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Study finds pesticides in central Minnesota air

A recent report indicates that residents in Perham, Frazee and other parts of central Minnesota face frequent exposure to multiple pesticides in the air they breathe.

The report, "Pesticide Drift Monitoring in Minnesota," was authored by the Pesticide Action Network and involved an air monitoring study conducted by a group of concerned area residents.

Those involved in the study are now calling for stronger protections from one common potato fungicide, chlorothalonil, which was found in 64 percent of air samples taken near their homes.

Over the summers of 2006 to 2009, a total of 340 field samples were taken in 19 locations in central Minnesota, including three sites in Perham - two in rural areas and one on the southwest side of town, in a residential neighborhood.

In Perham, 100 percent of samples taken at the first site, in 2008, showed traces of chlorothalonil; at the second site, 91 percent of samples detected it. The third site, in town, was tested in 2009 and came in at 96 percent. All locations were within one mile of a potato field.

Other pesticides detected in samples taken from Perham include chlorpyrifos, used on a variety of crops including corn and soybeans, and an herbicide.

Area residents formed Minnesotans for Pesticide Awareness in 2006 after observing health prob-lems in communities near potato fields.

The group set out to learn more about the potential harms of pesticide drift, approaching the Pesticide Action Network to use their Drift Catcher tool to monitor pesticides drifting from nearby fields.

Current Environmental Protection Agency rules do not consider the health effects of breathing chlorothalonil. Regulations were set using studies based on ingesting the chemical, although the agency considers chlorothalonil to be "slightly toxic to non-toxic" when ingested and "highly toxic or acutely toxic" when inhaled.

"Minnesotans have a right to know what's in the air, what their families are breathing," said Norma Smith, resident of Frazee, member of Minnesotans for Pesticide Awareness and one of the air monitoring participants. "The Drift Catcher results are evidence that pesticides are drifting and ending up in our yards, homes and farms. EPA and the Minnesota Departments of Health and Agriculture have a responsibility to stand up for the health and well-being of families like ours."

Chlorothalonil is classified by the EPA as a "probable" carcinogen. Along with cancer, other health impacts from exposure include immunological reactions in the airways and skin, pneumonia, and kidney failure.

In March, the EPA began a new review of chlorothalonil, which will include inhalation studies.

"Living near potato fields, I've frequently been exposed to pesticide drift in the last 15 years or so," said Park Rapids resident Carol Ashley, member of Minnesotans for Pesticide Awareness. "One type of pesticide -- chlorothalonil -- wipes me out so that I can barely move for days. I have to struggle to breathe."

Potato fields cover roughly 50,000 acres of Minnesota, particularly in the northern Red River Valley, a small part of the southern border, and areas with sandy soils from Elk River to Park Rapids.

Fungicides are applied to a significant majority of those potato acres -- 98 percent in 2005. Chlorothalonil is the most commonly used fungicide, applied to 83 percent of the state's potato fields.

A full copy of the report can be found at www.panna.org

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