Detection of pesticides may be as a result of specific spraying activities

Exceedances for pesticides continue to be detected in drinking water supplies around Ireland. While the pesticide levels we are detecting do not pose a health risk, they are nevertheless undesirable and ideally should be as close to zero as possible. They are being picked up in drinking water because the water courses from which we abstract have been contaminated. This may be as a result of spraying activities in land close to water courses, inappropriate storage / handling of pesticide product, or even illegal dumping of pesticide containers. The legal limit for pesticides in drinking water is so low that even the foil cap from a pesticide container is enough to cause an exceedance in a 30km stretch of stream.

Irish Water, working in partnership with a range of organisations involved in the National Pesticides and Drinking Water Action Group (NPDWAG) is providing advice and guidance to all users of pesticides including the farming community, greens keepers and grounds keepers and domestic users, to ensure that best practice measures to protect drinking waters are always followed. 

MCPA is a main pesticide being detected

One of the main pesticides we are detecting in drinking water is MCPA. This product is mostly used to control growth of rushes. These typically grow in wet, poorly drained land. Farmers and other landholders dealing with the challenge of tackling rushes should note that the Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine (DAFM) has developed new guidance on the sustainable management of rushes. The new approach is based on the principle of containing or suppressing rush growth in the first instance and aims to minimise the use of pesticides. A key message from the DAFM is that spraying rushes is not required to qualify for the Basic Farm Payment and that landowners should bear this in mind when considering to spray or not. More information on this can be obtained from your local farm advisor or on the PRCD Water Protection website page.
Efforts to reduce the incidence of these detections are being coordinated by the NPDWAG. This group is chaired by the Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine. All of the key stakeholders are represented in this group and include other Government departments and agencies; local authorities; industry representative bodies; farming organisations; water sector organisations; and amenity sector organisations. 

Basic steps to reduce risks

If pesticides have to be used, the basic steps in reducing risks are –

  • 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.

Irish Water is continuing its extensive investment programme to improve water and wastewater services in Ireland. Providing safe, clean drinking water for all is our first priority.

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