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New Alliance Forms

For Immediate Release: 
Wednesday, August 13, 1997

Washington, D.C. Aug. 12, 1997 - Mounting concern over long term health risks and the skyrocketing cost of water treatment associated with pesticide contaminated tapwater in hundreds of midwestern towns has forged an unprecedented alliance between water utilities, engineers, and chemists, and environmental protection groups.

Today the new alliance called on pesticide companies that manufacture the weed killers, and the Federal government, to take steps to make sure the chemicals do not get into water.

The new collaboration, between groups that have often been at odds on tap water issues in the past, coincides with the release of a new Environmental Working Group (EWG) report on pesticide contamination in midwest tap water.

The new study, the third in a series, reviewed the latest government testing data and unpublished water test results collected by the pesticide industry itself. EWG also worked with local activists in 12 communities to collect tap water samples in Illinois, Ohio, and Missouri, and submitted them to the University of Iowa Hygienic Lab for analysis.

The study found that over 10 million people in 374 communities across 12 states were exposed to at least one weed killer in their tap water. One pesticide, atrazine, was found in 96 percent of all surface water systems tested by the pesticide industry itself.

"Hundreds of midwestern communities are exposed, often unknowingly, to multiple pesticides in a single sample of tap water," said EWG analyst Brian Cohen, an author of the study. "We found that over 100 communities drink tap water contaminated by five or more pesticides," Cohen said, noting that ten pesticides were found in a single glass of tap water sampled in Williamsburg, Ohio, a suburb of Cincinnati.

"It is time to say, 'Enough is enough,'" said EWG vice president for research Richard Wiles, another author. "We estimate that at least 57,000 infants in the midwest drink infant formula each year that is contaminated with atrazine and other cancer causing weed killers," Wiles said.

"If the pesticide companies bothered to ask the people drinking this water in the midwest, they'd find out just how much pesticide Americans want in their tap water," said Wiles. "The answer is: Zero," Wiles added.

"How long have these multi-billion dollar pesticide companies known that their weed killers were in midwestern drinking water?," asked EWG president Ken Cook.

"Based on everything we know about these pesticides, industry scientists had to know that their products were tainting tap water. Where was their science when we needed it? Why didn't these companies say a word over the past 20 years or more to the parents who were giving their kids tap water contaminated by pesticides?" Cook asked.

EWG's report emphasized that under a new pesticide law passed unanimously by Congress last year, pesticide companies, for the first time, will have to take full account of human exposure to their products in water before pesticides can permitted for use on crops. The law requires EPA to certify that the dose of pesticides from food, water and all other sources meets tough new standards designed to protect infants and children.

"Water suppliers throughout the midwest find themselves in an impossible position," said EWG's Wiles. "When water comes through their intake pipes it has weed killers in it. They have no choice but to treat the water to reduce contamination or develop new, uncontaminated sources. It's costing millions of dollars across the midwest. And consumers have to pick up the tab," said Wiles. "This is completely unfair to water suppliers and water drinkers," added Wiles.

The American Water Works Association (AWWA), a non-profit scientific and educational group formed in 1881 and representing more than 54,000 engineers, chemists and water treatment professionals, said today that the association "is extremely concerned with the potential compliance impacts from the triazine herbicides. Atrazine has the largest number of drinking water standard violations for any man-made chemical. Alternatives to the chemicals exist," the AWWA said in a statement.

Diane VanDe Hei, Executive Director of the Association of Metropolitan Water Agencies (AMWA), comprised of the nation's largest metropolitan water systems that provide tap water to nearly half of all Americans, said in a statement that "Water suppliers have been at the forefront of urging EPA to take action on surface water pollution by pesticides." VanDe Hei added that "in the past, too much of the burden for pesticide pollution of water has fallen unfairly on water suppliers and consumers." VanDe Hei said that the EWG report "points out appropriately the need to get control of these harmful pollutants before they get out of control."

EWG is a nonprofit environmental research organization based in Washington, D.C. and California. EWG is a project of the Tides Center, a California Public Benefit Corporation based in San Francisco that provides administrative and program support services to nonprofit programs and projects.