A farmer sprays pesticides at a farm along the banks of the Yamuna River in New Delhi, India, on May 1, 2023. ARUN SANKAR/AFP via Getty Images
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A new study led by researchers from the University of Sydney found that agriculture pesticides seep into the rivers of the world and oceans each year at an alarming rate, damaging a variety of ecosystems.
Every year, farms around the world use more than three million tons of pesticides, but it’s unclear where exactly these toxic chemicals go after they’re applied to cropsa press release from The University of Sydney said.
The study looked at where 92 of the most frequently used agricultural pesticides move after application and found that each year around 77,162 tonnes of potentially hazardous pesticides chemical products seep into aquifers. These pollutants have a detrimental effect on fresh water resources and ecosystems.
“Our study revealed that pesticides wander far from their original source. In many cases, these chemicals end up far downstream and often, albeit in much smaller quantities, as far as the ocean,” said Associate Professor Federico Maggi, lead author of the study. University of Sydney School of Civil Engineering, in the press release.
The study “Land budget for agricultural pesticides and river discharge into the oceans”, was published in the journal Nature.
The study found that around 80% of pesticides applied to crops end up degrading into by-products called “daughter molecules” in the environment. floor.
“This degradation of pesticides often occurs as a ‘cascade’ of molecules in the surrounding medium, which can persist in the environment for a long time and can be just as harmful as the parent molecule or the applied pesticide. One such example is glyphosate. Although highly degradable, it breaks down into a molecule known as AMPA which is both highly persistent and toxic,” Maggi said in the press release.
Researchers found that although only a fraction of pesticides enter river systems after application, when they reach the water most of their active ingredients end up in the world’s oceans, leading to negative impacts on Coral reefs And marine lifefeaturing both freshwater and marine food chains at risk.
“On paper, 0.1% leaching into freshwater streams might not seem like much,” Maggi said. “But it only takes a tiny amount of pesticides to have a negative impact on the environment.”
The research found that 805 tons of pesticides end up in rivers each year, resulting in approximately 8,078 miles of rivers having chemical concentrations above safe limits for certain invertebrates and aquatic plants.
“We urgently need to adopt sustainable management strategies to promote the reduction of field applications of harmful pesticides and put in place systems to effectively monitor their use within the framework of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development,” said Dr. Francesco Tubiello, senior environmental statistician at the Food Organization of the United Nations. and Agriculture Organization and co-author of the article, in the press release.
For the study, the scientists used publicly available geospatial data. But because the analysis did not include all pesticides, the study authors said their findings were a conservative estimate. The study did not take into account pesticides used in public spaces, private residences, aquaculture or legacy pesticides – chemicals like DDT that have been banned or discontinued due to health risks – and therefore the risk of chemical exposure to people and ecosystems could be higher than the results suggest.
Maggi said it was possible to reduce pesticides globally while maintaining food safety as long as the toxicity and use of pesticides is reduced in collaboration with food producers, as even low amounts of various highly toxic pesticides pose a high risk to certain organisms.
” That is not here use of pesticides only that matters,” Maggi said, as reported by The Guardian. “What is important is the charge, i.e. the mass applied and the toxicity of the individual active ingredients.”
Maggi and a separate research team present recommendations for reducing pesticide use in another paper published last month in Nature ecology and evolution.
“Overall, there is plenty of room to increase efficiency and yield while supporting an abundant food supply through new technologies and modern crop management practices,” Maggi said in the press release.