A just published scientific study* on levels of pesticides in New Zealand streams has found that the most frequently detected pesticide is the organophosphate insecticide chlorpyrifos, found in 87% of samples taken from South Island streams.
"This is devastating news for New Zealand", said Dr Meriel Watts of Pesticide Action Network Aotearoa New Zealand. "Pregnant women and small children should not be exposed to chlorpyrifos. At very low levels it interferes with brain development in the unborn foetus and newborn infants, resulting in altered brain structure, lowered IQ, and behavioural changes including pervasive developmental disorder, leading to potential long-term consequences for social adjustment and academic achievement. The effects reported in studies are regarded by some scientists as comparable to those of lead and tobacco smoke. Chlorpyrifos is also an endocrine disruptor interfering with androgens, oestrogen, and thyroid hormones, and is a risk for breast cancer."
Chlorpyrifos is persistent in the environment and bioaccumulative. Residues of chlorpyrifos are widespread in the Arctic, even more common than endosulfan which New Zealand banned in 2008, and there are worldwide efforts to get it listed under the Stockholm Convention on Persistent Organic Pollutants for a global ban.
Residues of chlorpyrifos have been found in the air over the Southern Alps, and this latest study found it in pine needles on organic farms were it is not used, indicating both its ability to move away from were it is used and its persistence in the environment.
"The EPA have recently reassessed chlorpyrifos and given it the green light even for aerial spraying despite its volatility. But they failed to assess it for persistence and bioaccumulation. They failed to assess it for long range transport, and they failed to properly assess it for neurodevelopmental effects. They completely ignored a detailed submission from PAN ANZ of information on safer alternatives for every one of chlorpyrifos uses that EPA had identified, and instead decided that because growers said they need it, they can have it. The EPA did an appalling job of its reassessment and now we have even more evidence that this chemical must go. What will it take before the EPA decides to protect the environment and peoples health rather than chemicals?"
*Shahpoury et al. 2013. Chlorinated pesticides in stream sediments from organic, integrated and conventional, farms. Environmental Pollution 181(219-225).
Dr Meriel Watts
Co-ordinator, Pesticide Action Network Aotearoa New Zealand (PAN ANZ)
Senior Science Advisor, PAN Asia and the Pacific (PAN AP)
09-372 2034; 021 180 7830
PO Box 296 Ostend