Belturbet and Cavan water supplies have been put on the Remedial Action List

Irish Water has joined forces with six other agencies in County Cavan to try to find solutions to an ongoing problem with pesticide exceedances in the Belturbet and Cavan public water supplies.

The pesticide MCPA has been detected at levels that exceed the allowed parametric value under EU and Irish regulations in both supplies and as a result the Environmental Protection Agency has put the Belturbet and Cavan water supplies on its Remedial Action List where they will remain until the issues are resolved. The RAL is a list of at-risk water supplies. While the HSE has advised that the levels seen do not represent a threat to public health, it is however undesirable and it is therefore imperative that users of pesticides are mindful of best practice when spraying their lands.

Irish Water, Teagasc, the National Federation of Group Water Schemes, Local Authority Water Programme, Cavan County Council, the Department of Agriculture, Food and Marine and the Animal and Plant Health Association (APHA) have come together to engage in an education and awareness campaign in the Belturbet and Cavan public water supply areas in an effort to encourage users of pesticides to ensure they follow best practice. 

Why is this campaign needed?

Explaining why this collaborative effort is necessary Irish Water’s drinking water compliance specialist Dr Pat O’Sullivan explained “Irish Water does not have a treatment option to remove pesticides when they are detected in drinking water and the utility does not have enforcement powers in the surrounding catchment area. Therefore it is important that all relevant bodies who can help solve this issue come together to form a catchment focus group to discuss this problem at a local level, pool resources and expertise in a coordinated effort to solve this persistent problem.

“Irish Water wishes to reduce the risk posed by pesticides by raising awareness and through engagement and collaboration. Primarily we do this through our involvement with the National Pesticide and Drinking Water Action Group and through local catchment focus groups where necessary.”

The National Pesticide and Drinking Water Action Group (NPDWAG) is chaired by the DAFM and was formed to provide a coordinated and collaborative approach to prevent the ongoing prevalence of pesticides in catchments used for the abstraction of drinking water.

Users must follow best practice measures when applying pesticides

Adding to this, Dr Aidan Moody, Chair of NPDWAG commented “The continued engagement of all stakeholders, working in partnership, is needed to tackle this issue. Users of pesticides must always consider in the first instance if there are alternative non-chemical weed/pest control methods that would be feasible. If pesticides have to be applied users must make sure that they are aware of and follow best practice measures to protect water quality.”

Great care must always be taken to protect drinking water supplies wherever pesticide use is considered necessary, particularly if using products for grassland weed control containing substances such as MCPA, fluroxypyr and 2,4-D. These substances and others have been detected in drinking water supplies across Ireland. While there is no threat to public health, the detected levels sometimes exceed the legally permitted limit value for pesticides in drinking water, which is set at an extremely low value (equivalent to one drop in an Olympic-sized swimming pool).

MCPA, which is commonly used to kill rushes on wet land, is the main offender, however, other pesticides such as 2,4-D, fluroxypyr, glyphosate and MCPP (also known as mecoprop) are being detected more frequently than in previous years. Careless storage, handling or improper application of any pesticide product can easily result in traces ending up in drinking water, leading to breaches of the drinking water regulations.  Users of pesticides are asked to carefully consider how these products may access water courses via rainwater drains, drainage channels or other means before application.

The regulations are so stringent that a single drop of pesticide is enough to breach the drinking water limit in a small stream for up to 30 kilometres. This clearly highlights the level of care needed to protect drinking water sources.

Irish Water working in partnership with the NPDWAG would like to remind farmers, sporting organisations and professional users of pesticides of the need to follow best practice in the application of pesticides, particularly near lakes and rivers used as drinking water sources.

Basic steps in reducing pesticide risks

  • Choose the right pesticide product (Note that products containing MCPA are NOT approved for use in weed-wipers.)
  • Read and follow the product label
  • Determine the right amount to purchase and use
  • Don’t spray if rain or strong wind is forecast in the next 48 hours
  • Make sure you are aware of the location of all nearby water courses
  • Comply with any buffer zone specified on the product label to protect the aquatic environment. Mark out the specified buffer zone from the edge of the river or lake or other water course
  • Never fill a sprayer directly from a water course or carry out mixing, loading or other handling operations beside a water course
  • Avoid spills, stay well back from open drains and rinse empty containers 3 times into the sprayer.
  • Store and dispose of pesticides and their containers properly.

Information leaflets on pesticide use are also available to download from the Teagasc website.

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