New Report Highlights Harmful Pesticide Levels in Chesapeake Bay

Photo Courtesy of NASA

The Chesapeake Bay is the largest and most biologically diverse estuary in the United States, but a coalition of scientists and public health experts is arguing that pesticide pollution is contributing to the watershed’s deterioration. Released today, the group’s report urges federal and regional authorities to help reduce chemical contamination and increase research efforts to understand the pollution’s impact on water quality and marine life in the Bay.

The study was conducted by the Pesticides and the Chesapeake Bay Watershed Project, a group of over 100 scientists, public health experts and others working under the sponsorship of the Maryland Pesticide Network and the Johns Hopkins Center for a Livable Future.

According to a compilation of US Geologic Survey findings and other research, pesticides found in the watershed include metolachlor, simazine, prometon, tebuthiuron, diazinon, carbaryl, and 18 other compounds. Atrazine, perhaps one of the most worrisome because of its connection to sexual abnormalities in frogs, was found in sixty different locations throughout the Bay, including its tributaries. Furthering concerns about the potential impact of atrazine on Bay marine life, researchers discovered male fish with immature oocytes (female cells that will later develop into eggs), a phenomenon nicknamed “intersex fish,” in the Potomac River. A USGS report also detected traces of pharmaceuticals and hormones in the water in 2007.

Contaminants are runoff from farms, household cleaning products, landscaping, sewage sludge from wastewater treatment plants, and golf courses.

The Chesapeake Bay Program is a regional partnership between local states, the Chesapeake Bay Commission and US EPA, whose mission, among other things, is to “achieve and maintain water quality necessary to support aquatic living resources of the Bay and its tributaries and to protect human health.” But according to the report, only three to five percent of the restoration group’s resources have been allotted to toxic chemical issues in recent years.

Pesticides and the Chesapeake Bay Watershed Project urges farmers to reduce pesticide use and instill best management practices and homeowners to “question aesthetics-based behaviors (i.e., desire for visually attractive lawns or produce) in lieu of decision-making based on human health and ecological concerns.” It also recommends federal and regional groups help support research into the direct impact pesticides have on the Bay, particularly as endocrine disrupters in marine life.

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