Nine of every 10 public school districts in Iowa have buildings within 2,000 feet of a farm field, making students and teachers susceptible to being exposed to pesticides that drift from the fields when pesticides are sprayed. Yet many school officials interviewed for an IowaWatch/Tiger Hi-Line investigation showed little to no awareness on if or how pesticide drift could affect the staff and students in school buildings.
Farmers in California, the nation’s top agricultural state, are applying near-record levels of pesticides despite the rising popularity of organic produce and concerns about the health of farmworkers and rural schoolchildren.
ByJohnathan Hettinger/Midwest Center for Investigative Reporting |
“With soybeans, people are out looking for it because it can affect their bottom line,” said Nathan Donley, a senior scientist at the Center for Biological Diversity. “With milkweed, the lack of complaints doesn’t mean it’s not there. It’s just not widely reported on.”
Hundreds of rural schools in Midwest states nestle against fields of corn and soybeans that are routinely sprayed with pesticides that could drift onto school grounds.
Health experts say those pesticides might pose risks to children, and nine states in other regions of the country have been concerned enough to pass laws requiring buffer zones. But states in the Midwest do not require any kind of buffer zone between schools and crop fields and seldom require any notification that pesticides are about to be sprayed, a review of laws by the Midwest Center for Investigative Reporting has found.
A new report from the Environmental Working Group, a research and advocacy organization, indicates that more than 1,700 water districts across the U.S. recorded nitrate levels that averaged 5 ppm or more in 2014-2015. The vast majority — 1,683 of the water districts — were rural systems serving no more than 25,000 people and generally located in farming areas where fertilizer and manure in cropland runoff can seep into the public water supply. Included in those rural districts were 118 systems that matched or exceed the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s limit of 10 ppm.
More than a dozen state attorneys general and one governor have asked recently confirmed U.S. Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Scott Pruitt to scale back on federal involvement in favor of more state control.
Many Iowans may not know what is in their water because their wells’ water quality is unregulated. Moreover, many well owners IowaWatch spoke with during an investigation this past year in counties across southwest Iowa said they largely were unconcerned about their wells, even though tests revealed high levels of nitrates and bacteria in some of their wells.
ByJelter Meers and Johnathan Hettinger/Midwest Center for Investigative Reporting |
An ethanol spill occurs every two days on average in the Midwest, the worst of which result in contamination of water supplies, major fish kills, loss of life and millions of dollars of damage. The Midwest Center for Investigative Reporting found that as production and transportation of ethanol has risen dramatically in the region over the past three decades, so have ethanol spills.