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#1 - Pesticides Pose Greater Threat To U.S. Drinking Water Supplies Than Factories And Toxic Dumps, 30-Nov-1986

Environmental experts say the contamination of underground water
supplies by runoff from farm chemicals is now happening across broad
areas of the nation's breadbasket and is more threatening to drinking
water supplies than other conventional environmental problems such as
factory discharges or toxic waste dumps. Every year since 1980 the Iowa
Geological Survey has found trace amounts of agricultural chemicals in
the underground water supplies that serve hundreds of thousands of
people. The survey found that 53% of the shallow wells surveyed in Iowa
contained pesticide residues. In Kansas, 28% of the farm wells sampled
this year contained high levels of nitrates, a byproduct of nitrogen
fertilizers. 50 communities in Iowa have nitrate levels in their
drinking water that exceed the federal standards. Recent studies have
shown that people living in rural parts of Iowa, Nebraska and Illinois
have higher than normal risks of developing leukemia, lymphoma and
other cancers. Some of the pesticides found in the water in the Middle
West are known to cause cancer or are suspected of it. A recent study
said about 785,000 (27%) of residents of Iowa drink water containing
traces of one or more pesticides. The pesticides most commonly found in
Iowa's groundwater are the weed-killers alachlor, atrazine and
cyanazine. Alachlor, banned in Canada, has been shown to cause cancer
in laboratory animals. Manufactured by the Monsanto Company, alachlor
is marketed under the brand name Lasso. In Aug. 1986, Iowa Governor
Terry Branstad proposed spending $27 million over 3 years to reduce the
amount of fertilizers and pesticides farmers put into the soil. Since
1960, the use of nitrogen fertilizers have increased more than 5 times
in Iowa. In the same time period, in some areas the concentrations of
nitrates in the groundwater have tripled. Without exposure to air and
sunlight, pesticides that would have normally broken down in two months
may last 6 months to a year underground. According to health officials,
the shallow wells used by most Midwestern farm families are more prone
to contamination because the people drink the water straight whereas in
industrial areas the water is treated. According to the Iowa Department
of Natural Resources, even the best treatment available is not
significantly reducing the concentration of pesticides in water and the
only way to solve the problem is to change human attitudes and

--Peter Montague



States and communities are stepping up their recycling efforts despite
high costs because dumping is even more expensive and landfill space is
running out. Eco-Cycle, a nonprofit community organization in Boulder,
Colorado has been losing about $15,000 a month on its collection and
recycling of paper, aluminum and glass but the voluntary program is
considered the third most successful in the country in terms of per
capita volume (behind Islip, Long Island and Montgomery County,
Maryland, both of which have mandatory recycling programs). The program
recovers about 80% of its costs by selling the paper to a paper mill in
Oregon, the aluminum to Reynolds Aluminum and the glass to Adolph Coors

According to a CA resource management firm, recycling is the cheapest
way to handle trash because the average cost of weekly curbside trash
collection and recycling is $20 or $30 a ton but it costs $40 to $60 a
ton to haul trash to a landfill and $70 to $120 a ton to burn it.

Some states, including Rhode Island, Michigan, Illinois and
Massachusetts have enacted or are considering legislation mandating
recycling of trash. In Oregon cans and bottles of beer and soda have a
mandated deposit and communities with 4,000 or more people must recycle
their trash. At least 50 cities in CA have some form of voluntary
curbside programs.

Markets for recycled materials are growing slowly. Today about 20
million tons of paper (27% of discarded paper) are recycled annually
nationwide as compared to 12.5 million tons (22%) in 1970. Today about
650,000 tons of aluminum (53% of used cans) are recycled as compared to
137,000 tons (27%) a decade ago; 1.25 million tons (just under 10% of
the total) of glass is recycled now as compared to 368,000 tons (3%) a
decade ago.

New technology is helping the growth of recycling. A new glass
recycling machine can handle "dirty" glass--colored as well as clear
glass, so that recyclers don't have to separate glass anymore. Many
processing centers are using a trommel, a device that spins around,
dropping material through holes in a preliminary sorting process.
Densifiers are new machines that can compact aluminum and paper more
efficiently than previous compactors. A wider range of materials can
now be recycled due to technological advances. A new process shreds
tires into small chips to be burned much like coal. A West German
technology allows burning without shredding.

Working against the economics of recycling are the glut of materials
such as paper, storage of recyclables and a market to absorb the
recycled materials. Today, waste paper sells for an average of $35 a
ton, as compared to $70 to $80 a ton in 1978. Overseas markets may take
some of the recycled paper. In 1985 more than 700,000 tons of waste
paper were shipped to South Korea, Taiwan, Mexico, Japan and Canada.
Some states, including NJ, Illinois, Michigan, Maryland and Oregon are
emphasizing state policy to buy recycled materials whenever possible.
The National Association of Recycling Industries opposes mandatory
recycling, however, unless there is clearly a market for the materials.

--Peter Montague


Descriptor terms: water; drinking water; groundwater; ia; il; ks; ne;
fertilizer; nitrate; pesticides; alachlor; atrazine; recycling;
landfilling; msw; national association of recycling industries;

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