible over use of pesticide, at the expense of the rest of us. Growing oil seed rape is already heavily taxpayer subsidised.”
Tougher controls needed
Dr. Rupert Read, lead Green Party candidate for East Anglia in the 2014 European elections, added: “Dangerous manmade climate change appears to be leading to more unpredictable weather, and often to wetter weather. Everyone can see that our weather is changing in this way; everyone knows it, now. Wetter weather means more slugs, and more run-off. So it is hardly surprising that the Stour is so full now of these toxins from slug pellets. But that doesn’t make it any more acceptable. The EU has played a vital role over the last generation in cleaning up our rivers, thanks to the ‘Rivers Directive’. It is high time now for the EU and the UK Government to act to stop these damaging chemicals overwhelming rivers like the Stour. And we need to tackle the root-causes of a problem such as this: for example, we need tougher action to prevent dangerous climate change; and we need more organic farming, which doesn’t damage our rivers.”
Alert first sounded five years ago
Above legal limits for metaldehyde were first found in water courses across the UK in autumn 2008 and an industry-led voluntary code was set up to try to reduce slug pellet use by farmers. But last winter’s levels were higher than they were in 2008. Last November, Water UK, the industry body representing Britain’s water companies, said that water companies had again found above EU limit levels of metaldehyde in water courses across the UK. It warned that legislation to restrict slug pellet use may be necessary because current water treatment technology can not remove metaldehyde from water.
At the time, Nick Mole of Pesticide Action Network UK told Farming Online: "I find the situation quite alarming considering the attention given to metaldehyde. Not least because the cost of removing metaldehyde from water is passed on to the consumer, so we are paying for treatment resulting from overuse or improper use of pesticides."
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