Pesticides found in most rivers, streams; but, of course, there's no cause for alarm

Friday, March 03, 2006 at 05:59 PM

An AP report today reveals that a U.S. Geological Survey study found that Pesticides were identified in almost all U.S. rivers and streams tested between 1992 and 2001.

Sounds bad but, yup, you guessed it, although "Most of the nation's rivers and streams - and the fish in them - are contaminated with pesticides linked to cancer, birth defects and neurological disorders," the contamination is said to be, in the first sentence of the story, "not at levels that can harm humans."

You might want to read that story just a little bit closer, though.  Later on the story states that (emphasis added) "Pesticides were seldom found at concentrations likely to affect people, and they were less common in groundwater. But they were found in most fish."

If they were "seldom" found to be at harmful levels, that means that they were sometimes at harmful levels, doesn't it?  And if they were sometimes at harmful levels, then the first sentence's unqualified claim that the contamination was "not at levels that can harm humans" is simply wrong.

Even further down in the AP story is this, also indicating that levels were sometimes harmful (emphasis added): "It found that concentrations of individual pesticides nearly always complied with the EPA's drinking-water standards, though no water samples from streams were taken at drinking-water intakes.

Okay. "Nearly always" is not "always."

Why is the first sentence the most positive one, and inaccurate at that?  Why are the 3 statements about whether the contamination was harmful to humans spread out through the story?  Why were no samples taken from streams "at drinking-water intakes?"  Keep in mind that this is an AP story, authored by John Heilprin, not by the government agency.

Of course the story wouldn't be a 21st century "news" story if the pesticide industry wasn't given the last word (again, emphasis added):

But simply detecting the presence of a pesticide does not always mean there is reason for concern, said Jay Vroom, president of CropLife America, which represents pesticide developers and manufacturers. He emphasized that the use of pesticides by farmers, ranchers and others is strictly regulated by federal and state laws.

"Water quality is of paramount importance to us," he said. "And the USGS report correctly recognizes that the large majority of pesticide detections in streams and groundwater were trace amounts, far below scientifically based minimum levels set for protecting human health and the environment."

Yes sir, I now feel very safe in the water quality.  And very confident that I can trust my appointed news gatherers to tell me the facts, boy, nothing but the facts.

You'll have to find and plow through the undoubtedly lengthy USGS report to find out the real story.  But whether the contamination turns out to be massively harmful or not, I have little doubt that the semantic games of the players here is harmful to the truth and, ultimately, to our health and well-being.