Agricultural pesticides are a billion-dollar industry in the United States. Neonicotinoids (nicknamed “neonics”), a class of insecticide, have come under intense criticism in recent years for killing honeybees and other pollinating insects that farmers rely on.
In light of these concerns, the U.S. Geological Survey and the University of Iowa conducted a study on the impacts of neonics in Iowa rivers and streams. The researchers took water samples from 48 tributaries of the Iowa River, the main drinking-water source for much of the Midwest, and found unprecedented evidence of pesticide contamination. A staggering 63 percent of the samples were found to contain traces of neonicotinoid compounds. Even more alarming, samples from tap water at the University of Iowa, whose campus borders the Iowa River, revealed traces of three different neonicotinoids, proving that the school’s filtration system wasn’t effectively removing them from water.
The potential danger of drinking these compounds remains unclear. The concentration of contamination measured just parts per trillion, and conclusive research on neonics’ impacts on human health has yet to be conducted. There is evidence, though, that these chemicals can cause neurological and developmental issues in smaller vertebrates, such as frogs.
While the study focused on Iowa, it may have consequences for the entire country as polluted water doesn’t stay within state borders. All watersheds are interconnected, and pollution in one source could eventually compromise the entire system.