Keeping Pesticides out of Water, a joint conference by the Chartered Institution of Water and Environmental Management (CIWEM) and the Pesticide Action Network UK (PAN UK) on 7 February in Central London, presented a number of new ways to reduce pesticide usage and to consider using alternatives in agriculture and local authorities. Further pesticide control has become especially urgent, delegates were told, because of the recent introduction of new controls under the European Water Framework Directive (see related story), and also through recent recognition of the seriousness of diffuse pollution in the UK (see related story).

“We have to recognise that in serving the community water quality plays a bigger role than medicine in individual’s health,” said Peter Matthews, a former chairman of the European Water Association. Indeed, a recent survey showed that across Europe, one million people die from waterborne diseases annually (see related story).

The implementation of the European Water Directive is predicted to bring anywhere between £1.6 and £6.2 billion in benefits, but cost between £2 and £9.2 billion, said Stephen Reeves from the DETR’s Water Quality Division. The main costs will include improvements to point source discharges by sewerage undertakers and industry, reductions in diffuse pollution, particularly agricultural sources and improvements to river habitats. Reducing pesticide flow into and prohibiting certain chemicals from surface and ground waters (see related story) is an integral part of the Directive.

An environmental policy on pesticides is something which the UK is crying out for, says Peter Beaumont of PAN UK, who made several far-reaching proposals which he would like to see included in a potential policy. Beaumont calls for the introduction of a pesticide tax, which would come on top of the current levy agrochemical companies pay to subsidise the regulatory programme, the Pesticides Safety Directorate. He says that research and information provision is frequently slanted in favour of pesticide use and that there is a shortage of research and information for farmers on non-chemical pest control. Revenue from a pesticide tax could be hypothecated to benefit research and training for farmers, and would lead to an increase in organic farming, creating more employment opportunities, he said, adding that this sector is 30% more labour-intensive than conventional farming.

Another radical proposal would be the reform of the European Common Agricultural Policy, which Beaumont says, favours pesticide use by only rewarding the volume of produce. It makes more sense to pay farmers not to use pesticides, than to have them use pesticides and pay for the costs of remediation of natural resources, he said.

Beaumont said that he had the support of the Environment Agency’s Pesticides in the Environment Working Group to establish a national monitoring strategy for pesticides to create better co-ordination and harmonisation between all agencies involved in pesticide use. Too often, he said, there is a lack of evidence of the destructive nature of pesticides, because of a lack of monitoring, Part of this proposal would be mandatory reporting of sales of active pesticide ingredients by the industry.

One frequently-overlooked area of pesticide use is in the home, for which no policy exists, and where market forces override environmental considerations, Beaumont said, calling for a “fresh look at the costs and benefits of home and garden pesticide use”. This may result in an appreciation of the damage that this use incurs and evidence of a case for “restricting the availability of a number of products”.

An area of pesticide pollution which would be simpler to resolve would be through the testing of pesticide application machinery. “The correct calibration and adjustment of application equipment would go a long way towards reducing impacts,” Beaumont said.

A huge benefit to preventing the spillage of pesticides and exposure to them, would be the introduction of so-called Closed Systems, said Richard Garnett, of Wisdom Systems, which manufactures the new tool. The loss of pesticides from filling sites are the major source of water contamination and spillages of 0.5 ml per 5 litre pack, the norm for manual pouring, has the potential to cost more than £150 million annually to remove from water, Garnett said. Closed Systems, which are engineering controls “to enclose and contain concentrated or hazardous products during dispensing and application”, have been shown in field and laboratory exposure studies to have reduced contamination by 90%.

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